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GE readies big data analytics platform, targets utilities

General Electric (GE) might not be the first company that springs to mind when you think of big data, but come January 2013 it hopes to change that. The industrial stalwart will formally launch its Grid IQ Insight software, a big data analytics platform that includes Cassandra and MySQL databases under the hood plus a modeling and visualization layer for users to interact with the data.

GE’s annual revenue from software is already at about $3 billion but it’s betting that big data will take it to $5 billion in the next couple of years.

The company’s go-to-market plan targets utilities first. It will set up a 90-day trial with prospective customers during which time the customer shares various samples of its data with GE. Using Grid IQ Insights GE  hopes to surface trends and patterns across the data that the utility provider was previously unable to see. The demo GE showed me superimposed social media data (tweets and Facebook posts) over a power company’s electricity network, making it much faster to see customer outages than relying on people calling in to report a problem.

Social media data is just one class of data to corroborate and assess what’s going on in the power grid. Grid IQ Insights pulls in data from operational systems, transmission and distribution systems and customer systems such as smart meters, data that is not typically integrated.  A couple of other interesting use cases, besides alerting the power company to outages, includes meter analytics for revenue loss due to theft (meter tampering costs the power companies millions) and predictive analytics on equipment failures, to prevent the frequency of rolling out a truck for repairs, which is expensive.

If you can see that something is starting to deteriorate and get out there and fix it before it breaks, that’s a foundational change, according to GE. Giving customers predictability in their business is what’s driving the interest in big data technologies.

But GE has some catching up to do. Tech giants – IBM, EMC and Oracle – are already all over this field and venture capital firms have been pouring money into big data startups like there’s no tomorrow. GE says its domain expertise in knowing how energy is distributed and generated, for example, will carry a lot of weight with customers.