General Electric chief talks up industrial internet’s potential to boost Middle East economies

Jeffrey Immelt thinks he can create almost half a trillion dollars in value for regional economies.

But the chief executive of General Electric will be seeking to sell software, rather than the industrial hardware for which it is best known, to achieve that aim.

GE is in the midst of transforming itself into a digital industrial company that sells software products and services that can help companies to increase productivity and profitability.

GE is targeting technology sales that it says could help the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and Pakistan generate up to US$465 billion in economic value by 2025, Mr Immelt said.

At the heart of this is the so-called industrial internet, which aims to merge machinery with software and sensors to enable companies to operate better.

“When you think in an area like the Middle East there are huge airlines, huge oil and gas companies and big needs, so a region like the Middle East can be quite active in the development of the industrial internet,” said Mr Immelt at a conference in Dubai.

“We believe that every industrial company is going to be a data and analytics company in the future so [at] GE we view this as a major source of change of technology.”

GE has doubled its orders for its software products and services to $6 billion this year from $3bn in 2012. It is aiming to triple revenue from software and other related services to $15bn by 2020 from $5bn this year, mainly thanks to sale of Predix, a cloud-based operating system built by the company for the industrial sector.

GE predicts that more than 50 billion machines will be connected to the internet by 2020 as part of the industrial internet wave.

One company in the region that is embracing GE’s industrial internet technology is Qatar’s RasGas, one of two companies producing liquefied natural gas in the Arabian Gulf country.

The UAE clean energy firm Masdar will also work with GE to develop industrial internet technologies.

GE, which builds everything from jet engines to power plants, is becoming a leaner company focused on industry and technology. It is investing billions of dollars in software and technology, betting that will help to boost sales.

The firm has also signed $126bn in asset sales since April as it seeks to exit its financial business and concentrate on its industrial segments.

GE’s net profit in the third quarter fell 29 per cent to $2.5bn, with a 16 per cent drop in third-quarter oil and gas revenue because of lower oil prices.

Mr Immelt said the company is in the oil and gas business for the long term and the industry could use the company’s technological tools to improve productivity at a time of low oil prices.

GE is inviting its customers and entrepreneurs to develop software for the Predix platform, to emulate the success of operating systems in the consumer world.

“Consumer internet was really developed in Silicon Valley,” said Mr Immelt. “The industrial internet is going to be developed globally.”

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