In this exclusive interview with Ed J. Boufarah, GE Oil & Gas Vice President Digital Solutions, Middle East Africa, Turkey & Pakistan, he talks about his company’s key role in catalyzing the digital transformation of various industries, and how the synergy between a trailblazing technology and traditional engineering expertise gives GE a distinct edge
In the history of the modern world, two global revolutions changed the way people lived and worked. The first was the Industrial Revolution, which paved the way for mass production, enhanced transport networks and the establishment of better living conditions for various segments of the society. Then, there was the Internet Revolution, which introduced new forms of communication, fresh avenues for personal and corporate interaction and ingenious ways of operating and doing business.
Today, the world is at the outset of another massive revolution. One that marries the industrial world with the Internet world. One that enhances operational productivity, profitability and safety like never before. One that opens doors to innovative methods of sharing information and streamlining processes. One that empowers companies and people to make better, faster and more informed decisions.
Today, the world witnesses the advent of the Industrial Internet Revolution.
Leveraging the Power of Prediction
Industrial assets, like engines, locomotives and wind turbines generate terabytes of data on a daily basis, but only two per cent of that is being utilized in conventional operations. Today, analytics and software technologies are being developed and increasingly made available to capture, store and analyze this data and draw insights from it to optimize operations, enhance efficiency and productivity and, ultimately, improve the profitability and safety of businesses around the world.
GE is at the forefront of innovating how people and businesses use data and analytics to drive better economic and operational outcomes. It all starts with Predix, GE’s proprietary industrial Internet operating system. “We are the first company,” says Ed J. Boufarah, Vice President (Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and Pakistan) for Digital Solutions at GE Oil & Gas, “to develop an industrial operating system with an open architecture platform. The idea is that this operating system will apply for all of our infrastructure businesses, bet it aviation, healthcare, power or oil & gas.”
Just as iOS on iPhones or Android on other phones are mobile platforms that run myriad applications for various functions, Predix is an industrial platform that can run applications for the industrial world. It enables an ecosystem of services to allow applications to be easily and quickly developed to run on it.
“Predix”, says Boufarah, “when coupled with cloud computing, gives you a combination whereby you have an open architecture platform and a cloud platform that can store and manage data in a cost-effective way.” GE, then, expertly analyzes the captured data with its globally recognized domain expertise to draw insights and make decisions to improve productivity, efficiency and safety for its own and its customers’ assets. “This is where GE differentiates itself from the competition,” adds Boufarah. “When we take the data from our machines, we know the data science of that machine and we know what software analytics need to be coded so we can draw insights from the data.”
If Predix is comparable to other technology platforms, what then makes Predix unique, aside from its industrial application?
Predix provides industrial level security to protect machines as you connect them to other assets and to the cloud. It can absorb any kind of data, structured and unstructured, including e-mail data, voice data, field data and video data. It enables its users to rapidly run complex combinations of analytics, and also allows concurrent multiple users and exhibits all the latest attributes that an industrial user would expect in a platform as a service offering.
GE is continuously developing Predix to find wider applications in more industries. Today, Predix is successfully changing the operational landscape of the world’s major industries, including oil & gas. Asset Performance Management (APM) applications on Predix are now contributing to minimizing customer shutdown time and extending the operating life of oil & gas assets. Boufarah reports that the technology is now running with 28 customers in the Middle East alone.
GE itself applies its digital technologies in its facilities, including those for manufacturing and supply chain, which, in 2016, resulted in more than USD 700 million in savings. “We are practicing what we are preaching. We are able to take advantage of the benefits of the digital technology that we are implementing.” Ultimately, Boufarah believes that digital transformation is a journey, and that customers are going to see its full benefits in two or three years after implementation.
The GE Difference: The Predix-Engineering Nexus
It is no surprise that GE is stepping up to lead the world through the industrial Internet age, with its wealth of industrial domain knowledge, its fabled history of innovation and determination.
“For you to make any meaningful insights out of the data that your store and capture, and to know what software analytics you need to develop and to draw sound decisions, you need the technical domain expertise of engineers,” says Boufarah. “For example, if you are receiving data from a compressor offshore platform, and you want to compare the same compressor with the best-in-class compressors in other parts of the world, domain expertise will be required from deep technical compression experts. So engineers are going to continue to play a major, rather a more significant, role in the business.”
This marriage between a proprietary industrial Internet platform and immense engineering domain expertise is, in Boufarah’s opinion, what differentiates GE from the other players in the Internet market, and what will catalyze the continuous development of Predix. “Today we have close to 20,000 developers coding apps on this platform. By 2020, we expect to have around 100,000. The reason why developers are interested in coding apps for Predix is that it applies across all of GE’s infrastructure business: aviation, power, healthcare, oil & gas and energy connections. That is a unique technical advantage that we bring in terms of the open architecture platform.”
No More Perfect Time than Now
With oil trading at USD 50 a barrel, Boufarah believes that there is no more perfect time for industries, like oil & gas, to embrace digital transformation than now. As the consumer Internet bridges millions of people, the industrial Internet will connect billions of machines to harvest and analyze data and optimize assets and enterprises. Thus, industrial Internet technologies, like Predix, hold the real potential to help industries and companies learn from their operational history, take the challenges of today and create solutions for tomorrow.