The CEO Of GE Digital On What Is Next For The Industrial Icon


By Peter High. Published on Forbes

General Electric has been in the news quite a bit in recent weeks for the many changes afoot there. A centerpiece of the change in recent years has been the move toward digitizing the business. Bill Ruh leads that transformation as CEO of GE Digital and as the Chief Digital Officer of General Electric. He has been one of the primary architects of a major cultural change that is afoot at the 126 year old company.

Ruh notes that digital transformations often fail due to a lack of focus on  “soft” elements such as culture, leadership, and talent. He notes that it is essential to blend talent by bringing new people into the company who have digital experience while also retraining existing employees.

Ruh has developed three layers to the approach: GE for GE, GE for installed base customers, and GE for the industrial world. This ensures that GE is its own first customer of digital offerings, and then can take those offerings to existing companies and beyond.  He highlights all of the above and more in this interview.

Peter High: Executing a digital transformation is certainly a challenge, and it is almost always a multi-year journey. Could you talk about the digital transformation that you lead at General Electric? Specifically, could you elaborate on where you have been, where you are, and where you are going on that journey?

Bill Ruh: When we started seven years ago, GE was an early mover into the digital space. We dove into it because we could see that our customers were starting to use the data off the machines that GE had. There was a recognition that going forward, you had to be the best at understanding this data, because you do not want your competition to be better. We are entering a world where selling the machine is one element, but anybody can take the information off the machine and provide insight. Because of this, you want to give the best insight to your customers. It was a simple thought process in the beginning, but it turned out to be relatively profound.

Throughout this journey, we have learned a couple of things. One is that from an outside perspective, we have come to believe that the business world is a series of dominoes. Every industry and sector will eventually be transformed by digital. Digital will be the critical cornerstone to providing value. We have seen that in retail, entertainment, telecommunications, among other industries. Specifically, we are now seeing it in the industrial sector. One of the first ones we believe is going to fall in a big way is the automotive industry. Specifically, software for autonomous driving is going to foundationally remake who buys cars, who sells cars, and what the business model is. As I mentioned, I believe this goes beyond automotive and that it is true of every industry that we serve. We believe digital and autonomous systems are going to be the center point of it whether that be for cars, power plants, rail yards, factories, and so on. We are entering a ten year period where the industrial sector is likely going to be the most interesting sector for digital. We were the first in the sector to make this move. We incubated it and we feel incredibly well positioned to be able to win both in the industries we serve as well as in this emerging world as a whole.

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