IBM’s Watson, GE’s Predix; Compare & Contrast

Tom Paine

Yesterday, I read two pieces in the Wall Street Journal: One on the decline of GE under Jeffrey Immelt, and the other on IBM’s less than successful foray into AI for Healthcare, Watson,.under Ginni Rometty.

IBM is reportedly considering seling Watson now. There are also signs that its cutting back on its aggresssive blockchain strategy. The article on GE’s decline discusses its bad bet on Predix, an attempt to develop an IoT-enabled digital operating system for industry.

Both Watson and Predix. were attempts to prop up or rejuvenate the two leading American giants of industry in the 20th century. Both strategies were accompanied by PR campaigns which oversimplified and oversold their capabilities and prospects. Both companies have returned to more realistic strategies under new management: GE under Larry Culp Jr and IBM under Arvind Krishna.

Despite showing future hope of a turnaround under Krishna, IBM’s market value is now barely over $100 billion, compared to Apple’s $2.2 trillion.. Once mighty Big Blue is a minnow compared to Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook. Even relative newcomers are passing it by.

Shrunken GE has almost exactly the same market cap now as IBM. It was over $500 billion in the early 2000s.

IBM reinvested substantially in the business (at least according to the numbers) but it didn’t pay off. Shrinking margins reduced the value of some of its businesses, and some R&D efforts produced neat technology, but with little commercial succeess.

GE may have underinvested, and it also badly overpaid for some acquisitions, while its finance business unraveled during the great recession. Its markets were mostly mature. Moving to Boston and hiring a bunch of techies didn’t work. The idea that one operating system could be a universal solutions for its different businesses didn’t pan out. IBM made a similar error with Watson.

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