General Electric recently announced its fourth quarter and full 2015 financial results and made it a point to call attention to its new GE Digital business unit. It did so because GE’s bold goal is to be a top 10 software company by 2020. In its press and media outreach, GE declared that GE Digital accomplished $5 billion in 2015 revenues with anticipation of far more growth in the coming years.

This relatively new GE Digital business segment was formally launched in November after a series of internal re-alignments. The unit brings together all of GE’s digitally focused and Industrial Internet capabilities under a single business focus. This includes GE’s Software Center, the company’s global IT and commercial software teams along with cyber security teams.

The underlying mission of this business is to make intelligent machines and connected industrial equipment as an emerging reality. GE is of the belief that the Industrial Internet could add $10 to $15 trillion to the global economy over the next 20 years. This includes aircraft engines that can self-diagnose operating performance, alert to pending operating maintenance needs and automatically order required repair components.  Railroad locomotives that can communicate onboard diagnostics, train operating conditions and train rail car composition. Data can be analyzed across fleets of similar equipment providing design engineers timely performance information while fleet owners have the ability to optimize operating assets.

GE executives are quick to differentiate Smart Machines and Industrial Internet from Internet of Things (IoT). The latter GE views as more consumer market focused. The Head of GE Digital, Bill Ruh, states in a recent blog post: “There’s a difference between running a smart thermostat in your house and controlling a power plant. We work in mission critical environments.”

Some in today’s broader tech world of IoT may take issue with GE’s succinct differentiation of consumer vs. industrial facing connected devices. Suffice to point out that the opportunities are indeed enormous for both dimensions. However, by our lens, it is rather important to differentiate the different scale, scope and function of needs for both, especially in the data security and scalability dimensions of industrial applications.

GE has indeed been a pathfinder in the notion of connected machines and is now beginning to harvest the financial and market benefits for being an early innovator.  From its longstanding industrial roots, the company can surely grasp the notions of what is required for mission critical operating environments.

Other industrial manufacturing and enterprise software providers will surely escalate their commitment to intelligent machines and by 2020, there may well be a different software provider landscape with competitive dynamics. What we term IoT today become more differentiated and more succinct in application. As with all prior tech revolution, there will be winners, laggards and market casualties.

The good news, however, is that bringing the physical and digital aspects of supply chain information and decision-making together are no longer a distant vision, but within the realm of a five-year goal.