In 2014, GE launched a home for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) with the release of Predix Platform, the first platform purpose-built for industrial applications. The goal was to do for machines what Apple’s iOS did for smartphones. But like Apple, GE couldn’t get there alone. To scale Predix Platform into a thriving ecosystem packed with cutting-edge apps, like Predix Asset Performance Management (Predix APM), and robust services, the company needed more than its brain trust or the roster of companies signed on as early adopters—it needed a diverse community of third-party developers.
That’s where Leah Cole comes in.
Leah is a Developer Evangelist or “Devangelist” for GE Digital. Her job is to travel around the world to places where innovators congregate—hackathons, universities, tech meetups—and enlist them in the project of building out Predix Platform into an ecosystem capable of supporting the tens of billions of devices soon to be connected through IIoT that, in turn, power the world.
I recently sat down with Leah to learn more about her unique role in the IIoT developer community. Here are excerpts from our conversation:
What made you want to become a Devangelist, and how did you get into your current role with GE Digital?
I started at GE Digital as part of the Digital Tech Leadership Program (DTLP), which is a two-year rotational program comprising of four separate roles, each lasting six months. I started out building solutions that are now part of our Predix Asset Performance Management (Predix APM) portfolio, then moved to work on a digital team that was developing new aviation technology. From there, I joined our Professional Services team—a team that helps customers implement IIoT solutions through architecture and blueprinting—and ended the program working with our Manufacturing Solutions team.
All this experience really gave me a holistic view into various job functions within the company. I decided to move into a developer relations role because it was a hybrid of the two aspects that I enjoyed the most—technology and people. I like having opportunity to educate others on how to build on Predix Platform, and I love that I get work with anyone from a developer to a C-suite level executive. When working at GE Digital, I sometimes take for granted how advanced our company is with its own digital transformation. A lot of companies are still trying to figure it out and don’t know where to start, so being able to teach them how to take that first step is the really fun part!
What makes Predix Platform unique from other developer platforms?
I think the fact that Predix Platform is the only industrial platform is definitely what makes it unique—there’s no other platform that supports the distinct needs and challenges of industrial companies. And, in addition to being the only industrial platform, I think GE’s industrial roots give us the deep domain expertise that’s required for helping other industrial companies successfully implement IIoT. We understand their challenges, their needs, their environments, and their people because they’re just like our own. We don’t just build software and applications, we also build jet engines and CT scan machines and generate power to one-third of the world. We have all these long-standing relationships with people who use these industrial assets every day—and we’re now powering the apps that keep them going.
From your perspective, where do you see the Predix Platform ecosystem in five years?
I look forward to seeing how the ecosystem continues to grow with both people and applications. We’ve recently expanded the platform so much to make it even more comprehensive and robust. I remember when we first acquired Meridium, Bit Stew, and ServiceMax, I thought to myself “how are we going to integrate all of these applications?” But we did, we’ve so tightly coupled Meridium into Predix APM, and Bit Stew into Predix Studio. And now they’re well on their way to operating seamlessly into one ecosystem of industrial applications. We’re working on that same seamless integration of Predix ServiceMax right now, and honestly the outcomes so far are really impressive. I just love how our platform and applications support the buyers journey from end-to-end, we can help with everything from design and build to distribution, service, operations, and maintenance. Seeing that whole unified portfolio is so amazing.
I’m also looking forward to seeing how Predix Platform and the apps continue to scale worldwide. We’re working with a ton of companies globally to better understand other’s needs in different parts of the world. I think it’s so important to learn how different environments, resources, and cultures influence the way an organization operates. We’re working with these companies from the ground up with one mission—to build technology that makes the world better.
What’s one of your favorite applications that you’ve seen developed on Predix Platform?
Oh, that’s a tough one! I’ve seen so many great applications built on Predix Platform. I’d say, from GE Digital’s application portfolio, Predix APM is my favorite because it’s suite of software includes so many powerful tools and solutions for optimizing asset performance. You can truly customize Predix APM to fit whatever your analytic needs and goals are.
My favorite application that I’ve seen built at a Hackathon was during my first Predix Transform conference in 2016. Our team of developers short fused a toy wind turbine to keep it running around the clock and then got it to stream data into Predix Platform. Now, that same toy wind turbine is being used in demos throughout the company. Most people haven’t spent time on a shop floor or walking around a wind turbine farm, which can make it hard to imagine how massive industrial assets operate. Using a toy wind turbine is a wonderful way to show a scale model of an actual asset and allow others to see how it can run on Predix Platform with their own eyes.
What advice would you give to a developer who’s building an IIoT application for the first time?
First and foremost, I think it’s crucial to get outside of your team and ask questions. Even though your team may be the domain experts and know the best design patterns, they don’t always understand all of the challenges that your end-user is facing. Try to take a tour of a shop floor to understand who you’re actually building the application for. It’s important to have empathy for your user and understand the person’s needs on the other end of the application. Be sure to get out of your bubble!