Coronavirus Diary: GE Digital CEO’s conversations with mission-critical industries

Many of GE Digital’s customers operate mission-critical industries — like power generation, oil & gas, electric utilities and water/wastewater — and essential industries, including chemicals, food & beverage and consumer packaged goods.

The CEO of GE Digital, Pat Byrne, has talked to many of his customers across those industries since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. He’s noted how similar each conversation seems to develop; “I’ve talked to business leaders from many countries and it seems that we are living the same shared experience. There are three themes that we cover every time,” he said.

Below, Pat covers these three themes and explains GE Digital’s response to them.

1. Safety first

The first part of every conversation is “How are you and how’s your family?” Safety is first. Many of us are focused on helping our family and friends and our communities stay safe. It seems like everyone has someone in their lives who is more vulnerable to the pandemic and they are putting extra effort with those people. Winning means keeping people safe.

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2. The business

The second part is around employees and their operations. How is the business doing in mission-critical industries?

Many customers are adjusting to more work from home with their teams, which means their employees are more distributed and have more remote work. Some workforces are really disrupted, and leaders are adjusting in real-time to work through the challenges, helping understaffed teams still get the job done.

The attention then turns to what is happening to their customers and suppliers. In some places, there is more demand and some there is less demand. There are some big swings here and extraordinary efforts are being put in right now. Supply chains have also been disrupted and more focus is going into securing those supply chains and making them more resilient. Winning looks like resilience and adaptability with purpose.

3. The future

The third question is – What does the future look like?

Our customers are already on the front-line of the world’s toughest challenges — whether that’s enabling more renewable energy on the grid, reducing carbon emissions from power plants, keeping oil & gas field teams safe — or the rapid swings in consumer demand faced by manufacturers. COVID-19 is another challenge to deal with. It is more immediate and is putting additional stress on business.

A scan of the headlines reveals much of the immediate impact; the impact on global oil prices, demand fluctuations for power generation, and both demand and supply chain issues driving a range of responses across manufacturing industries.

This is a dynamic environment and those with grit and resilience and resolve will persevere through these challenges and gain the benefit of this resilience as the markets recover. Winning means coming out stronger in the long-term.

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How do we respond to mission-critical industries?

We know our customers are in critical roles and that our software is mission-critical — keeping the lights on, and goods, food and water moving. Our teams are working together and supporting customers by “putting industrial data to work” as our customer face these challenges.

Specifically, GE Digital has responded in a number of practical ways that make a real difference.

1. Adapt to remote working: We have worked quickly to help our customers adapt to these remote working situations, including free remote monitoring licenses for our manufacturing, water and electric utility customers. This is helping them to reduce the number of staff who are onsite, while keeping them connected to their most critical operational systems.

2. Security: This is providing a sense of security at mission-critical industrial sites like the City of Haverhill water utility in the US. The site, which normally operates with ten staff, can reduce on-site teams down to just one person by using our remote-work solution for their operations software. Factories, power stations and electrical grids the world over are now doing the same, something that would have been unimaginable a few years ago.

3. Focus on innovation: To continue to serve these customers, GE Digital’s teams have remained fully engaged in supporting customers with remote managed services and deployment support. We continue to focus on innovation for the long-term.

We have done this with most of our employees working from home — a real testament to the team and to the importance of the work we do and the solutions we provide.

4. Respond with resilience: We will need to continue to adapt and we will respond with resilience, grit and resolve. I have learned in the last few weeks that thanks to all the teams, starting with the customers’ teams and supported by our teams and those of our partners, working so hard through this crisis that we will persevere and come through this challenging time even stronger. That’s what winning looks like. Safety, Service, Strength.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...