A few years back, after an internal audit of their vast and various business holdings, the folks at General Electric made something of a discovery: Their company was roughly the fourteenth biggest software maker in the world. They’d never really thought of themselves as a software company–all that coding was being done by developers hidden in silos within other silos in the corporate structure–but they figured maybe it was time to start. So in June 2011, the company hired designer Greg Petroff and put him in charge of user experience for the whole shebang. His first project was an ambitious one: creating a system that will bring all of GE’s industrial machines, from wind turbines to hospital hardware to jet engines, onto one cloud-connected, contextually-aware, super-efficient platform.
Since 2011, the company’s Software Center, located in San Ramon, California, has grown from four people to some 700 and counting. In that time, Petroff’s team there has built the foundation for Predix, a flexible software platform intended to dramatically streamline the monitoring and maintenance for all the industrial technologies GE provides. Whereas field engineers currently wrestle with idiosyncratic systems and separate interfaces for all the different hardware they service–sometimes armed with little more than a briefcase full of paper manuals–Predix and its card-based UI will gradually become the interface for all those machines.