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In October, GE launched Current, a startup focusing on bringing to market a holistic energy-as-a-service offering absent from the industry today. Former IBM Watson executive John Gordon just became Current’s first chief digital officer.

At IBM, Gordon was responsible for launching innovation programs like Smarter Cities, and his new GE role will allow him to build on that expertise. Intelligent street lamps developed by Current are already gathering data in San Diego and Jacksonville. They could make everything from parking to traffic and law enforcement easier.

Gordon sat down with GE Reports to talk about his job.

GE Reports: What’s the idea behind Current?

John Gordon: Current is rethinking the most pervasive infrastructure in industry: lighting and energy.  Let’s look at intelligent lighting. It’s the equivalent of the cell phone in the industrial world, as we look into the future.  Once the cell phone added data connectivity, GPS, a camera and a microphone it became a platform for innovation. It put all those sensors on a single platform and enabled developers to drive all kinds of innovation for consumers that many of us would never have thought of.

Since lighting is already everywhere, it will also become a ubiquitous platform for data and innovation in the commercial, industrial, and city markets. Our intelligent LED street lamps can already see and hear things and measure air quality, for example.

GER: How will you make that happen?

JG: Initially, we will develop the core LED lighting technology and infuse it with sensors.  Then we’ll add analytics and the initial set of software solutions that will inspire the industry and spur new ideas.

We won’t build all of the solutions, just like Apple doesn’t write all of the apps for iPhones. We’ll build enough for people to see what’s possible and give them ideas on how to leverage the data. In parallel, we will also partner with people in the industry. The goal is to open up this intelligent lighting environment as a platform for innovation in the industrial world.

GER: What kinds of applications?

JG: Outdoor intelligent lighting can help improve traffic and optimize parking. Indoors, we can use it to manage inventory and security, monitor machines and equipment, and spot problems before they break out. The applications are different but they fundamentally use the same intelligent platform.

IntelligentLight

Light fixtures like this LED street lamp will be a key component of the “intelligent city.” The lamp has cameras to monitor traffic and parking and a rugged microphone to detect potential crimes. Image credit: GE Reports

GER: Most smartphones run on iOS and Android operating systems. This makes it easy for developers to write apps. Do you have something similar for the industrial world?

JG: Absolutely. GE developed Predix, which is a cloud-based software platform for the Industrial Internet. GE engineers are already using it to write apps for everything from wind turbines to computed tomography scanners. In September, GE opened Predix to customers and outside developers so they can write their own apps. The apps will be available in an “industrial app store.”

At Current, we will focus on expanding and enriching the data that is available to developers and making it available to Predix.  While the Predix team will build the common industrial platform, we’ll be adding the specific sensors – starting with LEDs – data enrichments and analytics to create the “nervous system” of business.

GER: How closely do you work with GE Digital and the team at GE’s software center in San Ramon?

JG: We have a global team focused on infusing infrastructure with intelligence.  We’re starting with LED transformation and will have a significant group embedded in San Ramon and building business solutions on top of the Predix platform. From the big GE perspective, it’s also really important that there is a common analytics platform for all of GE. Current is one of the early businesses taking advantage of that.

GER: When Current launched, it said it would look at “energy as a service.” Can you explain that?

JG: The lighting and energy system has been around for a long time and is great at transmitting electrons.  But at Current we believe it can be more.  Lighting and energy literally touch every corner of business and we think it can become the nervous system for organizations. 

Building that nervous system is changing our business model. Before, GE would drop off lights at the customer’s site and install them. It was a transactional relationship. With the service relationship, Current is now getting in the business where it’s driving value for a customer on a continuous basis, either through the solutions that we are providing or through making data available to them or their partners.

It’s now an ongoing relationship that provides outcomes to our clients by letting them understand, interpret and interact with every part of their organization. It also provides GE with an ongoing revenue stream. In the lighting business, this is a very different world.

GER: Current has started two intelligent lighting pilots in San Diego and Jacksonville. Why should cities pay attention?

JG: It’s easy. You’ll have eyes and ears everywhere that are able to help you understand what’s going on. You end up with safer and more efficient cities for driving and parking, you end up with more satisfied citizens… all while paying less for energy than ever before.

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