The senior vice president of GE and president and CEO of GE Transportation discusses how automation, machine sensors and human judgment connect to move things faster and more efficiently than ever — and shares advice on how future leaders can gain the momentum they need to take part.
Q&A: As the largest container port in the U.S., the Port of Los Angeles is practically a city unto itself. But with help from teams led by Jamie Miller, senior vice president of GE and president and CEO of GE Transportation, the inner workings of that complex network of containers are more visible to key players than ever before. Access met up with her to see what she’s doing to transport this vast world of transportation systems into the future.
Innovative people and products have made GE a household name. In past interviews, you’ve said the greatest successes come when a company tests the boundaries of technological advances without disregarding the expertise of its employees. Tell us how you’ve done that at GE.
That continues to be especially true for GE today. Technology alone doesn’t drive success — human experience, insight and strategy each are critical to advancing game-changing solutions. Regardless of how advanced technology is or becomes, you can never discount the power of human judgment.
“Regardless of how advanced technology is or becomes, you can never discount the power of human judgment.”
As evidence, consider our Global Performance Optimization Center — GPOC, as we call it — in Erie, Pennsylvania. GPOC is the command center for the entire rail industry, where a small, dedicated GE team monitors 2.5 million-plus messages from over 17,000 locomotives for 53 customers in 23 countries every day. Each team member carries huge responsibility to process the messages and determine which require GE or customer attention, and to alert the customer in time to ensure the right guidance is actioned upon to preserve the health of our customers’ fleets.
That said, there’s still often a fear of automation — that it’s bad for the workforce. What do you think about that?
I’ve always said that human intervention and judgment — specifically people understanding how the technology works and how best to implement it in a specific environment — is an ingredient that never can be discounted.
Those who fear automation should look to one of GE’s seven “Brilliant Factories” located around the world, including our Grove City, Pennsylvania, site, where we build and repair diesel engines for locomotives, marine and stationary power applications. With our Brilliant Factories, we’ve married lean manufacturing with advanced software analytics to truly transform the way we deliver for our customers. There, real-time data-driven analytics, 3-D design and condition-based maintenance are transforming the production process, but in a way where machines, data and people are increasingly connecting for better, faster, safer and more reliable performance.
On the subject of locomotives, tell us more about RailConnect 360. How are you using data to provide insights to customers and digitizing the rail industry?
RailConnect 360 is our connected suite of software solutions and is at the heart of our initiative to create a fully connected, smart rail ecosystem. The solution was born directly from engagement with customers and understanding their needs, met by our team’s understanding of how technology and digitization could solve those challenges.
One of the top challenges facing all rail operators is unplanned downtime. The U.S. freight rail industry, for instance, suffers from hundreds of thousands of delays a year, and 1 of every 4 trains on the rails experiences some kind of unplanned downtime. Simply increasing their average speed by 1 mile per hour and reducing the amount of time they’re parked by 1 percent could generate billions of dollars in savings.
RailConnect 360 addresses the biggest contributors to what we call dwell time or downtime using a platform that essentially turns a locomotive into a mobile data center, pushing information and content to where it’s needed. Then we have point solutions that include an automated cruise control system and air traffic control system for trains and rail yards — they’re called Trip Optimizer, Movement Planner and Yard Planner, respectively. We also have other solutions designed specifically to support shipping supply chains, rail cars and more. We’re creating an environment for a “self-aware” train to operate more efficiently, reliably and safely. And in the end, that translates to bottom-line results for our customers.
This kind of machine sensoring sounds fascinating. Give us a little more detail, including how it works exactly.
By equipping our machines with sensors and analyzing the data in real time, we can determine when a machine might break well before it fails. This is important because it allows us to be more efficient with our maintenance and repair process, which means our equipment spends less time out of operation.
At the heart of the machine-sensor relationship is the “digital twin,” a computer-based digital replica of each piece of equipment we manufacture. For example, consider the engine of a locomotive. With a “digital twin,” we know its full genealogy — how that engine was designed and built, and where and how it’s been operated and repaired over its lifetime. This is important because, thanks to real-time data from that engine, we know the condition of the engine and the “personalized prescription” to administer on it the minute it enters our repair facility. It also allows us to pivot our production process. We’ve achieved significant savings by implementing insights from the data generated by monitoring the performance of our in-the-field components and assets.
The number of women GE hopes to hire for STEM roles by 2020
Explain the work GE Transportation is doing for the Port of Los Angeles and what it means beyond LA.
I’ll first share a fun fact: More than 90 percent of global trade moves on the oceans. Now, for consumers, that means most of the goods we use every day touched one of the world’s seaports at some point in time. Ports are often the first node on the shipping supply chain, setting in motion a series of entities across rail, trucking and other handlers to ensure products are delivered on time. Combine that consumer delivery challenge with a new generation of massive container ships and the complexity of handling cargo carried by vessel-sharing alliances, and you have the recipe for delays that impact end-customer satisfaction.
In Los Angeles, we partnered to pilot a first-of-its-kind port information portal, which will give owners and supply chain operators greater line of sight and planning capabilities to more effectively service ultra-large container vessels. This pilot will unlock the power of big data and generate insights to build a smarter, more efficient supply chain moving forward. And it’s a major step toward exploring how a system like this could be developed and implemented for other U.S. ports.
Speaking of line of sight, how can your industry handle the silos that tend to exist now — and how does that affect what you have to gain from business intelligence and analytics?
The greatest promise for innovation is collaboration. Now more than ever, players across the industry need to be open to sharing data because that’s how we will all collectively improve. Technology is only as good as the information it has access to. By integrating data across sectors, we have the power to unlock incredible opportunities not otherwise possible.
Taking even a quick look at the work you lead is impressive. What advice would you give someone who is starting out in his or her career with the hopes of reaching a leadership level like yours?
I would tell them to be open-minded. My career trajectory has certainly been untraditional. I started out in finance, then served as GE’s chief information officer and now lead our Transportation unit as president and CEO. The key to moving forward is understanding how your skills transfer across roles and organizations. Don’t doubt your potential just because you don’t check off every qualification on a job description.
What advice would you give people who are struggling with injecting innovation into their workplace and receiving pushback when they question “the way things have always been done?”
Even though GE is 125 years old, it prides itself on moving forward, and that includes infusing our processes with innovation. One tactic I’ve found effective is to visit the front lines, or the site of innovation, and see how customers are responding. These “digital field trips” to our customer sites allow me to have boots on the ground, roll up my sleeves and immerse myself in day-to-day operations. Being able to have that face time with in-the-field employees and customers allows me to understand what they go through every day, generate new ideas and improve our feedback loop. My team and I always return to the office with new ideas on how we can make our teams’ jobs easier and better partner with our customers. But the best output of these field trips has been the experience of working side by side with our customers and identifying opportunities for improvement. We’ve steadily moved from a closed system of innovation to one that embraces co-creation with our customers and a shared passion for innovation. The creative energy of our combined teams sparks great new ideas and helps us validate them quickly.
Earlier this year, GE began running a TV spot that asked “What if Millie Dresselhaus, female scientist, was treated like a celebrity?” Tell us about the buzz it’s received and what it means to you as a woman working in science and engineering.
This initiative is taking off, and it’s easy to understand why. There is a talent crisis for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) roles, as evidenced by the imbalance of women in technical fields like engineering, manufacturing, IT and product management. This is a problem for industry at large and requires companies to lean in to address it. At GE, we are leaning in by setting a goal to hire 20,000 women to fill STEM roles by 2020 and reach 50:50 representation for all our technical entry-level programs. Inclusion is the only way to innovate. People with a variety of experiences are critical to new ideas and making good ones better.