Feature: GE Electric's Deborah Sherry on how the company is digitising global brands
How GE Digital – the digital arm of General Electric – is transforming global brands across all industries, to achieve enormous savings that are benefiting the planet, as well as business…
GE Digital is the digital arm of the American multinational conglomerate General Electric.
Founded in 2015 to take advantage of the industrial internet, much like its parent did with the electrical revolution in the 20th century, GE Digital is creating new business models using connected software and applications to make companies work faster and more efficiently.
GE Digital works with many of the organisations General Electric has been engaged with over the years, across literally every major industry including telecoms, consumer goods, automotive, gas and power. Its aim is to drive digital transformation across all these sectors. However, digitising businesses isn’t just about computerising operations, it's also about using renewable energy sources, which will lower costs while yielding higher financial gains; results that ultimately benefit the planet too.
Deborah Sherry, General Manager and Chief Commercial Officer at GE Digital Europe, explains how it’s helping the companies find these solutions. "We achieve all this by introducing equipment health asset performance management and by driving service delivery improvement through our field services software. We are building incredible software which replicate people’s equipment, called the ‘digital twin’. We do all of this on the premises, on the client’s equipment or on the cloud, depending on the context or the need. We've built all this specifically to drive the next wave of productivity gain within the industry.”
Around eight years ago, GE Digital’s CEO and Chairman Jeffrey Immelt started looking at what big digital players like Google, Amazon and Microsoft were doing to work out where the next wave of productivity and gain would come from. “He became particularly interested in this because he noticed that other people were extracting data from our equipment,” Sherry says, “and helping our clients understand the data from that to better use our equipment than we were. We knew something was coming.
"He (Immelt) realised we needed to find a way to emulate what had happened in other spheres. You had a world where, like with Uber and Apple, 2.3mn applications are growing every week on their platforms and making billions from the application economy. He understood that we had to cease acting as an intermediate between us and our clients, and to find a way to make that digital transformation ourselves. To find the next wave of productivity.”
A result of this investigation, Immelt knew that the future was about scalable platforms; leveraging them to embrace new business models while building digital software skills and abilities, internally, to make it possible. Immelt also knew that they had to launch this project rapidly just as the software world does. This is how GE Digital was born. After hiring William Ruh from Cisco as Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, they started to create what would become Predix.
Building new systems
This operating software is designed by business, for business, with an open architecture making it possible for all users to develop whatever they require. “We built it because we wanted to run applications that were specifically designed to manage physical things and not just the digital assets; to marry digital software and intelligence with machinery. Nothing existed that could do that,” Sherry says.
Users can plug in all their existing software so they get one view of data from across all their sites of who may be deploying different types of software around the globe. “We love to bring people along to Predix,” Sherry says, “but we're also happy for them to build their own applications to work on them too.”
There are currently 31,000 developers using the system and the number is growing every week, as are the hundreds of apps that have already been written for it.
“Because it’s building blocks of code, like for Google or Apple, it enables rapid building and deployment of new applications,” explains Sherry. “It really shortens the cycle to deliver software that can make a difference in a business. And of course, we have a number of great software suites ourselves that sit on that, like our Asset Performance Management (APM) software, and our automation and service software that are key.”
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The APM software makes it possible to monitor equipment and its “equipment health” as Sherry says. An example is Schindler, manufacturer of escalators and elevators, which deploys Prefix around the globe to monitor all of its lifts. It has a sensor on all equipment, that through dashboards with APM software, tells engineers what needs maintenance, and when, before it breaks down.
“Gone are the days of merely a rota of maintenance that might be unnecessary,” Sherry says. “Now it’s predictive maintenance. Once you predict what needs doing, wouldn’t it be great if you had people in the field with handheld devices and software to tell them exactly what they need to fix and when? That’s where Servicemax, our field service management software, enables engineers to have exactly the right data and information they need to service equipment most efficiently.”
Bringing these types of software together means pretty much an instant diagnosis and a swift repair of any issues. Sherry uses the example of a car breaking down, with mechanics charging a substantial hourly rate just to find the problem and fix it. “By integrating them, we give you one wonderful value chain that brings it all together seamlessly,” she says.
Predicting failures ahead of time ties in neatly with the model of the circular economy, which is based on wasting less while making best use of available resources. One example is with a client based in Paris which experienced a lot of wastage. By using this software, it was able complete the same process with much less waste, in a shorter timeframe, and at a lower cost.
“Renewables is a huge area for us,” Sherry says. “We can go help a company understand that it can deploy our software to decrease its energy consumption.”
One big focus is saving on jet aviation fuel. Every two seconds a GE jet takes off, and by making a saving of just 1% in fuel, over the next 15 years, GE will make a saving of £23mn. Aside from using less fuel and the cost savings involved, this also means less pollution.
“A global gas-fired power plant fleet could yield £50 billion, just in that fuel consumption saving. So, we do this across every industry, whether it’s for fuel, wastage in the product that you’re manufacturing, or whatever it may be,” Sherry says.
At its power circuit breaker plant in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, General Electric achieved all of these efficiencies by deploying this new software, leading to a gain of $35mn over three years.
The future is digital
Business operations and people’s everyday lives are becoming ever more digitised. “It’s pretty mature these days,” Sherry says. "Ten years ago, you weren't managing your life that way, but almost your entire life, certainly your kids' lives, are digitally managed. Ten years from now, you're going to see what we call the digital thread being how we manage the industry. From when you wake up in the morning and you're checking what you need to do for the day, all the way through to programming your favourite shows in the evening, everything will be digital.”
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”