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A Year Under Pat Byrne, GE Digital is More Pragmatic, Less Theatrical

In an in-depth interview, GE Digital CEO Pat Byrne talks about his pragmatic approach: ‘If you put an overall umbrella around GE Digital, it’s really working with our customers, really enabling the transformation of how they solve their toughest challenges by putting industrial data to work.”

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'Less About The Platform, More About The Applications'

GE Digital looks significantly different than it did when Pat Byrne took over a little more than a year ago, but it‘s not just the organizational structure that has changed.

Since Byrne‘s appointment as GE Digital's CEO in July 2019, the San Ramon, Calif.-based industrial IoT vendor has reorganized into separate business units for manufacturing, utilities, oil and gas, power generation and, most recently, aviation — the latter five of which were absorbed from GE over the last two years — putting a premium on vertical solutions over the Predix platform that powers them.

[Related: GE Digital CEO Pat Byrne: Partners 'Essential' For Manufacturing ]

“That‘s why I said this is less about the platform, and it’s more about the applications. It’s more about the business outcomes,” Byrne said in a recent interview with CRN.

But to Jim Gillespie, CEO of longtime GE Digital partner GrayMatter, the bigger difference for the “new GE Digital” is the pragmatic approach Byrne has brought, which was evident in the vendor‘s decision to ditch the ”big theater stuff” of the now-defunct Minds and Machines annual conference in favor of the more pared-down annual User Conference that will return for a second year in October.

“It‘s much more pragmatic. The Austin [User Conference] event last year was just much more focused on what the clients want to talk about and what the people want to move forward in their strategies at their businesses instead of some of the aspirational things,” Gillespie told CRN.

What it really comes down to, according to Byrne, is the ability to drive business outcomes in real operational processes, which is paramount to industrial IoT, and GE Digital has the customer implementations, deep domain expertise and large software organization to make it happen.

“It matters that we‘re more than a billion dollars [in annual revenue], and we have 1,000 software engineers and 4,000 people [total],” Byrne said. ”This is one of the largest industrial software businesses in the world and scale matters — global scale matters — and being in multiple businesses allows us to leverage all that learning.”

These are among the reasons why Byrne decided last fall, in consultation with his former Danaher Corp. boss, GE chief executive Larry Culp, to keep GE Digital within the parent company instead of spinning it out with a new name — something Culp previously called for in late 2018, only a couple months after he was recruited to rescue the industrial conglomerate from its many challenges.

“Sacrificing that brand and global reach for a theoretical benefit of having a billion-dollar standalone company with another name [that] has to rebuild that, just seemed to me to be a bad trade-off,” he said.

What follows is an edited transcript of CRN‘s extended interview with Byrne, who talked about the importance of applying a lean methodology to GE Digital and its parent company, why the GE Digital spin-off didn’t happen, how GE Digital views Predix now in relation to the rest of its products and how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the company’s various businesses.

 
 
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