The Public Relations Strategist

GE Power and DigiFit: Leadership in the Age of Disruption

October 26, 2017

[ge digifit]
[ge digifit]

Coming soon to an industry near you: Digital Transformation.

Across the worldwide economic landscape, companies of all sizes and industries are rapidly incorporating the “Internet of Things,” artificial intelligence, the cloud, big data and mobile, and other advancing technologies into their strategic and five-year plans.

What was once considered optional is now essential as competition, innovation and marketplace disruption continue to evolve at warp speed, forcing companies to up their digital game.

And yet some companies and industries are feeling the urgency more than others, creating a disconnect between vision and performance. A Harvard Business Review report published in April found that while 80 percent of business leaders surveyed believe their industry will be disrupted by digital trends, only 47 percent have assembled and disseminated a digital business strategy. For many, work remains to be done as the digital economy continues to take shape.

But let’s back up a bit: What, exactly, is “digital transformation”? Myriad opinions and definitions are proposed on the internet, but at its most basic, digital transformation is about machines and digitization. As the concept has gained traction and increasing ubiquity, the combined elements of digital transformation have moved beyond IT departments to — if done right — encompass entire organizations.

Digital transformation is about culture, competition, creativity and survival of the digitally fittest. A company on the vanguard of that change is GE Power, the electric power business owned by parent company General Electric. By continuing to evolve and grow with the times, GE has remained the leader in supplying equipment to generate, distribute and transmit the world’s electricity.

In 2012, then-CEO Jeff Immelt determined that GE needed to become the world’s first digital industrial company and a top-10 software provider by 2020. But what would that business look like? What would it incorporate, and how would it bring new value to its customers?

GE equipment generates one-third of the world’s electricity and provides monitoring and diagnostic services to more than 500 power producers and utilities around the world. In the process, the company gathers about 30,000 hours of data every day. To date, it has stored more than 120 million hours of data related to how power plants operate, why things run smoothly in the plants and why they sometimes don’t.

Every industry reimagined with software

While GE executives searched for a foundation on which to build a digital business, and found they were sitting on a wealth of information just waiting to be mined and put to valuable use for their customers, a collective lightbulb went off in their heads. Or, as Chief Digital Officer Ganesh Bell describes it, “In the digital exhaust of our machines was this gem.”

They set out to build software applications that would help customers’ machines become safer and more efficient and dependable, and in 2016 progressed from research project to viable digital business.

“I came to GE with the belief that every industry will be reimagined with software,” says Bell. “In the next 20 years, the fundamental landscape of all business will be remapped. Only companies that are digitally enabled will be there. Everyone else will have vanished.”

The company says its commitment to customers goes beyond improving machine performance to being good world citizens.

“Thinking about the data is how it started,” says Bell, “but soon we ended up with the idea that we can solve much bigger problems, and make a meaningful dent in the topic of energy in the world.”

As GE Power’s vision for its digital transformation and the business itself continued to expand, the company had to make sure that everyone involved was aware of, and committed to, the huge changes taking place within the organization.

“There was no way we could possibly scale the business as rapidly as we might want to by simply relying on the people who build software and the software sellers,” says David McCulloch, GE Power’s head of global communications for digital solutions. “We needed everyone at GE to get behind this.”

Tasked by CEO Steve Bolze with creating a program to do just that, McCulloch and his team devised a communications strategy that would encompass what might be called the “Three E’s of Positivity”: education, engagement and enthusiasm.

“We wanted to put together something that was aspirational and motivational, that went beyond the usual series of emails that employees have become used to in their daily work lives, and that would help create a culture of inclusion,” says McCulloch.

Working with communications agency MerchantCantos, and stressing the importance of training without making it compulsory, McCulloch hit upon the idea of a “gym for the mind.” The program to help employees get digitally fit is aptly called “DigiFit.”

Communications to evolve the business

Launched internationally in April to 35,000 desk-based employees of GE Power, DigiFit’s mix of short, user- friendly educational videos — most of which are under two minutes long — includes gamification elements such as progress bars, interactive quizzes and rewards that present digital training as entertaining and gratifying and encourage employees to progress through the entire program.

Establishing a unifying theme, the introductory video explains that GE Power is becoming a digital industrial business, that the digital world is about “minds and machines,” and that DigiFit is “a place to get sharper, stronger, more flexible.”

“We use sports and exercise language throughout, to emphasize the importance of participating in, and completing, the digital workout,” McCulloch says.

Classes have titles such as “Customer Cardio,” “Transformation Toning” and “Getting in Gear,” along with campaign tag lines such as “Feel the Learn.”

To complete their training — and receive a DigiFit T-shirt — employees are required to finish two levels of a total of 15 classes, plus three “extra reps” from a variety of topics.

The goal is not necessarily to make employees digital experts but to raise their comfort level with terms, concepts and goals, and increase their confidence and competence when speaking to customers.

“They don’t have to be proficient to go through the digital work or sell digital, but they at least have to open the doors in their conversations,” says Bell.

Early feedback and outcomes have been positive, he says. On average, employees have returned to DigiFit at least twice, and have spent more than 14 minutes in the hub, “which is fantastic for any web property,” McCulloch says.

“It was refreshing compared to other courses,” says Chris Gittings, a senior technical-project manager in GE’s Power Services Group. “Rather than just ticking a box to show that you’ve finished, you actually want to go on to the next section. And I love the ‘gym for your mind’ approach.”

Twenty-two percent of all GE Power employees are actively participating in the DigiFit program, more than double the typical engagement for the company’s employee campaigns. In addition to the United States, countries with the highest employee participation include India, France, Switzerland and Malaysia.

As more employees complete its initial modules, plans call for shifting from “get fit” to “stay fit” mode, creating additional classes and levels of engagement, and making sure that DigiFit continues as a living brand within GE Power.

“It’s great when you get an executive team that encourages you to be creative, and to use communications as a way of evolving the business,” says McCulloch. “It’s been, and continues to be, some of the most fun work of my career.” 

Rod Granger

Rod Granger is PRSA’s director of public relations and communications. He previously served as communications editor at Pearson North America and director of corporate communications at VH1.
 

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