Intelligent machines, big data and the next industrial era


Mark Sheppard, Chief Innovation Officer at GE Australia, says that one of the most common questions he gets in the course of his work is: is the industrial internet revolution actually real? 

His reply is, that if you look beyond the hype, the industrial revolution is nascent, and while the potential is there, in his experience, clients are looking at how they can leverage what is currently available to procure quick wins and elegant solutions for their businesses.

Therefore, GE have recognised that they need to disrupt their current business model, from merely creating big spin-y things to putting the value proposition at the core of their customer experience – it’s not enough to build a great train – the question instead needs to be: how does this train deliver iron ore as effectively as it can? or how can we fly this plan as safely and reliably as possible?

And this is where the Internet of Things can play such a crucial role, because GE can harness its capabilities in order to optimise the operations of their clients. In some cases, the savings may appear miniscule, 1%, but with big companies, 1% can equal $5-7 billion if you’re in the oil and gas business for example, or $4-5 billion in healthcare.

It’s this change of focus, according to Sheppard, that have given his clients some significant early wins. 

For example, in the oil and gas industry, a client was losing $150 million annually due to unplanned downtime, which lead GE to ask: how do we create the most reliable pipeline? 

The answer was to put in hundreds of sensors along the pipeline, which would give data about the functionality of various sections.  With that data, technicians could then anticipate problem that might arise and fix them before they became more significant. The result of these measures was 99.2% guaranteed uptime.

Another fantastic example given was in the area of healthcare. If you are a patient navigating the hospital system, there is a 1 in 20 chance of something going wrong during your experience, because the many hospital systems are so disparate.

In another case study, nurses were spending 20-30 minutes per shift looking for equipment, because it is common practice for practitioners to hide them. Not only was this inefficient, because there was no way of accurately tracking where the machines were, they tended not to be as clean as they should have been.

By applying tracking equipment on the machines, the time spent looking for them was cut down to 10 minutes a day and the machines were drastically cleaner. Even though this may not seem like much at a glance, the time saved mean that patients could have more access to nurses, which mean quicker recovery times and in some cases, could be life-saving.

These are just small examples, but Sheppard argues that the small things have the potential to be truly transformative. He also argues that if we want to lock into the possibilities that the industrial revolution could afford Australia, then we must address the fear and uncertainty that surrounds the concept, in addition to attracting and fostering talent in the industrial space.

If we could do this, then the industrial revolution could be a real platform that will afford real opportunity.

CeBIT Australia CIO Summary Report