As promised, here is the second set of excerpts from my upcoming book, The New Polymath due in June. This time it is from the case study on GE . This chapter explores innovation in 4 corners of the giant – at the Global Research Center, at corporate IT, at R&D in a business unit, and at IT in the Healthcare unit. As you can see it is pervasive throughout the organization.
BTW - The text is pre-copy edit and likely to go through some changes.
GE Global Research
“In the valley in Niskayuna, New York, where the Mohicans, the Mohawk, and the Huron roamed and schemed with the Dutch, the French, and the English, a new tribe has emerged at GE Global Research. There are no scalps to show off these days, but there are plenty of patents, Nobel Prizes, and other recognitions. The 1,700 technologists, a majority of them PhDs in a variety of science and engineering disciplines, are at the crossroads of a New World. It is a world of grand challenges laid out by the National Academy of Engineering and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. These are goals that call for new medicine, new energy, and new algorithms.“
“The Global Research ethos is: “Innovation occurs at the intersection of disciplines.” So, put chemists, mathematicians, engineers of all stripes, and biologists in close proximity and who knows where the conversations will lead. It is a great setting for what the Kate Beckinsale character in the movie Serendipity calls “fortunate accidents.”
“One of the competencies GE has honed is what Sedziol calls “traversing the Valley of Death.” It happens all the time where R&D hands off a product but a business cannot find a market for it or cannot get to manufacturing scale. According to Sedziol, deciding when to continue funding and when to pull the plug is an art form.”
“Art form is not good enough, though, so at the Pilot Development Center at the edge of GE Global Research campus, Paul Myers and Jonathan Janssen, both mechanical engineers, talk about the GE Manufacturing Readiness Levels methodology. It is an adaptation of the Technology Readiness Level maturity model the U.S. Department of Defense has been propagating. Says Myers: “Stages 1 to 2 deal with concept development, stages 8 to 9 with scaling of production. Stages 3 through 7 relate to prototypes and proof-of-concepts—where many new products typically fail. For each stage, we have maturity measures for components, packaging, etc., that make up the solution.”
“In sector after sector, we find that technology vendors lack deep domain knowledge when it comes to vertical technology solutions. That has opened the door for GE Healthcare, GE Transportation and other units to become technology leaders in their markets. We are a multi-billion dollar software and technology company in our own right.”
“When we say aligning IT with business, it also means making these units smarter about what we have learned over the years in IT procurement and contracting. Part of my role is to coach these business units on the unique nuances of technology sales compensation, revenue recognition, IP issues and other technology industry opportunities and challenges. “
R&D at a business unit
“Last July, the GE Consumer & Industrial business unit announced plans to make the “net-zero” (as in annual energy bills) home a reality by 2015. The concept blends appliances it already offers with cleantech products it plans to introduce. The newer products include “small” wind products. GE has an investment in Southwest Windpower, which makes 3-kilowatt-rated Skystream turbines, ideal for homes. Other new products include the software that will be the “brains” of home energy management, hybrid home heaters, LED lighting, and next-generation batteries. As we saw earlier in the chapter, the Global Research Center has initiatives around many of those technologies in such products. “
Business Unit IT
“It’s been said that constraints drive innovation. . . . This project certainly forced the team to innovate. From the selection of boutique system integrators to the decision to adopt agile for a packaged application to the implementation of the “garden wall,” the team was continually pushing the envelope and redefining its own comfort zone. Just like the GEHC product teams who are constantly pushing the envelope of new medical technologies, IT can also innovate and change how solutions are delivered.”