2014 User Summit: A Look Back and a Leap Forward

Alan blogThis week's GE Intelligent Platforms User Summit was a like a homecoming for me, since Orlando is the starting point for my Industrial Internet journey. I am what some might call an early adopter of the technology. So much, in fact, that I think it would be easy for me to become the President of the Moore's Law fan club, if only one existed. It would be so cool if one existed. Sadly, I haven't been able to find it. But, even I never realized until this week how much of an early adopter I was.

My journey begins in the fall of 1999, working for a large consulting company. We were in the final months of a huge automation project that had kept me and a team of five other programmers working 10 hour days for the previous two years. The local water utility had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades and everyone was really happy with the result. This was truly a world-class project; we had literally installed the best of everything. We could control every plant from a central location downtown, and provide charts and reports on anything at anytime. Oh, the pride just beamed from the glow of the 80-pound, 21-inch monitors.

Now the day had arrived to show this marvel of PLC and HMI power to the director. So, in the utility director walks into a packed room of the water plant, where we greet him with smiles and hand shakes, with the same anticipation of a small child on Christmas morning. We sit him in the big chair in the center of four of the biggest monitors any of us had ever installed. We walked screen by screen showing the craftsmanship that we had poured into the design of buttons and even a rotating pump icon. OK it was 1999; don¹t act like that wasn't a big deal—and if you weren't in the business in 1999 you need to take my word it was! I mean it was a pump that rotated and looked like a real pump, right?

Clearly he was impressed. So on to the next stage. Let's run this bad boy. So we started to fire up system after system, and the plant roared to life. The combined interfaces would change the life of an operator forever. They could just sit in the control room and do everything.

Then it happened. The question that I have never been able to erase from my mind. The question that led me to relocate my family, change jobs and pretty much dedicate my career to the water industry. The director looks at me. A young programmer four years out of college, but, that seemed old in the automation business in 1999. He asks, "Is it cheaper to start a high-service pump here or to ramp up the one at the other plant a few percent?" Wait, what was that? The question stopped me in my place. We couldn't answer it. No one at that time could answer that real-time. But, if we could, it would change everything.

He let us off the hook that day and the project won a bunch of awards and finished out the career of a few folks on the team in style. A couple of us played with some modeling, but the math was was too much for the systems in 1999. I left a few months later to start a wonderful career at GE. Always in search of a solve. In 2007 we introduced this idea we called "Intelligent Water." It was only a marginally better version of the 1999 math. Not the real solve at all.

So fast-forward to this week in Orlando. The Industrial Internet has become real. GE can now enable machines to connect to machines in new, advanced ways. People have information served up anywhere they need it for better decision making. We truly have the computing power and software capability to build and profit from a model that could answer the question from my Utility Director friend.

See, what we covered this week is technology. It's technology that unlocks the hidden challenges of massive data modeling, robust computing, and networks to become a "System of Systems." This system of systems allows for tough economic decisions to be supported in a single pane of glass. I told one of my sessions, "We don't know the question that we'll be asking of this power, but I can tell you I'm positive it will allow us to answer them."

If you didn't have a chance to be a part of the event then I encourage you to check out our YouTube channel or the website. Dream about how connecting data together can have a positive impact on business.


Alan Hinchman

As Chief Operating Officer at The Water Initiative, Alan Hinchman leads global businesses and local communities in the pursuit of clean, affordable water. His work with water distribution information technologies helps make our most valuable resource safe and accessible around the world. Connect with Alan on LinkedIn.

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