GE is a fascinating company. For those that don’t know, it was originally the Edison General Electric Company.
And though it may be a venerable old company, it’s famously an innovative one. That innovation extends from products to marketing and GE’s ongoing digital transformation.
From a marketing point of view, we’ve previously showcased the company’s surprisingly effective presence on social media and its content marketing, and more strategically its move to data-based services and software.
One only has to look at GE’s Brilliant Manufacturing landing page to see how far the company has come in term’s of using digital to differentiate its offering.
Slide from a January 2016 GE presentation
How to disrupt yourself
GE’s transformation has been powered, in part, by internal initiatives such as the Fast Works programme.
Fast Works uses the idea of the lean startup (the quick release and iteration of prototypes) to bring both simplification and a commercial intensity to product development. More tangentially, GE Ventures is investing in and nurturing startups across software, healthcare, energy and advanced manufacturing.
This commitment to finding and sponsoring new ideas is also shown in GE’s latest project, Fuse. Fuse is an open innovation platform that launched in late 2016. It allows GE to work with outside individuals and small businesses to co-create solutions to engineering problems.
Amelia Gandara, community manager of Fuse, says that alongside Fast Works and GE Ventures, Fuse is another “avenue to try to get to a solution for GE.”
She continues, “We work between engineering teams and product managers to take the risk for, and with, smaller companies.”
How does this co-creation work?
Fuse is run out of Chicago, but the home of the platform is online at fuse.ge.com. Here, anybody can sign up to join a community of engineers, coders and the like, and take part in challenges (with a cash prize) set by GE.
Gandara says, “It’s quite a varied community – all non-GE employees – based in many countries including the US, UK, Mexico, South America, Indonesia, India.”
Each challenge is run with an internal team of GE subject matter experts, from product managers and engineers, to sales staff. The initial focus of Fuse is on non-destructive testing (GE Inspection Technologies), which Gandara describes as “everything from a manufactured pipe to a jet engine.”
The Fuse website allows the community to discuss each challenge, and GE shares product details and explainer videos to help lead this discussion.
There’s a physical part to the Fuse project, too, with a micro-factory in Chicago designed for rapid prototyping, small-batch manufacturing, and modular experimentation. This factory will be open to GE teams, customers, entrepreneurs and students.
An example of a Fuse challenge
Building longer term relationships
Though each challenge has a cash prize, community manager Amelia Gandara is adamant it’s not just about winning.
“The challenges aren’t restricted to simply a prize and a handing over of intellectual property – we are very open to forming a variety of different types of business relationship with the people participating. So it could lead to a longer term relationship.”
Gandara continues, “We are growing a community of people that want to participate on an ongoing basis. We have some super users that return almost every day and contribute to discussions on the platform. It’s not just about submitting an entry to a competition.”
I asked Gandara about the nature of sharing information with the community, and whether there’s any nervousness about opening up GE to the outside world. Her response was an honest one. “Yes, we are opening up the internal workings of some of our products to get to these solutions [and] absolutely there’s a nervousness that comes with this, innately, many phone calls with Legal to make sure everything’s okay.”
But, she continued, “There are certain risks you just have to roll with if you want to make progress and that willingness to take those risks is what makes this exciting.”
That line reveals a company that understands part of transformation is shifting company culture. Once Fuse gathers momentum, it’s easy to foresee GE reaping the rewards of a more open approach to innovation.