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GE CIO Jim Fowler Helps Drive the Operating System for the Industrial Internet

by Peter High, published on Forbes

05-01-17

General Electric Chief Information Officer Jim Fowler is a member of the latest class of Forbes CIO Innovation Award winners. In his 20 months since ascending to the top IT role in GE, he has helped lead a major digital transformation, which has included the development of industrial internet platforms that are being used by the company and by GE’s customers. They have already yielded nearly $1 billion in productivity gains, and the revenue gains from the offering will soon be even higher.

When asked about Fowler, GE Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey R. Immelt noted, “We are undergoing a massive IT transformation at GE which requires a new type of CIO, and Jim is the right person to lead us. When I go into a discussion about how to drive revenue and productivity across GE, I want Jim next to me making those decisions. CIOs have gone from working to keep the costs down and working behind helpdesks to demanding a seat at the table. When I need to drive billions in service productivity and better customer quality, Jim and the Digital Technology organization are one of the most important parts of the process.”

Peter High: You have been in the throes of a major digital transformation. Please describe the innovation that IT helped drive, and the value it has created.

Jim Fowler: We transformed IT from back office administrators to productivity makers, delivering more than $700 million in productivity in 2016. We stopped being a piston in the engine of each individual business and became the engine for all of GE by working horizontally. We reinvented how IT operates and serves the business units, from being reactive to business needs to proactively creating solutions that drive business. We moved away from vertical business silos, and now operate horizontally across the company. There is no longer IT at GE there is only DT…. Digital Technology!

Our previous silos resulted in the creation of independent solutions for each field service organization across GE, creating redundant systems that responded to similar issues in disparate ways. Development teams of solution architects focused on refactoring an existing app, SmartOutage developed in our Power business, using Predix to create FieldVision. Redundant solutions from across and within the businesses were transformed into a single mobile field services application enabling all GE services businesses.

Over the last 18 months we’ve also established Digital Hubs around the world, where GE employees come together to use these new connections, data and advanced analytics to create applications. Employees across these locations are completing amazing projects everyday with outcomes that are going to take GE, and our customers, to the next level. We are igniting the workforce and bringing the knowledge content and intellectual property inside the company. Finally, we are retraining an agile workforce for the future that values technology ownership.

It’s a mind shift away from managing projects to digging in and developing the products we need for the future – like FieldVision – that take GE and our customers to the next level of digital transformation.

High: What opportunity or issue to be resolved yielded this IT-led innovation?

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