Waldemar Oldenburger, GE: How Oscar Wilde and Elon Musk are shaping today’s digital transformation



One may like him or not―Oscar Wilde has always been a contentious coeval. However, in today’s digitized world, I always recommend a reach for Mr. Wilde’s treasure box of controversial thinking. “The best way to predict future is to create it”; that’s how Wilde perceived the future and perhaps Elon Musk has had this sentence in mind when he has recently addressed his worries about artificial intelligence, which is a “fundamental risk to human civilization” and that waiting for something to happen should not be an option.

I feel both, the 19th century poet and the 21st century digital pioneer, somehow at the core of GE Hungary’s communications approach over the past 12 months. Communicating the company’s future through times of digital transformation is a predefined path after all: digital is not an option, it’s the only way to stay in business and corporate communications cannot wait for something to happen―it must predict the future by creating it. What is this future about?

The industrys digital transformation

Economies are still at the beginning of the transformation marked by the industrial internet or Internet of Things. The combination of existing and newly developed technologies will bring unprecedented possibilities in applying these technologies with an ever-increasing speed of change, both around the globe and in Hungary. With a workforce of more than 10.000 employees, GE’s footprint in Hungary can be named a kind of “Mini-GE” with practically all business units being present in the country. While in the first 100 years of GE’s 125 year history the company focused on industrial products, then developed services by which it helped customers throughout the lifecycle of the products, services today, especially digital services, contribute substantially to its revenue and profit with increasing importance. At the same time, the company is executing a major shift in the way how it operates in Central Europe and Hungary. GE is moving away from the production of lower value-added, not digitized products and is placing greater emphasis on higher value-added products, which are fully digitized. In the future, GE will focus on industries and products where both the production processes and the products themselves can also be fully digitized.

According to Joerg Bauer, President of GE Hungary, the companies and countries that embrace the digital opportunities first will be the winners, and those passively waiting will be the losers.

Being first is in the DNA of GE, and this is the reason why the company is the only one to have survived out of 12 companies that founded the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1896. Obviously, GE was not waiting for something to happen and accelerated its digital journey for Hungary and Central Europe. In the fall of 2016, the sale of several industrial businesses was announced, resulting in a significant reduction of the company’s industrial presence as GE in Hungary. We also felt another announcement on the phase-out of the GE Lighting business, with a strong Hungarian core as foundation, looming at the horizon―which became reality in June 2017.

Simultaneously, GE has put itself into the driver’s seat of the CEE digital transformation by opening one of its six global digital hubs in Budapest, adding 400 highly skilled expert positions by the end of 2017 in the field of industrial internet solutions to already existing 1.000 software developers across all businesses in Hungary.

Invent yourself while time is running out

So, how does communications look like against the background of major industrial assets moving away and new opportunities evolving―but not as fast as they should to outbalance the loss in footprint? The answer can be put into an unwieldy sentence as followed:

start explaining reasons of future changes to create understanding of actions today or, in a nutshell, invent yourself while time is running out and make your employees active ambassadors of the transformation.

At GE the program has been named the “GE Hungary Future Dialogue”. It’s a series of events, taking place at GE manufacturing sites, to trigger the dialogue on digital between employees and stakeholders from government authorities, academia and trade associations, involving media presence and broadcast on internal channels as well. The topics of these events are future-oriented subjects such as digital asset management, digital transformation of the healthcare industry, or the future digital workplace. As core to the mission, employees should become the strongest ambassadors of GE’s digital transformation. The shop floor staff are asked to play an active role by joining panel discussions and running guided tours at their workplaces to explain how they use and adapt digital tools in their daily work, and also how big data solutions are working across all industrial areas.

There are indeed tangible results to showcase: at a manufacturing unit, the shop floor staff have been able to reduce maintenance costs by 25% just by applying digital tools. It’s also worth to be noted that employees and not digital experts are asked to play the main role in the events.

Demystifying digitization is considered to be vital for the success of the program: the average employee should represent a digital future which is not necessarily about drones or self-driving cars. Without being a digital nerd, everyone can be digital since the core of their job is more and more about the acquisition of large volumes of data and their smart processing.

It’s a digital mission that goes through each management level and involves a strong leadership commitment, which is why one of the Hungarian executive managers describes his role in the process as followed: “People are too important to leave them for HR to deal with and digital is too important to leave it for IT to deal with”.

Does the program work? Yes, it does. Broadcast internally, it has proven to be the right approach to address internal and external concerns on the way the company is changing its footprint. Several business units are asking to join the series of events with their specific digital topics, striving to become a digital ambassador for GE in Hungary. Obviously, there was no crystal ball back in the fall of 2016 when we started to think how to manage the expectations of the company through the times of transformation. But the reaction of the public and the workforce demonstrates that we are on the right track, created by Mr. Wilde and Mr. Musk.

Waldemar Oldenburger, GE: How Oscar Wilde and Elon Musk are shaping today’s digital transformation 4  Waldemar Oldenburger, GE: How Oscar Wilde and Elon Musk are shaping today’s digital transformation 5

Waldemar Oldenburger, Director Communications & Public Affairs CEE

Waldemar Oldenburger, GE: How Oscar Wilde and Elon Musk are shaping today’s digital transformation 6
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