CRN Exclusive: GE Digital Executive VP Kevin Ichhpurani On Partner Opportunities in Industrial IoT And Channel Goals

The Digital Transformation Of GE's Channel

Kevin Ichhpurani, executive vice president of global ecosystem and channels at GE Digital, and corporate officer of GE, is tasked with a big role: developing the company's partner ecosystem across all business units in GE.

Ichhpurani joined GE Digital at the beginning of May, and has a long history in the channel. He was previously senior partner and head of global alliances and ecosystem innovation at Ernst & Young, and before that executive vice president of business development and global partner ecosystem at SAP.

CRN talked to Ichhpurani about his goals for GE Digital's channel in the coming year. Here are excerpts from the conversation.

Talk about your past experiences with the channel and what skill sets you're bringing to GE.

At SAP, I was the EVP of corporate business development and global partner ecosystem and was responsible for building our partnerships across all industries, as well as all areas of technologies – such as applications, analytics, cloud, big data and emerging technologies on a global basis. In the very early days at SAP, I was charged with building the ecosystem to enable the platform transformation because you can't have a successful platform without a thriving ecosystem on top of it.

Now, I'm leading something very similar at GE, which is building out the ecosystem on top of the Predix platform. Ultimately, our customers want choice, so we're building out an industrial application ecosystem and marketplace on top of Predix, and GE Digital applications to offer to customers. We will continue to work with the ecosystem to build new industrial apps, new routes to market for our platform and to take our solutions to the end customer.

What are your goals for GE Digital's channel?

Our goal is to co-innovate with the ecosystem – including the system integrators, ISVs, technology companies, even customers. A first goal is to co-innovate on top of the platform, so we're doing a portfolio analysis in every industry, looking at where the significant spend is taking place, where the gaps are, where the highest market opportunity is, and proactively sharing that with the ecosystem so that we can co-innovate, build solutions in that area and jointly go to market. In some cases, the partner brings that solution to market; in other cases GE will. It's a really big opportunity for partners, because not only are we helping with the strategy of what we should build, and where the market opportunity is, but we are in many cases co-selling – and in some cases re-selling – the partner's solution.

Talk about the opportunities for the channel to use GE's IoT Predix cloud to bring solutions to market.

The value proposition for the partner is they don't need to worry about the platform. They can focus on their innovation, and GE will provide the entire platform for Industrial IoT. They can build their value-added innovation on top and get access to our customer base.

We have [a little over 600] partners right now and we've seen tremendous enthusiasm from the ecosystem, and are finding that the major services partners are working with us on building out solutions by industry on top of the platform.

What's happening is that the service partner community and the ISVs and the tech partner community are building unique applications that are highly differentiated on the Predix platform, and then taking it to the outside market. The enthusiasm is very high there. If you think of ISVs for a moment, we have ISVs that are not only building on top of the Predix platform, and will get access to our customers via the marketplace, but they can actually provide micro-services within the Predix platform. So, say I'm a developer and I need new location-based services, we're exposing them to these services within Predix.

How is GE Digital helping to enable partners to drive sales in the Industrial IoT space?

As part of GE Digital’s partner program, we have a full-scale enablement program that includes everything from sales training to technical enablement, to implementation ramp-up, all the way down to providing the appropriate developer landscapes, so that our partners can develop an idea and take an app to market in the shortest time possible. We also have a host of go-to-market models in which partners can jointly sell with GE Digital field teams as well as various forms of reselling.

We're positioning partners to succeed by building a comprehensive enablement program, which allows them to think of not only the technical issues, but also think about the overall approach for driving business and digital transformation with the customer. Oftentimes when you're positioning a solution for the customer, it's not only about technology – it's about security and the new business model you're creating with the customer.

Talk about GE Digital's digital transformation journey and how this helps the company work with partners moving forward.

We've done this transformation ourselves internally at GE, so we're in a very unique position to help our partners and customers think through this digital journey, with questions like what the business model you're planning on getting at is, or what the implications are when you move to a new business model in terms of technology and the platform, how do you better manage these assets, what's the impact on your supply chain and how do you transform your workforce? So we bring a unique perspective having done it ourselves.

How is GE Digital helping partners work in the industrial market as IT and operational technology (OT) forces continue to converge?

The OT-IT convergence is a critical element to the success of the customer in Industrial IoT implementations. This affects our partner strategy in multiple ways. For example, we are actively working with many of our partners who are leaders in the IT space. With Microsoft, what we're doing with GE’s Predix on Azure is an example of how we bring together a joint solution addressing that IT–OT convergence.

Many of our systems integrator partners are market leaders in terms of deploying applications in the IT space, and what we see is many of them are making significant investments now in the OT space, because of this convergence. ISVs are bringing their OT and IT knowledge and combining it with domain expertise to build new digital industrial apps on Predix.

Partners all come at it from different angles. Some of our partners come up from the OT world, some are from the IT world and have done acquisitions, and some came from the engineering services side and moved into the IT world.

What trends are you seeing in the industrial space that partners should take note of?

I think one thing that we're seeing more of is that customers are not only using Predix internally, but also wanting to create offerings and act as a channel, taking that to their respective industry. This is something that's unique. I'm used to working with customers to develop my own solutions in the software world – when a customer wants to create their own offering, it's something that's pretty unique. Industrial companies are transforming into digital companies like us.