Published on February 23

Mobile World Congress Day 2: The Industrial Internet Shakes Up Major Industries

GE and WP Brand Studio are partnering to put the lens of industry on Mobile World Congress with special reports live from Barcelona.  Minds + Machines: Speaking Industry is a partner program, made possible by GE. The Washington Post newsroom is not involved in content production.

By Todd Wasserman

If there was any doubt that the post-mobile age is going to revolutionize pretty much every business, top industry executives are stepping forward to share how the industrial Internet is recasting the disparate auto, agriculture and healthcare sectors. The implication of greater connectivity for industry is boundless, and cloud-based partnerships can link more moving parts and shared learnings than ever before.

Auto

In the auto industry, connectivity is transforming companies like Ford, which CEO Mark Fields said is transitioning from being an automotive company to an “auto and mobility” company. Ford began adding communications functionality to its vehicles with Sync, a dashboard-based entertainment and communications interface it launched in 2007. Now in its third generation, Ford expects to have 43 million Sync-enhanced vehicles on the road by 2023.

In addition, Ford is tripling its investment in driver-assist technology that helps drivers park and drive in heavy traffic, Fields said. Ford’s remaking didn’t stop there. The company is also aiming to get into the sharing economy, which in the transportation sector is currently dominated by Uber. “Across the world when you see growth of these megacities, with 10 million or more folks, people want mobility solutions, they want options,” Fields said.

Agriculture

Another industry being completely overhauled by industrial Internet technology is agriculture. John Deere began pioneering self-driving vehicles well before Google. Ronald Zink, director of on-board applications for John Deere, said there are now 100,000 John Deere connected machines in 50 countries.

Zink noted that the world will soon add 2 billion more people “and land won’t appreciably grow,” prompting the need for ultra-efficient, data-based farming. Deere’s vision is to foster an ecosystem in which third-party developers can solve new and previously unforeseen problems using open APIs.

“For instance, you might look at soil and ask what’s the yield potential, and that app might come from third-party developers,” Zink said. While it’s great to offer a range of solutions, he said the lack of a cohesive solution can be overwhelming. “I think what you’re seeing today is there’s a lot of complex technology for farmers and they don’t know how to put it together, so they wind up being a systems integrator,” he said. “Of course, that’s not the best solution.”

Healthcare

While healthcare is a very different industry, the goals are similar: To maximize efficiency and use data and automation to perform jobs better. GE’s approach, like John Deere’s, is to create an ecosystem where developers can play a big role.

GE has taken a few steps on this front, making Predix, a software platform for the industrial Internet, available to all users, including competitors, last year. In addition, the company introduced the GE Health Cloud, a private, dedicated cloud computing platform for the industry. At the show, GE also launched the GE Digital Alliance Program, which is designed to link systems integrators, telecoms, software vendors, resellers and tech providers with GE’s technology and industrial Internet expertise.

“The ecosystem is all about the applications,” said Evren Eryurek, GE HealthCare software CTO. The goal behind GE’s various initiatives was to let app developers focus on the new feature their app brings without having to waste energy creating an app from scratch, he said. “Rather than looking at the seven layers of an application, they’re now focusing on their final value-add and we’re providing all of the capabilities underneath.”

Such apps would help GE address three areas in healthcare that could be improved by the industrial Internet: asset management, employee productivity and automation.

Connecting the rest of the world

The biggest opportunities in the industry lie in Africa, Asia and India, which Eryurek said might be able to leapfrog into the wireless era without ever embracing so-called wired technology like PCs.

“We can offer some devices connected to the cloud where the expertise to care providers than might not have been lucky enough to have gone through all the education that other countries have gone through,” he said. “So we’re able to bring in intelligence through the network and the cloud to the care providers in those areas.”

Eryurek wasn’t alone in envisioning a world in which everyone on the planet is given Internet access–the issue is also a cause for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. A major challenge is connectivity. GE is addressing that via a partnership with Cisco to provide connections to such areas. “Sometimes it’s going to be 3G, sometimes it’s going to be Wi-Fi,” he said. “You’d be amazed at how these new technologies help them leapfrog.”

 

Todd Wasserman has been writing professionally for over 20 years and was most recently Mashable’s Business Editor. From 1999-2010, he covered the advertising and marketing industry for Brandweek, and became editor-in-chief in 2007. He wrote for Computer Retail Week and various dailys, and freelanced for The New York Times, Business 2.0, The Hollywood Reporter and Inc., among others. He has appeared on CNN, NPR, Fox Business and BBC America.