Small changes can make a big difference. Ask any asset-centric company that has had part of its operations put on hold when a single part breaks unexpectedly.

Chaos theory argues that the batting of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately affect the path of a hurricane. And in the same way, tiny variations in the vibrations of parts can tell us big things about the health of machines and the maintenance required to keep them up and running.

But that’s just the start.

At the Internet of Things Conference in San Francisco last week, I had the opportunity to present the work we are doing at GE Software to embrace the potential of the large-scale, continually-optimized Internet of Things to transform the way that we live and work.

Decoding the vibe

Today, at the machine-level, we can detect tiny vibrations and other machine signals and predict that a repair will be needed. Advanced warning is always valuable. Of even greater value is pairing these predictive capabilities with prescriptive capabilities—systems that help us figure out how to make the repairs with little or no negative impact on our operations. The Industrial Internet will allow us to deliver these predictive and prescriptive capabilities much more broadly and quickly. These obvious, first-generation Industrial Internet benefits are well understood, and these benefits alone warrant the Industrial Internet buzz—the value of wide-spread predictive foresight and prescriptive guidance is enormous! 

Context is everything

That tiny vibration is the earliest signal in the machine world. But there are many precursors to that tiny vibration in the operational world around the machine. Did the problem develop because of the way the machine was operated last Tuesday afternoon? Was it because of the way a certain part was lubricated? The way the machine was last repaired? The machine's proximity to another piece of equipment? 

Without an Industrial Internet, we don't understand the dynamic interplay in the operational world—a bewildering cloud of interweaving butterfly effects. Without the Industrial Internet, we haven't been able to quickly track down the root cause. So we listen for tiny vibrations in a machine and then spring into action. What if we could anticipate the vibrations?

Preemptive power

By mapping the larger operational world, we can now tell that a certain way of using a machine often results in earlier-than-expected servicing. Weeks before the tiny vibration shows up, we can alert the operational team that current operating practices or operational configurations are likely to lead to unwanted downtime. We can then figure out strategies to avoid any negative side effects. In those extra days and weeks, we can change processes, we can move machines to swap out during servicing, or we can find partners with surplus capacity that we can offload to. We move beyond predictive and prescriptive capabilities to preemptive capabilities. That is a fundamental change. Until now, we haven't been able to do that in real-time and at scale across industrial and commercial operations. 

We still won't be able to predict, prevent, or preempt in every case. Unexpected, last-minute disruptions will happen. But we can decrease how often they happen and in cases when they do happen, our new, detailed view of the operational world will allow us to recover more quickly and intelligently than ever before.

Moving ALL the levers

The combination of new preemptive capabilities and enhanced recovery capabilities will transform environments plagued with last-minute emergencies to models of proactive efficiency. The impact for the industrial and commercial worlds will be profound in terms of cost reduction, revenue growth, and improved work conditions in the high-stress operational domains that need them most—healthcare, airlines, global logistics, discrete manufacturing, and others. The positive ripples outward will enhance all of our lives, reducing our energy costs as well as the time that we're delayed while traveling or seeking medical care.

At GE, the Industrial Internet is about moving all of the levers at once—improving quality, safety, productivity, reliability, and profitability at the same time. That requires solving some of the most fascinating and impactful puzzles of our time. 

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