Companies on both sides of the Atlantic need pragmatism and courage to adapt to the fundamental changes now taking place in our economies. The Internet of consumers has already become a reality for billions of people. The Internet of industry is poised to boost the global economy even further. This industrial Internet is far more than the digitalization of production that started to make its way into factories decades ago. Today it’s more about a tight interlocking of research, development, production and marketing.
But two-thirds of managers at German industrial firms still believe that the industrial Internet will only affect certain aspects of manufacturing. This is a dangerous reduction of the discussion. The industrial Internet will enable new business models allowing the creation of value beyond a firm's own production process and supply chain.
This will require the strength and cooperation of all divisions of a company.
The innovation of the industrial Internet will occur in an evolutionary and visionary manner, not in a regionally restricted framework. One example: The development of 3-D printing today supports the rapid, cost-effective and geographically independent prototyping of products for customers anywhere in the world where a corresponding printer is available.
And crowdsourcing models lead to innovations outside a firm's own developmental efforts. GE has developed the first serially manufactured component, an airplane turbine assembly, through a global crowdsourcing competition. The winner was a 19-year-old Indonesian.
The goal is to create a partnership and a community of interests in order to stride into new territory together
European companies have an excellent starting position for the new industrial age. These include the many small and medium-sized companies that are technological leaders in global markets.
The industrial Internet will arise at the interface between producer and consumer. Here European suppliers are particularly well situated. They know exactly what their customers need and how they can create industrial added value in a digital framework. Viewed from this perspective, the industrial Internet also brings the possibility of reviving trans-Atlantic cooperation.
European engineering firms and American technology companies are working hand-in-hand to realize the industrial Internet. Of course, there will still be many questions to answer in the future with regard to standards, data security and customer access.
On the other hand, cooperation creates innovation: Particularly in the United States, we find the best software and IT companies, just as Europe is home to leading industrial concerns. So instead of digging a digital trench between us, we need digital bridges over the Atlantic to use these respective strengths for our common advantage.
In this endeavor, industry must make it clear that it is a staunch advocate of consumer trust and security in data transmission. A zero-tolerance policy with regard to data security must be the fundamental prerequisite of the industrial Internet.
Independently of this issue, there is the question as to how, in collaborations between companies, the right to the most important raw material of the future, namely data, can be regulated. In this regard, the industrial Internet presents a fundamental difference to the Internet of consumers. The largest share of industrial data is not person-related, and it cannot be subjected to the same rules without rendering the comprehensive and global processing of data impossible.
The revolution of the industrial Internet is occurring. It is global, and it will flourish most fully where innovation is given the greatest degree of freedom. So we should not first turn our attention to narrowing the playing field through regulations, but should instead focus primarily on the chance for facilitating the start, and decide subsequently where and how limits are to be established and the necessary standards defined.
The industrial Internet consortium inaugurated by GE and other companies is intended to be of help here. It is open to members from around the world. The goal is to create a partnership and a community of interests to stride into new territory together, as pioneers of digital industry. The industrial Internet will thereby arise without the blueprint of a concrete formulation of the goals of industrial policy, but it will clearly operate within a regulatory framework accepted by all.
Stephan Reimelt is president and chief executive of both GE Europe and GE Deutschland. To contact him: [email protected]