Just moments before the young General Electric (GE) executive up at the podium introduced his CEO Jeffery Immelt, he mentioned to the audience of engineers and managers that the GE event they were attending was not “necessarily” meant to be a sales pitch.

No sooner, following his introduction, had Immelt bounded onto the stage than he disagreed, “I’m here to sell.”

However, the program said he was at GE Intelligent Platforms Business 2014 User Summit to speak about the Internet of things, and that’s what he did.

“All companies need to become Internet and software companies,” Immelt said. “The industrial world is changing dramatically, and those that make the best use of data will be the most successful.”

Sluggish but strong

This is happening, Immelt said, regardless of an economic outlook that see the U.S. as strong but sluggish, Japan and Europe continuing to struggle, and China not growing quite like it was, while other pockets of Southeast Asia are quite vibrant. “It is a world of regulation and unrest,” he said.

Emerging technologies, including “novel” processes and materials, in addition to the industrial Internet, are what’s causing change in the industrial landscape, Immelt said. But, he added, nothing rivals data’s impact both on GE’s productivity and that of its customers.

On the other hand, he said, if, in his sales-support role, he kicks off a conversation with a company CEO talking about the Internet, it’ll be a short conversation. Instead, he talks about the goal behind all that data gathering: increased productivity. In GE’s world that translates to a goal of zero unplanned downtime.

It is the application of analytics to historical machine data that allows future-event prediction based on the machine’s present state. Airline engines manufactured by GE today, for example, have 70 sensors mounted on them. A GE diesel engine on a locomotive has 80 sensors on it.

“They can get to the point out in Silicon Valley where they think only the software is important. But for us the machines are important, said Immelt. “We’ve invested more than $1 billion on technologies that surround the asset itself, so as to support the enterprise-business efforts.”

Business in hand

He added that GE had more than $200 billion of long-term service contracts in hand. “We are building a capability broader than GE, to bring industrial and process control expertise to bear for our customers.”

Immelt said that doing maintenance based on cause, ascertained by applying analytics to actual machine data, rather than based on a schedule, is a huge productivity gain for equipment users. GE says it invests $2 billion a year in information technology. In its plants today, the big initiatives are the reduction of ERP systems from hundreds “to a bit more than thirty;” unlocking big data; and powering the “brilliant” factory with design-for-manufacturing, sensor enablement and supply chain optimization. This work is proceeding especially in the company’s four biggest facilities, where, for example, a goal is to take 20 percent out of the cost of turbine manufacture.