Finding the Point of Impact with GE Digital CEO Pat Byrne

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As a young woman, Jane Goodall traveled from her home country of England to Tanzania to do research on chimpanzees. Others had studied the animals in the past, but Jane’s method was different. She immersed herself in the chimpanzees’ world. She lived among them, observed them and folded herself into their way of life. And it was through that experience that the eyes of the world were opened to what was really happening with these animals, what their challenges were, how they worked, and what their lives actually looked like. It was only through being fully embedded that true understanding was possible. That’s the same idea that GE Digital puts into practice to fuel the digital revolution of the biggest companies operating around the world.

Pat Byrne, the CEO of GE Digital knows that the best way to help someone is to get to know them and the best way to find a solution is to first thoroughly understand the problem.  Find out how he and GE Digital does that to power business solutions on this episode of Business X factors.  

Main Takeaways:

  • Love the Problem and Then the Solution: To develop solutions that create impact, it is important to understand what clients have to deal with on a daily basis, the problems they are trying to solve, and the challenges they face. Figure out what customers are trying to accomplish. What is important to them? Why? Fall in love with the customer’s problem before you fall in love with the solution. 
  • Go to Gemba: Gemba translates as the ‘real place,’ and in business, it refers to the real place where value is created.  To find it, you have to fully immerse yourself with companies from the c-suite to the shop floor. You have to learn and understand what is happening across every level of a business to optimize the value stream and find the point of maximum impact to avoid solving the wrong problems.  
  • Avoid the “Innovate in Isolation” Trap: Developers and designers need to be mindful that they are designing with their users in mind and not just creating insular products. They too often approach a challenge with a specific end product in mind that is meant for expert users when in reality it might not solve the problems of the majority of users. Get to know the users of a solution before you jump in and institute a co-design process in order to ease the adoption of solutions and technology.


Key Quotes:

“We have a voice of the customer process that is really centred on deep customer immersion, really going deep, being able to do observational research so we’re not pitching, we’re watching how they work… It ends up looking a lot more like anthropology than it does like marketing, watching the human factors and helping people actually work in very stressful, busy operational, industrial settings.”

 “When you’re doing digital work for customers, there’s a lot of analytical models that could be used. There’s a lot of software that could be written, but really knowing how the physics of these devices work, how the grid actually operates, that allows us to zero in on and bring a range of skills together that really do provide very unique contributions for our customers

“We’re so deeply embedded in not only how the machines are designed and used, but how all that data is collected and what data is really important to collect. And it really is because of the operational engagement we have. Our workforce, we have a large services workforce that’s involved in implementing these projects throughout the life cycle. So it’s not just install software and it runs. It’s really be there in the middle of how it operates every single day through monitoring and diagnostics.”

 “You’ve got to find that real place, that place where you’ve got to make sure that that person using that process, delivering that outcome is the customer that you’re really focused on enabling, because otherwise it could be very high-level stuff looks good, or it looks good on a spreadsheet, looks good at a PowerPoint. It looks good at a demo, but if you’re not in the hands of the person, that’s at the point of impact, at that point of Gemba, then it’s just going to be more software, you know, more complexity. And it’s really not delivering the kind of value you want.”

“What we do is take a humble approach to that, go to Gemba, go to the point of impact and focus on this deep customer immersion. And really, we are obsessed. We try to fall in love with the customer problem before we fall in love with the solution.”

“If all we do is make software, so it’s like uber-nerdy, got all the features that you could have all in one package, it confuses everybody and is good for not any one person.  But what if you optimize using the basic same kernel of analysis, but now you focus on the trading desk or the person who has to optimize the dispatch of which assets are dispatched or the reliability engineer who has to figure out, ‘Well, that gas turbine’s turned down. What does that mean for the reliability of these assets?’ So, here’s the thing where we could go with a feature set that covers all those things, but it’s a little bit like an Aqua car. An Aqua car, it’s a car boat. It’s not that good of a car. It’s not that good of a boat.”


Pat Byrne was appointed chief executive of GE Digital, General Electric’s digital business, in July, 2019. Mr. Byrne has been a leader in digital for more than three decades and brings expertise in industrial technology and strategic business development. Mr. Byrne joined GE from Fortive, where he served as Senior Vice President, leading their Product Realization business.

Prior to Fortive, Mr. Byrne was the vice president of strategy and chief technology officer for Danaher’s test and measurement segment, where he drove strategic market development, business development and M&A. In July 2014, he became the president of Tektronix, a leading worldwide provider of measurement solutions. Prior to that, he also served as president and CEO of Intermec Technologies and Agilent’s electronic measurement group. Mr. Byrne started his career at Hewlett-Packard in 1983 and worked in various leadership roles in R&D, technology development, marketing, quality and general management.

Mr. Byrne served on the board of directors of Micron Technology, a publicly traded global leader in memory solutions. He holds a BS in electrical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MS in electrical engineering from Stanford University.

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Episode 18