Two for the Road: GE Acquires ServiceMax and Bit Stew on the Path to Industry 4.0

ServiceMax and Bit Stew represent two important pathways in the development of Industry 4.0, or the Industrial Internet of Things. ServiceMax, the larger acquisition, points to the need to manage, monitor, and control industrial devices, including handing the complex requirements of service and repair. This functionality, aided by AI, can act as a kind of lymphatic system to keep systems running and provide new service opportunities through availability of status data. Bit Stew, on the other hand, is a pure AI/machine learning play, adding a level of immediate processing to system data to permit its ingestion. It is a smart ETL solution adapted to the IoT and increasing data requirements of AI and advanced analytics.

Service First

GE is buying cloud-based field service management software provider ServiceMax for $915 million as it moves rapidly forward in pursuit of Industry 4.0. ServiceMax is a part of that strategy. As a component of the industrial Internet, ServiceMax is a fully digital solution operating in the cloud to aid service technicians in repairing large machines. It operates on a Salesforce platform and has been used by GE for the past several years. What is new it is that it is now being incorporated within the company and therefore becomes integral to GE’s growing service business.

ServiceMax automates workforce optimization, provides scheduling and dispatch, insures parts logistics and inventory are correct and takes care of routine details of service contracts. The software has been used by more than 300 customers including Kodak, Coca-Cola, at others in fields such as oil and gas and medical devices. One of its chief attributes is capability to instrument equipment, automate repair and service provisions, and provide an increasing level of intelligence in the control of equipment in the field. Earlier this year, ServiceMax introduced its Connected Field Service solution that connects machines directly to technicians; it also added Service Performance Metrics, a measurement framework for field services to optimize business activity.

By incorporating ServiceMax, GE is aided in servicing heavy-duty machinery and can bolster its services revenue. It also gives GE equipment an advantage in its close alignment with the newly acquired firm. Of greater significance, perhaps, it is the fact that ServiceMax will become part of GE Digital, which was established last year and maintains a separate operating system called Predix, which is used to optimize equipment operation. Predix is a core product that makes it possible for GE to expand its digital operations.

The addition of ServiceMax to GE’s Predix platform provides more data which may be leveraged to create new opportunities in the Industrial Internet of Things. The possibility of providing service information along with other instrumentation from large machines and submitting this to analysis makes it possible to create new services based around a growing fabric of connected devices.

A Different Stew

GE is also buying Bit Stew systems for $153 million. Vancouver-based Bit Stew is an AI and IoT company whose base product, MIx Core, uses machine learning to automate the process of acquiring data from machines and readying it for analysis by conventional and advanced analytics. MIx Core automates data modeling, mapping and ingestion in a manner similar to ETL by providing a more sophisticated application of intelligence at the coalface. Its technology greatly reduces the time needed to understand the data and make it accessible to near real time analysis.

The application of machine learning to data input creates another layer of AI. As we had considered earlier in The Composite Nature of Embedded Cognition, the addition of AI capabilities to processes results in a deeper and less predictable system. The capabilities of immediately analyzing data and potentially adding prediction before submitting it to further processing presents some similarities to brain function, which combines different processes at every stage of cognition.

For GE, this provides another tool in extending the reach of its Predix industrial operating system. As Predix grows to increase its capability through addition of more complex data and a greater variety of sources, it becomes possible to integrate a wide range of activities within the industrial and manufacturing sector. As with the ServiceMax, acquisition of Bit Stew brings us closer to an integrated digital manufacturing environment which could be operated remotely, autonomously, or as a service.

All Go for the Industrial IoT

As GE continues to position itself as a digital industrial company we can expect further moves aimed at expanding digital services and automation to create a universal platform of interconnected devices. Other manufacturing companies such as Samsung are moving in the same direction. Mergers and acquisitions in this space tend to be the research tool of choice.

As the digital revolution continues, we can expect equipment to act more and more like software; it will require security updates; continuous change in function; frequent release of updates to physical and digital mechanisms; and a continual reevaluation of processes. These initiatives will frame the digital connected world of the future and create new opportunities for application of artificial intelligence to the optimization not only of digital, but also of physical assets.

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