The industrial app economy will spur innovation by enabling a more seamless environment for people and machines to work smarter and more efficiently together.
We live in a world of apps. They have become so pervasive in our daily experience that we don’t even think about it anymore: an app wakes us in the morning, and another app reports the quality of our sleep; we use apps to move around town, book restaurants and movies, track our weight and physical activity, meet friends, stream music and keep up with the news. Life is an app.
Now machines are joining the game. The industrial world is getting online fast — and Big Data is getting really big. Machine data is growing twice as fast as other data. Jet engines generate 1 terabyte of data per flight. Gas turbines, wind turbines, railway tracks and medical devices are beginning to produce gigantic quantities of data. By 2020, there will be an estimated 50 billion “things” connected to the Internet, and an increasing share of these interconnected devices will be industrial assets.
As they get interconnected, industrial machines will do exactly as we do — they will rely on apps to do just about anything: improve their health, feed themselves better, socialize with each other. Seriously! We already have apps that allow wind turbines to talk to each other and coordinate the way they change the pitch of their blades as the wind changes to maximize the power output of the whole wind farm. Teamwork — enabled by an industrial app. We have apps that tell jet engines how to reduce their fuel consumption. Apps that constantly check the health of gas turbines and predict when a fault is likely to happen — so we can intervene with preventive maintenance. Apps that allow doctors and nurses to schedule medical procedures more efficiently and collaborate in real time on patients’ diagnoses, curing people better and faster.
This is only the beginning. The Industrial Internet now has an operating system, Predix, and a cloud infrastructure, Predix Cloud. This provides a common platform on which developers can experiment with new ways to improve the efficiency and reliability of all sorts of machines. The platform is essential to leverage the power of the “Global Brain” — the distributed and connected intelligence of millions of people around the globe. There are already close to two and a half million developers globally. That is a lot of brains at work, and that is why in the consumer world we already have apps for almost anything.
The world of consumer apps has not only transformed our lives; it has generated substantial economic value. The global app economy grew at a 27 percent rate last year and is projected to reach $143 billion by next year.
These are impressive numbers. But they will be dwarfed by the industrial app economy that is now emerging. Industrial apps will leverage a massive installed base of physical assets across sectors that act as the engines of global economic growth: energy, healthcare, transportation. Industry today accounts for about one-third of global economic output — and investment infrastructure is expected to exceed $60 trillion over the next 15 years.
Industrial apps will bring greater efficiency throughout the economy. They will allow us to produce more energy from renewable sources and use it more efficiently — spurring major changes in the energy industry. They will make healthcare better and more affordable. They will reduce delays in hospitals and airports. Combined with new production techniques, they will help develop manufacturing activities in new places, creating jobs and accelerating growth in emerging economies. Their impact on our lives will be stronger than that of consumer apps — even if it might not be as evident.
Key to the growth of the industrial app economy will be the interoperability and compatibility of apps, so that they can be adapted and “ported” across different industrial sectors. Apps that help optimize the management of a fleet of aircraft, for example, should be easily adapted to managing fleets of ships or locomotives. This will trigger a cross-fertilization of ideas and solutions that will accelerate the growth of the industrial Internet and multiply its efficiency gains.
The industrial app economy will not only have a much more powerful economic impact than the consumer app economy, it will also be different in some important respects. The scope for very simple apps will be a lot more limited in the industrial sector: apps for industrial machines will have to be robust and secure. They will be aimed at monitoring and controlling the operation of complex industrial machinery, they will need to be able to handle industrial-level quantities of data, and they will have to satisfy the highest cybersecurity standards — both to protect the data and to avoid interference with industrial plants and infrastructure.
Economic progress has always been powered by people and by machines. Now innovation is accelerating, and it is making both machines and people smarter, more efficient and more complementary than ever. Economic progress will increasingly be driven by people and machines working in symbiosis. Industrial apps will provide the interface, the common language that allows them to work together — creating more high-quality jobs and better living standards.
Marco Annunziata is the Chief Economist and Executive Director of Global Market Insight at GE.