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Lorenzo Simonelli: Thinking Like a Tech Startup — Delivering the Next Industrial Era

In the face of unprecedented global challenges, big companies need to adopt the mindset of  startups — from collaboration to comprehensive problem solving.


As Thomas Edison said, “I find out what the world needs. Then I proceed to invent it.” Over 130 years after Edison established GE, invention with practical application remains at the core of everything we do.

In the oil and gas sector, our needs are changing as never before. Today, across the world, we face unprecedented challenges financially, geopolitically, environmentally and operationally — and need to think bolder than ever before in order to address them.

The sector, and the world, is crying out for innovative solutions to extracting, transporting and processing oil and gas. Our needs are multiple and competing: faster, cheaper, local, predictable, more efficient, less resource intensive. The recent drop in the price of oil has only served to accentuate these needs, not change them.

Most oil and gas sector companies are looking around them for fresh ways to tackle these challenges. And many of us, rightly, are turning to technology. At GE Oil & Gas, we are wholly committed to using cutting-edge technology and tools — 3D printing, the Industrial Internet, Big Data, to name but a few — to help our customers deliver more from their fields.

But for industrial companies like GE, thinking like a technology startup requires a far greater change in mindset than simply adopting and utilizing these new technologies. We believe it is only by combining the technical and philosophical expertise of some of the world’s most effective technology startups to build on GE’s generations of specialist engineering, manufacturing and servicing skill, knowledge and innovation that we can truly deliver the best possible outcomes for our customers.

Problem Solving

Historically, many industrial companies have focused on solving one problem at once. But in today’s fast-paced era, with an industry facing environmental, cost and technical challenges, this simply isn’t enough. Our customers want creative tools and solutions that address all their issues urgently.

At GE, we have found the best way to think in the round is to harness the project management, engineering and manufacturing experience across our company.  Our partnership with ENI for the Offshore Cape Three Points block in Ghana is a great example of this “GE Store” at work. We are drawing upon the capabilities of our Subsea, Turbomachinery and Power Conversion teams to deliver solutions needed for the project beginning this year and continuing to 2017, when first oil production is planned.

The GE Store also helps us transfer material science and engineering breakthroughs from one industry to another. Our new High Pressure Ratio Compressor (HPRC) leverages GE aviation’s aerodynamic experience to deliver our smallest, lightest compressor yet — reducing overall train weight and footprint and increased reliability. With HPRC technology, we have lowered power consumption and reduced operating costs with an easier installation.

Customer Engagement

Supply companies have always engaged customers. But in the past, this has been sporadic, focused in the early days prior to an agreement, and then again when a product is ready to be rolled out. Often, that left little space for improvements in the development process, or left customers with a product they were not 100 percent satisfied with. This often caused customer frustration, cost and time overruns.

By adopting the startup “FastWorks” approach at GE, we have transformed the way we develop products for our customers. Our engineers, not just salespeople, now share products in development with our customers. They receive actionable feedback on these minimum viable products (MVPs), enabling them to deliver solutions that meet or surpass customer needs.

Open Innovation

In our highly competitive business environment, intellectual property has always been closely guarded. Successful innovation has mostly been driven by competition, rather than partnership or information sharing. Increasingly, this goes against the spirit of the times — with technology companies, in particular, crowdsourcing and sharing information to innovate for social good.

At GE, we have always believed that innovators can and should build on each other’s expertise, taking breakthroughs in one business and applying them to others. We push expectations and change the idea of what’s possible.

Today, we are extending that even further, through collaboration with Statoil to accelerate development of sustainable energy solutions, including a focus on increasing performance and prolonging intervals between maintenance for gas turbines and compressors on Statoil’s platforms in the North Sea.  Another key part of the collaboration is our Open Innovation Challenge, seeking global input to address industry issues. Together, we are committed to driving sustainable and cost-effective solutions for our industry by accessing and rewarding the best available thinking, to everyone’s benefit.

(Top image: Courtesy of Finn Beales)

Lorenzo Simonelli is President and CEO, GE Oil & Gas.





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