Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Internet of Things

GE is building up a huge new research center in the East Bay, near Silicon Valley, says this NYT article, because the same thing that powers sharing trivia on Facebook could also share much more significant data in the real economy. The industrial Internet is being born.

.. G.E.’s effort, analysts say, shows that Internet-era technology is ready to sweep through the industrial economy much as the consumer Internet has transformed media, communications and advertising over the last decade.

The key is adding sensors to machines, to help make them more intelligent.

Today, G.E. is putting sensors on everything, be it a gas turbine or a hospital bed. The mission of the engineers in San Ramon is to design the software for gathering data, and the clever algorithms for sifting through it for cost savings and productivity gains. Across the industries it covers, G.E. estimates such efficiency opportunities at as much as $150 billion.

I think this is very interesting, but the question is whether it will prove to be about transformation and new business models, not simply efficiency. There is a certain amount of big data "me-too-ism" about it.

I was watching an interview between Jeff Bezos and Charlie Rose the other day. Bezos said they never liked to enter a market just because they could. There isn't much money to be made doing the same thing as everyone else, entering a market late a in "me-too" way.

GE may be very good at efficiency, but I wonder if they can innovate as well. We've seen before that the rise of the modern world cannot be explained by greater efficiency, but by doing things in new ways. And I say that as a GE shareholder. Their share price is still near half what it was before the crisis.

They have such vast scale that more efficiency means millions of dollars for even tiny gains, and that could ripple across the economy in power and transportation sectors. But we need new possibilities as well.


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