Cities across the EU are buying “smart” infrastructure—light poles, cameras, and sensors—to improve public services and cut costs. But many of the manufacturers of these devices are struggling to make them interoperable, slowing progress for governments and software vendors who want to build services on top of the so-called Internet of Things.
For European companies, delaying IT innovation would be costly. Within the EU, government budgets for R&D have been dropping, and in the private sector, R&D spending has flatlined or decreased in almost every EU nation. What’s the reason for the drop off? In the UK’s 2015 Innovation Survey, the “direct cost… too high” was a top factor constraining innovation. Another top constraining condition: “lack of qualified personnel.”
In direct response to the EU’s IT skills gap, GE is joining with a consortium of companies to make a critical component of IoT development—predictive data analytics—free and open source. In fact, its Predix analytics libraries were inaugurated into the free and open source Cloud Foundry Foundation this week, an event commemorated with the Minds + Machines Europe 2016 gathering hosted by GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt in Paris on June 14.
In the world of software, a milestone like this is indeed cause for celebration. Software for infrastructure is hard to build and high-risk, and tapping into a collective talent through open sourced software projects is shrewd. But it also raises an interesting challenge: The open source community governance works slowly, to keep out malefactors, which makes it tedious for companies to get their engineers involved.
The Foundry attacks this problem head-on. First, its “Dojo” program helps new programmers learn their way around the Foundry’s tools via a series of software education clinics that rely on a practice called “pair programming.” When they return to their respective companies, those programmers can build things competently and quickly, on an open source foundation that doesn’t lock the company into any particular vendor.
But the Dojo program also circumvents one of the big challenges that businesses have when open sourcing. While it usually takes a coder a year or more to gain full “committer” status on an open source project, in the Cloud Foundry dojo programs a seasoned committer is paired with a new one, helping the latter earn full status in just a few months.
As far as contributions to open source go, the Predix analytics library is a big deal. Predictive data analytics are more than tangential to IoT—they’re the foundation of machine learning, which will unlock the “magic” capacity that smart industrial machines have in store. Predix is especially useful for stress-testing fleet machines like airplanes, trucks, ships, or generators, which are disastrous if they fail.
Europe’s excitement around this kind of innovative R&D program is palpable. The event held in Paris brought together leaders across big industry and IT. Among the speakers that joined Immelt on stage were Jean-Bernard Lévy, CEO and Chairman of EDF, the French power utility, and Mary Moloney, Global CEO of the CoderDojo Foundation, which operates over 900 programming clubs across Europe.
Besides GE, a coalition of 60+ major vendors like Pivotal, HP Enterprise, and IBM are members of the Cloud Foundry Foundation. Being an open source consortium and not a public company itself, Cloud Foundry doesn’t get a lot of mainstream press, but it has become the de facto platform for big enterprises building applications in the cloud.
Like all open source projects, the Foundry lives and dies by its velocity, and the real hope of Cloud Foundry Dojo’s like GE’s is that the developers (and companies) who learn the software will someday contribute back. For companies frustrated by the constraints of their IT, there is data portability to gain, and nothing to lose.
This article was produced on behalf of GE by Quartz creative services and not by the Quartz editorial staff.