Published on February 24

Mobile World Congress Day 3: Partnerships Fuel Industrial Internet Growth

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

It’s a central paradox of technology: Competition fuels business, but getting fledgling technologies off the ground requires sharing and partnerships. That’s true of the industrial Internet as well.

Mike Sutcliff, group chief executive at Accenture, said that it’s difficult for companies to become fully digital and take full advantage of the industrial Internet without business partners. “Pioneering companies are tapping into a broad array of other digital businesses, digital customers and even digital devices to create new ecosystems,” Sutcliff said.

Lance Anderson, vice president of enterprise sales at wearables firm Vuzix, agreed. “We’re all working together to bake this pie before we can split it up.”

That explains the flurry of recent partnership announcements, including a new deal between European wireless carrier Orange and Google, Facebook’s agreement to develop VR technology with Samsung, an erstwhile rival since Facebook owns Oculus, a VR headset that competes with Samsung’s Gear VR.

GE’s vision for partnerships

GE has also embraced partnerships. In the past few years, the company announced deals with Intel, Cisco and AT&T, among others, to foster the growth of the industrial Internet.

Denzil Samuels, GE’s global head of channels, alliances, business development and ventures, said such deals are necessary because the industrial Internet is so large. The ecosystem encompasses telecommunications companies, independent software developers, systems integrators, hardware companies and data analysts.

Since the trend is happening on a global level, the partners are also divided by geography. “It’s just incredible,” he said. “If you start to map all of that together, you could have an ecosystem of thousands of partners, many of whom we don’t know yet.”

With its Predix software platform, GE hopes to be the primary operating system for the industrial Internet. The template is Apple’s App Store, which harnessed the work of thousands of app developers to meet consumer needs that no single company could anticipate. “I don’t think the App Store would have ever been successful if Apple tried to write all those applications,” he said.

“But every day of the week, they have tens of thousands of application companies writing applications for them. We need that because we need the scale and we need the size to be a successful player.”

The industrial Internet economy

In the early days of the PC era, Microsoft made software for Apple’s platform even though Apple’s OS was a competitor to Microsoft’s Windows. Today, Apple buys chips from Samsung (for now at least) even though the two have volleyed patent cases around the world.

The industrial Internet prompts some unusual partnerships at times, because everyone realizes what a huge opportunity it is. The business applications range from cruise ships—Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain said he thinks of his 200,000-plus ton vessels as “mobile devices”—and french fry cookers from Restaurant Technologies, which uses sensors to capture data related to the quality of the cooking oil. In each case, savvy companies see the industrial Internet as a vehicle for improving customer experience and wringing efficiencies from their operations.

As GE has pointed out, some predict that by 2030, the industrial Internet will add $15 trillion to global GDP. By 2020, the industrial Internet might be worth $250 billion to $300 billion, which is bigger than both the consumer Internet and the enterprise cloud. “The last decade was the decade of the consumer Internet,” said William Ruh, head of GE Global Software. “This will be the decade of the industrial Internet.”

Amazon has led the consumer Internet, and Salesforce comes to mind when discussing enterprise cloud. No one yet dominates the industrial Internet, though GE is definitely gunning for it.

That’s why Samuels said that the lure of partnerships is clear. “It’s the creation of wealth,” he said. “What we’re allowing is partners to share in this economy.”

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.