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Sometimes, transformation takes time

Dec. 7, 2017

Even urgent, recognized needs don’t always spur immediate action.

Hot on the heels of September’s third annual Smart Industry conference in Chicago, I had the privilege in

Smart Industry's Keith Larson

October of attending GE’s annual Minds + Machines event in San Francisco. And while the two events differed in terms of agenda, scope and locale, I was most struck by how the articulated mission of both events to accelerate the digital transformation of industry expressed itself this year in a focus on how real companies had achieved real outcomes through the application of digital technologies.

Or, as Bill Ruh, CEO, GE Digital, put it during the Minds + Machines opening keynote session, “The question is no longer why do this, or how can this be done, but ‘How can I do this?’ It’s about customers, and it’s about outcomes. It’s about the 13% already on the journey.”

Ruh’s 13% referred to the percentage of industrial decision-makers GE recently surveyed who said that digital transformation is “engrained in the core of our business.” At the other end of the spectrum revealed in the company’s Industrial Evolution Index report were the 79% of respondents who are “gradually embracing” digital transformation, “have very few” such investments in place, or “have no plan” for digital transformation.

Despite this laissez-faire, feet-on-the-desk posture, some 80% of these percent believe the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will or could be transformational to their companies and industries. Even more consider digital industrial transformation to be important to their organization’s competitiveness.

How to square this apparent contradiction? Most respondents cited investment costs, system security and data privacy as persistent obstacles to deploying the greater connectivity and applications needed to realize digital transformation. Further, the majority of respondents also indicated organizational change as a prerequisite to true digital transformation.

For my money, the greatest obstacle to transformation of any kind remains the inertia of the current state. Its daily demands to meets quotas and deadlines “the old way” preclude investing time, money and attention to achieve some future state, no matter how desirable.

“Yet the Industrial Internet is already having a profound impact on industrial companies of all sizes,” said Ruh. “We know this because we are seeing real benefits with our customers and across GE. We are working to close the gap between outlook for the IIoT and actions by partnering with customers to accelerate change and guide companies of all sizes along their digital journeys.”

Similarly, our goal at Smart Industry is to advance the digital transformation of industry by sharing the stories of those who have already embarked. Who better to learn the path from, than someone who’s gone before you? This particular issue of Smart Industry, the magazine, contains lessons learned and share by 21 intrepid “thirteen percenters”: industrial end users and machine builders who spoke of their organizations’ digital transformation journeys at Smart Industry 2017. I hope you find their stories enlightening and inspiring in equal measure. 

Keith Larson is editor in chief of Smart Industry. 

Read the digital version of the latest Smart Industry magazine here.