General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) stock seemed as a compelling buy to me a year and a half ago, largely on the basis of its then-relatively-new Predix software, an Internet of Things (IoT) platform specifically built for big business. Xcel Energy Inc (NYSE:XEL) and Joy Global Inc. (NYSE:JOY) are just a couple of dozens of organizations that have become more efficient through the use of more and better data. With nothing else quite like it available to enterprise-level companies, Predix made in otherwise iffy GE stock easier to own.
It was a different time for General Electric though. And perhaps more important, that was a GE with a different CEO at the helm, one who pushed for the development and launch of Predix and who saw it was a potential game-changer for the company.
So where does the industrial IoT platform stand with new CEO John Flannery? It’s difficult to say, but it’s not difficult to say he’s not quite as stoked about the software as former CEO Jeff Immelt was.
For investors not familiar with the service, Predix is difficult to describe. Not because it’s complex, but rather, the challenge is in convincing people unfamiliar with the platform that it’s truly as comprehensive and robust as it sounds.
To that end, the company’s explanation of Predix is the most helpful:
“The Predix industrial IoT platform is specifically designed for the unique and complex challenges of industrial data. We created Predix to drive the digital transformation of GE’s own businesses spanning over 10 industries from aviation to utilities.”
The platform relies on sensors attached to a variety of industrial equipment, switches that can turn devices on and off, and a central computer (or a cloud-connected computer) to collect a massive amount of data and uses that information to show the company how to save money or be more productive. Sounds plenty marketable, right? But it hasn’t been.
While many companies already have tapped into the power of Predix, as it turns out, the platform isn’t being as embraced as rapidly as Immelt thought it would 18 months ago.
A Hedged Bet Doesn’t Suggest Confidence
Last year, GE believed its GE Digital arm—mostly built on the potential of Predix—would produce $15 billion in revenue in 2020. Since then, the outlook has been dialed back to only $12 billion.
It’s not just revenue directly driven by Predix that was at stake though. The IoT platform also had the potential to spur sales of other GE products and services. At least a small part of that letdown can be attributed to the fact that Predix bumped into a few problems earlier this year. The problems were fixed but required a two-month moratorium of sorts to facilitate the patch-up. More than anything though, companies aren’t getting on board as expected no matter how much they love the idea.
Interestingly, Flannery still backs Predix in a superficial sense. As part of an effort to save $2 billion in annual cost, GE reportedly is planning drastic job cuts (particularly at the corporate level). The one area that GE said it would not be cutting jobs, however, was with the people working on Predix.
Nevertheless, Flannery is also mulling the sale of stakes in GE Digital even as it brings in more developmental partners that make the industrial IoT platform do more things its customers want done.
If it seems like a mixed message, that’s because it is.
Bottom Line for GE Stock
The reeled-in revenue estimate for GE Digital was something of a blow to GE stock, but according to some analysts the new outlook may still overestimate just how much in sales the General Electric arm may actually be able to produce come 2020.
They may be right.
Sure, Flannery is still seemingly committed to Predix, by virtue of keeping it staffed while other GE employees are getting the boot. Flannery has pared back the effort to sell Predix to new customers in non-core sectors though. Instead, he’s limiting the sales focus to existing customers in the energy, aviation and oil/gas industries. As one former GE executive observed, “There was a lot of money spent on Predix. They are going to tighten the grip and ensure there’s a return.”
All in all, none of it screams Flanney feels good about its future. Indeed, it may just be an effort to keep Predix—and GE Digital in general—afloat while its shopped around to potential buyers and recoup some of what may increasingly be seen as a wasted developmental investment.
Whatever the case, if Predix was the sole reason you owned GE stock, you may want to rethink some things.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter.