GE to Startups: Write Apps for our Industrial Internet Platform

General Electric’s Silicon Valley lab may be making a key operating platform for the next generation of computing.

Next year, the industrial giant today said it plans to allow third-party software developers to write applications for Predix, its software for collecting and analyzing data from industrial equipment.

GE has already made $1 billion on what it calls the Industrial Internet and has written 40 applications that use Predix. But GE needs to foster a larger ecosystem of partners, CEO Jeffrey Immelt said at the company’s Minds + Machines event in San Francisco.

“This has a chance to be the operating standard in the industries we compete in,” he said. “Every company is going to be transformed around data and analytics.”

The “Internet of things” is the catchphrase for adding computing and connectivity to all manner of devices—everything from toys to appliances. GE, though, is entirely focused on the industrial world and is already gathering data from millions of sensors on aircraft engines, medical devices, locomotives and wind turbines, to improve their operation.

One of GE’s wind turbine customers, for example, is using software to track minute-by-minute conditions on 469 wind turbines to adjust the pitch of blades and other parameters. By analyzing tens of thousands of bits of data per second, the software has allowed the wind farm owner to increase the output by 3 to 5 percent.

In the industrial world, improvements of a just few percent in efficiency or reliability translate into huge numbers financially, Immelt said. Increasing the speed of train locomotives by 1 percent means $200 million in profits to a railroad, for example.

GE has signed on Verizon, Softbank, and Vodafone to bring Predix-based data to mobile devices. It’s also partnered with Cisco to build rugged networking gear and with Intel to make a reference architecture for sensors and other embedded hardware that work with Predix.

GE’s moves in the industrial Internet are worth following because the company has a trillion-dollar installed base of industrial gear that can benefit from instrumentation and analytics. In 2012, it opened a software engineering center in San Ramon, CA to develop its platform and has already made acquisitions in the area, including one in an industrial security company. “We are investing in small companies … and applying their technology to what we do,” Immelt said.

Writing apps for industrial clients is radically different than writing consumer smartphone apps. Instead of hoping for viral sales, app developers need to work through partners that have the connections to industrial clients. The opportunity is in writing apps that can translate machine data into something useful, whether it’s predicting maintenance schedules or improving the design of new products.

“We think there really is going to be thousands of different apps, just like the consumer world has moved to, that give you insight into a variety of different things in your business,” said Bill Ruh, the vice president of GE’s Global Software Center.

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