GE’s digital future looking murkier with move to spin off Industrial IoT biz

When I visited the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York in April 2017, I thought I saw a company that was working hard to avoid disruption, but perhaps the leafy campus, the labs and experimental projects hid much larger problems inside the company. Yesterday GE announced that it is spinning out its Industrial IoT […]

When I visited the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York in April 2017, I thought I saw a company that was working hard to avoid disruption, but perhaps the leafy campus, the labs and experimental projects hid much larger problems inside the company. Yesterday GE announced that it is spinning out its Industrial IoT business and selling most of its stake in ServiceMax, the company it bought in 2016 for $915 million.

For one thing, Jeff Immelt, the CEO who was leading that modernization charge, stepped down six months after my visit and was replaced by John Flannery, who was himself replaced just a year into his tenure by C. Lawrence Culp, Jr. It didn’t seem to matter who was in charge, nobody could stop the bleeding stock price, which has fallen this year from a high of $18.76 in January to $7.20 this morning before the markets opened (and had already lost another .15 a share as we went to publication).

It hasn’t been a great year for GE stock. Chart: Yahoo Finance

Immelt at least recognized that the company needed to shift to a data-centered Industrial Internet of Things future where sensors fed data that provided ways to understand the health of a machine or how to drive the most efficient use from it. This was centered around the company’s Predix platform where developers could build applications using that data. The company purchased ServiceMax in 2016 to extend that idea and feed service providers the data they needed to anticipate when service was needed even before the customer was aware of it.

As Immelt put it in a 2014 quote on Twitter:

That entire approach had substance. In fact, if you look at what Salesforce announced earlier this month around service and the Internet of Things, you will see a similar strategy. As Salesforce’s SVP and GM for Salesforce Field Service Lightning Paolo Bergamo described in a blog post, “Drawing on IoT signals surfaced in the Service Cloud console, agents can gauge whether device failure is imminent, quickly determine the source of the problem (often before the customer is even aware a problem exists) and dispatch the right mobile worker with the right skill set.”

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The ServiceMax acquisition and the Predix Platform were central to this, and while the idea was sound, Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says that the execution was poor and the company needed to change. “The vision for GE Digital made sense as they crafted a digital industrial strategy, yet the execution inside GE was not the best. As GE spins out many of its units, this move is designed to free up the unit to deliver its services beyond GE and into the larger ecosystem,” Wang told TechCrunch.

Current CEO Culp sees the spin-out as a way to breathe new life into the business “As an independently operated company, our digital business will be best positioned to advance our strategy to focus on our core verticals to deliver greater value for our customers and generate new value for shareholders,” Culp explained in a statement.

Maybe so, but it seems it should be at the center of what the company is doing, not a spin-off — and with only a 10 percent stake left in ServiceMax, the service business component all but goes away. Bill Ruh, GE Digital CEO, the man who was charged with implementing the mission (and apparently failed) has decided to leave the company with this announcement. In fact, the new Industrial IoT company will operate as a wholly owned GE subsidiary with its own financials and board of directors, separate from the main company.

With this move though, GE is clearly moving the Industrial IoT out of the core business as it continues to struggle to find a combination that brings its stock price back to life. While the Industrial Internet of Things idea may have been poorly executed, selling and spinning off the pieces that need to be part of the digital future seem like a short-sighted way to achieve the company’s longer term goals.

Xage secures $12 million Series A for IoT security solution on blockchain

Xage (pronounced Zage), a blockchain security startup based in Silicon Valley, announced a $12 million Series A investment today led by March Capital Partners. GE Ventures, City Light Capital and NexStar Partners also participated. The company emerged from stealth in December with a novel idea to secure the myriad of devices in the industrial internet […]

Xage (pronounced Zage), a blockchain security startup based in Silicon Valley, announced a $12 million Series A investment today led by March Capital Partners. GE Ventures, City Light Capital and NexStar Partners also participated.

The company emerged from stealth in December with a novel idea to secure the myriad of devices in the industrial internet of things on the blockchain. Here’s how I described it in a December 2017 story:

Xage is building a security fabric for IoT, which takes blockchain and synthesizes it with other capabilities to create a secure environment for devices to operate. If the blockchain is at its core a trust mechanism, then it can give companies confidence that their IoT devices can’t be compromised. Xage thinks that the blockchain is the perfect solution to this problem.

It’s an interesting approach, one that attracted Duncan Greatwood to the company. As he told me in December his previous successful exits — Topsy to Apple in 2013 and PostPath to Cisco in 2008 — gave him the freedom to choose a company that really excited him for his next challenge.

When he saw what Xage was doing, he wanted to be a part of it, and given the unorthodox security approach the company has taken, and Greatwood’s pedigree, it couldn’t have been hard to secure today’s funding.

The Industrial Internet of Things is not like its consumer cousin in that it involves getting data from big industrial devices like manufacturing machinery, oil and gas turbines and jet engines. While the entire Internet of Things could surely benefit from a company that concentrates specifically on keeping these devices secure, it’s a particularly acute requirement in industry where these devices are often helping track data from key infrastructure.

GE Ventures is the investment arm of GE, but their involvement is particularly interesting because GE has made a big bet on the Industrial Internet of Things. Abhishek Shukla of GE Ventures certainly saw the connection. “For industries to benefit from the IoT revolution, organizations need to fully connect and protect their operation. Xage is enabling the adoption of these cutting edge technologies across energy, transportation, telecom, and other global industries,” Shukla said in a statement.

The company was founded just last year and is based in Palo Alto, California.