It may not qualify as a lightning-bolt eureka moment, but Jeffrey R. Immelt, chief executive of General Electric, recalls the June day in 2009 that got him thinking. He was speaking with GE scientists about new jet engines they were building, laden with sensors to generate a trove of data from every flight — but to what end?
That data could someday be as valuable as the machinery itself, if not more so. But GE couldn’t make use of it.
In 2011, GE also quietly opened a software center in San Ramon, CA, 24 miles east of San Francisco, across the bay. Today one of San Ramon’s most important projects is to build a computer operating system, but on an industrial scale — a Microsoft Windows or Google Android for factories and industrial equipment.
The project is central to GE’s drive to become what Mr. Immelt says will be a “top 10 software company” by 2020. Apparently, there is no Plan B. “It’s this or bust,” he said.
Silicon Valley veterans are skeptical.