To Tackle Tough Challenges, You Must Fully Understand Your Customer And Your Customers' Customer
In my opinion, too many manufacturers and resellers in our industry underestimate the importance of domain expertise and the value that exists in a deep understanding of customer applications, particularly when it comes to military networks. Those companies throw together catalogs full of routers and switches with off the shelf silicon and third-party software, with only a marginal understanding of how they might interoperate, what are the performance implications and, more importantly, the security implications of what they have cobbled together. And should their customers have detailed network architecture, implementation or troubleshooting requests, those customers are on their own. As military networks grow and become more complex, customers are telling me that they need solutions, not products - and partners, not suppliers. They want – need – real, meaningful help.
This is exactly why GE is expanding what we call "domain expertise" throughout or organization; developing teams with a deep understanding of real world applications and problems. We combine this domain expertise with technology centers and centers of excellence that focus on innovative technology designed to address such problems. Examples include the GE Information Technology Security Center that was set up to address the growing need for cyber security for both our internal operations and our customers’. More recently, we set up the Software Technology Center in California and hired thousands of software engineers to build solutions for the Industrial Internet. Here at GE Intelligent Platforms, we have our own technology groups focused on things like High Performance Embedded Computing, sensor processing, and, of course, the subject I am most involved with - communications and networking.
Recently, a company came to us with a problem. They needed a way to handle automatic failover in a network over which they had only partial control. If it had been completely under their control, they could have used the Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol (RSTP) to control the redundant loops, but this was not an option. Our Network Communications Technology Group spent time with the customer to understand the problem, and designed a failover mechanism which handles failures in links to external networks, without requiring any specific protocol running on those links. This feature was integrated into our core OpenWare switch management firmware and has recently been used by other customers with different, but related, requirements.
In another example, a customer came to us looking for an embedded Ethernet switch, but instead of asking us the usual questions - number of ports, performance statistics, cabling requirements and so on - they asked for one metric: boot time. They were building a network that formed the backbone of the vetronics architecture for a military armored vehicle, and it was critical that all the electronics fired up and connected as fast as possible. All the rugged switch solutions they had tested did not meet their requirements - and this included a switch from GE Intelligent Platforms. Once again a team of GE engineers engaged with the customer. After a detailed analysis and discussion of the vehicle's network architecture (which only real network technology egg-heads could truly engage in) a timeline was constructed showing exactly when each network service (protocol, QoS, management interface, security feature, port instantiation and so on) was required. This gave our engineers a prioritized list, enabling them to modify OpenWare and supply a switch that booted up and supplied the required services faster than any other device the customer had tested.
At GE Intelligent Platforms, we see military networking and communications as a core part of our business. This is why we setup the Network Communications Technology Group - a team of network engineers with deep domain expertise in network protocols, security and management with a particular focus on the often demanding and sensitive needs of military customers. It is this team that designs and rigorously tests all of our networking products. The team is involved in various standards bodies to help guide and design future network technologies, protocols and standards. And when we integrate solutions from non-GE companies, such as the Junos operating system from Juniper Networks that drives our RTR8GE router product, the Network Communications Technology Group qualifies every aspect and takes full ownership to ensure that our customers receive the support and guidance they have come to expect from GE.
The two examples above demonstrate the value of GE’s Network Communications Technology Group and our OpenWare switch management suite. Since OpenWare is fully designed, maintained and controlled by GE, we can optimize and customize it to meet unique requirements. And, since OpenWare is based on Open Source Linux, it makes our network switch solutions highly flexible and scalable. Our customers see tremendous value not only in the OpenWare platform itself, but also in the fact that they have access to the expertise of the team that designed it.
GE’s corporate website describes GE using the following words: “the best technologies taking on the toughest challenges. Finding solutions...... Not just Imagining. Doing. GE works”. As I mentioned in a previous blog post How military networks are getting more complex, our military and aerospace customers face some of the toughest challenges - but regardless of the specific industry, one fact remains constant: tough challenges can only be met if we fully understand them. That means understanding our customers and our customers' customer, their applications, business environment, goals and objectives. In other words: a whole new level of engagement is required – and it’s a level of engagement that GE is well equipped to deliver.
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