A year ago, I attended InnovFest Unbound, one of Singapore’s most attended tech conferences.
InnovFest Unbound was founded by Yossi Vardi – the godfather of the Israel startup scene – in collaboration with NUS Enterprise, the entrepreneurial arm of the National University of Singapore (NUS).
The panel on corporate innovation included several companies – namely Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Oracle, Nestlé, OCBC, UOB, Kodak, and General Electric.
Moreover, this panel shed much needed light on the many challenges large companies face today. It is a continuous struggle to survive and grow in the present digital age.
When I received news of a series of innovation initiatives by GE in Singapore, I took a closer look. General Electric Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt was participating as one of the speakers. Also present was CEO of General Electric ASEAN Wouter van Wersch.
For an entrepreneur and individual having a fondness for business history, GE was quite the beast. The company was a key player in the industrialization and globalization of our little planet. In addition, for the last decade or two, GE was a prominent advocate of corporate innovation and novel ways of thinking.
Their transition from an industrial conglomerate into a big data company – in particular through Predix, their industrial Internet of Things (IoT) platform – has been covered many times.
Jeff Immelt’s Key Takeaways
In his opening keynote, Jeff Immelt shared several high-level elements to make us understand his vision for GE. He also covered how should companies act in our digital and disruptive world.
Three things Jeff mentioned during the talk struck a chord with me.
Idea 1 : In a Complex World, Be a Simple Company
Jeff Immelt’s suggestions for companies to ‘think lean’ is sound advice for a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world.
Multinational companies often aim to tackle all new channels – including new innovation, markets and businesses.
In the 21st century, however, time is of essence. Being able to prioritize critical needs and make clear one’s position allows corporations to navigate the changing terrain with greater ease.
Idea 2 : Why Not Us? If The World is Changing, Why Couldn’t We Participate?
The message here is the one of making the first steps, testing and trying the new opportunities offered by digital technologies and a multipolar world. The fear of failing, the fear of trying often paralyses MNCs despite them owning assets – cash, human resources, reputation – to survive and grow.
Idea 3 : The IoT Consumer and Industrial Markets Are Worth Billions and Trillions Respectively
‘There’s a market out there and we are moving first’, says Jeff Immelt.
For the business-minded, this is about picking a market that will grow exponentially in the next few years. Many large companies ponder whether Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence or Smart Cities will be the next big thing.
In any case, they can’t afford to miss those huge, next big fields where growth will come from.
As I help several multinational companies on journey into innovative practices, the messages in these sentences were both powerful and impactful.
General Electric’s Investments in Singapore
In Singapore, GE has signed several agreements to launch three key initiatives in a bid to increase its innovation footprint.
General Electric and the Economic Development Board (EDB)
The Economic Development Board (EDB) is Singapore’s powerful and efficient foreign investment agency. Its role is to attract talent and innovation from all over the world to tap into the infrastructure of the city-state.
General Electric and SPRING Singapore
In addition, GE, SPRING Singapore and the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) Platform E are collaborating to launch an accelerator. SPRING Singapore is the nation’s entrepreneurial agency focusing on small medium enterprises (SMEs) while SIM’s Platform E is the institute’s entrepreneurship programme.
The main aim of the accelerator is to foster corporate innovation programs,and mentoring of startups capitalizing on machine learning and industrial IoT solutions.
In a similar fashion to Google for Entrepreneurs, GE is branding itself as a company close to the developer community. We can expect them to work more extensively on Predix with this development.
General Electric and Singapore Power
General Electric and Singapore Power are co-developing industrial IOT capabilities and intelligent applications to enhance power network reliability and efficiency in Singapore.
Engineering and digital experts from GE and SP will create tools that leverage on data analytics and artificial intelligence. This is to enable better asset performance and reduce unplanned downtime in network operations. Customers can look forward to cost savings from predictive maintenance enabled by access to global domain knowledge and expertise.
This collaboration is interesting in two key ways.
- GE has tapped into Singapore’s strong ecosystem mindset and infrastructure. Every player – university, industry and government agencies – works together to attract MNCs and offer a platform for fast innovation. All this at the center of the world’s most dynamic region. Many of our clients are impressed in Singapore by this approach.
- This establishes GE as an independent platform with transversal connections to developers, startups, clients such as Singapore Power. The shift – from serving clients separately to consolidating them onto a singular platform – gives GE a very different role in the markets it is involved in. Think Uber with drivers and logistic services, or Apple with its Appstore.
We will connect to those initiatives once launched, and wish the best for this new stage of the long-lasting relationship between GE and Singapore – which began 40 years ago in Jurong East.