by Byron Connolly

CIO50 2016 #26-50: Mark Sheppard, GE

Nov 24, 2016
Digital Transformation

In the past year, GE has undergone the most significant transformation in the company’s 138-year history. A new business unit, GE Digital, was established to help GE and other companies tap into the potential of the ‘industrial internet’.

Mark Sheppard leads this business across the Asia-Pacific region. He stepped into the role in March this year after spending just over three years as CIO for GE Australia and New Zealand.

“Our transformation was born out of the view that industrial companies, and especially those with a strong and diverse history like GE, must evolve and become digital if they are to thrive and survive,” says Sheppard.

“Our scheme of work in the past 12 months has been intent on consolidating and cementing this approach. While many companies already have a strong foundation, my challenge is helping them understand how software and analytics can not only help their business but provide growth through operational efficiency that can help expand their capabilities,” he says.

GE’s transformation has started from the inside, says Sheppard. The IT group has shifted from an inwardly-facing organisation focused on supporting business needs to one that markets products and services.

“We’ve had to evolve the team’s core skills sets from primarily managing internal stakeholders to commercially-centric, external customer-facing roles,” he says.

“We are now packaging our offerings of things we’ve done well for a long time, including managing our own assets. We’re now an outcome-based organisation that uses technology to drive outcomes of what we sell. Every GE business now has a leader solely focused on digital, which shows just how serious the company is about transformation.”

GE’s transformation has directly driven business performance. GE now has a pipeline in Australia of software opportunities across multiple industries worth more than $50 million. Customers include BHP, Qantas, QGC, and Queensland Health.

At the centre is GE’s transformation strategy is its Predix platform, an operating system and platform to build applications that connect to industrial assets, collect and analyse data, and deliver real-time insights for optimising infrastructure and operations.

Using the Predix platform, Sheppard and his team have delivered 100 per cent uptime to BG Group’s QGC liquid natural gas (LNG) project on Curtis Island in Queensland. Under a $1.1 billion project, the organisation is taking advantage of Predix’s data analytics, asset optimisation and predictive maintenance services. The Curtis Island project aims to produce around eight million tonnes of LNG per year.

GE is also working with a hospital in New Zealand to use Predix to track and identify variance in the dose of anaesthesia given to patients. Recently, GE also announced a landmark agreement with Microsoft to make Predix available on the Microsoft Azure cloud.

Influence across the region

Sheppard influences the organisation by translating GE’s digital strategy across the region. This requires him to redefine the traditional role of IT and the CIO where the IT group has moved beyond an inward-facing function to one that embodies innovation.

“The company I started working at 20 years ago looks nothing like the GE today and that ability to change is what made a difference,” he says. “Gone are the large-scale multi-year IT projects of the past.

“We are agile today and work with our customers in a much different way. We do work more collaboratively and start software design with the user experience and the outcome in mind, rather than starting with functionality. We facilitate workshops with our customers that help us drive out what they really want and need to improve their business,” he says.

Regular engagement with the team

GE has a distributed team and Sheppard speaks to his direct reports on the phone daily.

“I love that human interaction; I prefer to cut through the noise of hundreds of email and other channels to personally engage the team to distil our story. We have regular town halls and I also value one-on-one time and mentoring junior staff where we are seeing great talent.

“I am also a believer in reverse mentoring. Through my mentorship with local startups, I find learning about their world to be just as valuable as teaching them about mine,” he says.