It's being called the industrial Internet of things (IIoT), an emerging business at the intersection of hi-technology and big machinery.
The concept is simple: making industrial machines smarter, through the adoption of sensors, software and big data analytics. As consumers become increasingly reliant on the information provided by mobile devices and smart technology, IIoT seeks to do the same for business by streamlining operations and making them more efficient.
To be sure, the industrial Internet is very much in its infancy. Yet a report by Accenture says the potential economic impact of industrial web spending is huge: IIoT expenditures may reach $500 billion by 2020, and could even add $15 trillion to global growth by 2030. Companies from a wide spectrum of industries such as oil, mining and agriculture, are dedicating resources to the concept.
General Electric, meanwhile, is one of the companies at the forefront. Since 2012, the industrial giant has poured billions of dollars into the burgeoning space, which is called, simply, the Industrial Internet.
For GE, the industrial Internet generated just over $1 billion in revenue last year, a tiny 1 percent fraction of its $107 billion in industrial sales. Still, the company has high hopes for growth prospects.
"We started with this idea that the world of software and machines was really coming together, and we felt that software was going to transform industrial machines," said Bill Ruh, vice president of the GE Software Center.