Tim Cook, CEO Apple
Jeffrey Immelt, CEO General Electric
“We want to make tools to help people change the world, and that means being in the enterprise,” Mr. Cook said to the conference. It is, he said, “a huge opportunity for us.”
Jeffrey Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, endorsed that view when he addressed the conference. “Industrial companies have yet to feel the benefit of the Internet the way consumers have,” he said in an interview. “We’re just getting started.”
Each man takes his stand relative to where he sits. Mr. Cook talked about the prospects for the kind of mobile Internet services delivered on iPhones and iPads and developed on Macs. Mr. Immelt is building a system of sensors and so-called predictive data analytics that he hopes will deliver to GE $10 billion in revenue by 2020.
But what does it mean for business technology to be like consumer tech? Looking at consumer tech today, the answer is personalization.
For example, Tesla cars and Nest thermostats are designed to watch what you do with them and adjust themselves to better serve you.
Remarkably, mass-produced goods increasingly personalize into something unique because of a lot of snooping on you. Few consumers turn personalizing features off, adjust use or boycott the products. In a conflict of personalization and privacy, personalization has triumphed.
Mr. Immelt foresaw much the same kind of thing happening with machines. “We can now track every jet engine separately throughout its life,” he said, giving each one the machine equivalent of a Facebook page, which states where it is and how it is “feeling,” making maintenance more efficient.
There will be benefits from this move to personalization like buying a used car and knowing how it was driven and what is likely to go wrong with it in the future.
“There is a huge opportunity for efficiency gains, but there will be side effects from taking out all the opacity around how things last and behave,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor of management at MIT. “A product that is 30%, or even 0.3% better will get ordered more.”
Within a few years, we’ll know whether or not the personalization that has made the consumer Internet will provide the same benefits to the enterprise. If it does, the corporate community will be delighted with the rewards of being spied on, even if they don’t know all of the ramifications.