GE's CEO sees more partnerships ahead for digital business

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – General Electric Co (GE.N) will use more alliances to build its digital-industrial business in coming years, Chief Executive Officer John Flannery said on Wednesday, suggesting the industrial conglomerate will curb spending in that area.

Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella and General Electric Chief Executive John Flannery speak at General Electric Company’s Minds + Machines conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alwyn Scott

GE is investing about $ 2.1 billion in GE Digital this year, and executives had said that amount would fall in 2018.

Flannery on Wednesday made his first direct remarks about the digital strategy since he became CEO on Aug. 1. He has begun slashing costs in other areas, including reducing staff, grounding corporate jets and axing the “Maserati benefit” of corporate cars for about 600 senior executives.

Flannery is due to unveil new financial targets on Nov. 13 and is under heavy pressure to turn GE around after the company’s third-quarter earnings and cash flow badly missed targets. GE stock is down 32 percent so far this year, while the S&P 500 index is up 14 percent,

GE’s digital strategy is built around a cloud-based software platform, known as Predix, that connects factories, power plants and other industrial equipment to computers that improve performance and predict outages.

But Predix’s limited capabilities and performance problems have caused GE to lose out to competitors such as Siemens AG (SIEGn.DE) and startups such as Uptake and C3IOT.

Flannery said on Wednesday that GE will focus on selling Predix in its own businesses: energy, oil-and-gas, aviation, healthcare, transportation and mining, as Reuters reported in August.

In other markets, “We’re going to be more selective … and do it largely through partners,” Flannery said at GE’s annual Minds + Machines conference.

FILE PHOTO: The ticker and logo for General Electric Co. is displayed on a screen at the post where it is traded on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S. on June 30, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Gary Mintchell, chief executive of The Manufacturing Connection, an industrial-internet-focused research and consulting company, said GE’s strategy of using partners reflects the company’s realization that “they can’t build their own ecosystem.”

GE said it was expanding its partnership with Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), to provide access to Microsoft applications on Predix. The specifics largely duplicated what the companies said when they first announced the deal in July 2016.

GE said Predix will be available on Azure in North America on Nov. 30, months later than the original target of the second quarter. Predix will still be available on Amazon.com Inc’s (AMZN.O) Amazon Web Services cloud platform, GE said.

GE Digital’s chief executive, Bill Ruh, on Wednesday noted a partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co (HPE.N). GE also is linking Predix with Apple Inc’s (AAPL.O) IOS operating system for iPhones and iPads.

Patrick Franklin, vice president in charge of Predix, said there was still room to improve Predix after the company held a two-month time-out this year to fix bugs, but the platform was showing near-100 percent stability.

“We are paying careful attention to quality,” he said, referring to the delay in deploying Predix on Azure.

GE executives said the company is focusing on developing apps for Predix to boost sales. GE plans to bundle applications for equipment monitoring and service technicians, both of which it bought last year.

GE said orders for Predix were rising sharply. Some customers at the event echoed that view. U.S. utility Exelon Corp (EXC.N), for instance, said it is rolling out Predix to its nuclear, gas, wind and other power plants after a two-year pilot of the system showed it worked as advertised, said Brian Hoff, director of corporate strategy and innovation at Exelon.

“If it didn’t hit its targets, we wouldn’t be moving forward,” Hoff said.

Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Leslie Adler

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Tech

6 Rules You Must Know for Using SEO and SEM to Grow Your Business

If you’re managing a business, you know how important a web and mobile presence is. Whether you’re selling tacos, tiaras, or terabytes, customers need to be able to find you.

You’ve probably dipped your toe into the complex world of organic or “free” search, also known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and paid search, also known as Search Engine Marketing (SEM). But what do you really need to know about SEO and SEM?

I spoke with SEO/SEM expert Andrew Shelton, founder of the digital marketing agency Martec360, who gave me six rules that you need to pay attention to right now if you want to increase your sales through search:

1. Mobile is king

Need evidence of the importance of mobile? Some 96% of smartphone owners use their device to get things done. About 70% of smartphone owners use their phone to research a product before purchasing it in a store. Half of all web traffic comes from smartphones and tablets.

Furthermore, Google has begun to make its search index “mobile-first.” That means that Google will primarily index mobile content and use that to decide how to rank its results.

2. Paid search pays off on mobile

On mobile, paid search (SEM) is increasingly paying off. Shelton says he used to tell his clients to focus on free search (SEO) but with users putting mobile first, the continuum has changed.

“The greatest return on investment is email,” Shelton says, “because you have those customers in house. But paid search is next.” He estimates that paid search spending went up by factors of 25% to 50% in 2016.

3. Have a solid content strategy

The old adage is the new adage: “Content is king.” You need high-quality content for your website if it’s going to compete in the free search business. You can’t go about that blindly.

Consider what customer problem you’re solving. What customer questions can you be answering?

Do you have a mechanism for customers to ask questions? There could be a wealth of ideas for blog posts, FAQs, and buyers’ guides right there.

4. Social media is worth your return on investment

Social media can be vexing for many businesses. You definitely have to perform a cost-benefit analysis on it. Spending six hours a day sending out tweets that don’t lead to conversions is going to be a losing proposition.

Treat social media as “an engagement with an ongoing conversation with your customers,” Shelton recommends. “It’s not just for selling.”

In fact, if your social media channels are too hard-sell, they’ll be counter productive. You have to create value. Tools like Hootsuite, Falcon.IO, and Curalate can help.

5. Manage your online reputation

According to Shopper Approved, an app that helps its clients collect online ratings and reviews, 88% of all consumers read online reviews to determine whether a local business is a good business.

All of those reviews are part of the SEO equation. They can help you, or they can hurt you. But an app like Shopper Approved can help push more positive reviews where you need them.

6. Measure and monitor your progress

The only way you’re going see your business grow exponentially through SEO, SEM, and social media is to measure what you’re doing. You have to know where you’re starting, set some benchmarks, and monitor your progress.

Install Google Analytics. There is a plethora of other e-commerce tools you can use for analysis. Data is your friend. Get used to swimming in it.

And if you need help, find a consulting firm that understands your customer and your goals.

Just remember, effective search is process. You won’t get it right the first time. But you’ll get better at it with everything you learn.

About the author:

Kim Folsom is the Founder of LIFT Development Enterprises–a not-for-profit, community development organization with a mission to help underserved, underrepresented small-business owners – and Co-Founder and CEO of Founders First Capital Partners, LLC, a small business growth accelerator and revenue based venture fund. Learn more about Kim and her company’s mission to help grow and fund 1000 underserved and underrepresented small businesses by 2026 via their Founders Business Growth Bootcamp program at www.foundersfirstcapitalpartners.com.

 

Tech

The Cobalt Cliff Will Crush Tesla's Business And May Restore Some Sanity To The EV Industry

A brief history of the EV industry

The birth of the EV industry is usually pegged to the summer of 2008 when crude oil prices peaked above $ 140 per barrel. Tesla (TSLA) was a few months from launching its electric Roadster and I started blogging on battery investing for Seeking Alpha.

At the time, the DOE and everybody in the auto industry pegged their EV hopes and dreams on lithium manganese oxide, or LMO, and lithium iron phosphate, or LFP, batteries. The reasons were simple. Both chemistries had great performance profiles for EVs and both chemistries were made using cheap and abundant raw materials – lithium, manganese and iron.

The sole renegade was Tesla, which planned to use consumer grade cells and a nickel-cobalt chemistry instead of more costly automotive grade LMO and LFP cells. Tesla’s theory, which had more than a touch of genius, was that using consumer grade cells would allow it to over-build its battery packs to improve safety and slow cell degradation while pitching a 300-mile range with neck snapping acceleration as major advantages, even though most Tesla owners would crawl through city traffic with the rest of us and average less than 35 miles of daily driving.

While Tesla’s electric muscle cars have always been energy, emissions and economic nightmares, the sales pitch resonated with one percenters who were drawn to Tesla’s richly subsidized eco-bling like moths to a flame.

The consumer response was so strong that most players in the EV industry are moving away from LMO and LFP batteries and embracing high-energy nickel manganese cobalt, or NMC, batteries.

The EV industry’s transition away from cheap and abundant raw materials in favor of costly nickel and cobalt will not end well.

The cobalt cliff

Over the last 18 months I’ve repeatedly cautioned readers that intrinsic and unavoidable constraints on cobalt production would create insurmountable obstacles to the widespread deployment of long-range EVs with high energy nickel-cobalt batteries.

While the problems will be shared by all automakers that have launched or plan to launch EV products with nickel-cobalt batteries, most will be able to roll with the punches and adjust their business models to accommodate the vulgar exigencies of cobalt production dynamics.

Tesla stands alone as an EV manufacturer that cannot implement its business plan, or for that matter continue in business, without easy access to unlimited cobalt supplies. In my view, Tesla’s failure to secure a robust and reliable cobalt supply chain before starting construction for its Nevada Gigafactory is the biggest OOOPs in the history of supply chain management.

Frankly, Tesla’s cobalt predicament reminds me of the cliff sequence in the 1991 movie classic Thelma and Louise:

In March 2016, the first of my five prior articles on the Cobalt Cliff explained:

  • Cobalt is an essential raw material for all high-energy lithium-ion cells and the battery industry accounted for 44% of cobalt consumption in 2015.
  • Cobalt is also an essential raw material for superalloys, machine tools, catalysts, pigments and other high value products that accounted for 56% of cobalt consumption in 2015.
  • Roughly 90% of cobalt supplies come from copper (60%) and nickel mines (30%) that produce cobalt as a minor byproduct.
  • The other 10% comes from primary cobalt mines (2%) and “artisanal” cobalt mines in the DRC (8%) that reportedly rely on slave and child labor.
  • Reliance on a byproduct is incredibly risky because availability always is tied to demand for the primary product; in this case nickel and copper.
  • Without rock solid supply contracts, Gigafactory owners will find themselves between a rock and a hard place as they try to outbid other companies that need cobalt for higher value products.
  • The likely price of supply chain failure will be business failure because you cannot make EVs without batteries and battery Gigafactories cannot operate profitably without robust and reliable raw material supply chains.

In the last 18 months, several events, developments and reports have corroborated, ratified and reinforced my original thesis, including:

Market Price

Cobalt prices have soared from $ 10.50 per pound in March 2016 to a recent high of $ 28.35 per pound.

Major Mine Purchase

In May 2016 China Molybdenum bought a 56% stake in the DRC’s Tenke Fungurume Mine from Freeport McMoRan for $ 2.65 billion and gained control over 10% of global cobalt production in a single transaction.

In July 2017, China Moly facilitated BHR Partners’ purchase of a 24% stake in the Tenke Mine from Lundin Mining for $ 1.14 billion.

China Dominates Cobalt Refining

Between the Tenke purchase and contracts to finance the Eurasian Resource Group’s Roan Tailings Project, Chinese interests will control at least 60% of the world’s refined cobalt production for the foreseeable future.

Updated Chinese Subsidy Regime

In January 2017, China updated its subsidy regime for new energy vehicles to favor higher energy densities and longer travel ranges while permitting the use of nickel-cobalt battery chemistries. As a result, a significant portion of the China market that was previously dominated by cobalt-free batteries is likely to change chemistries.

Bernstein’s 2017 Black Book

In March 2017 Bernstein released the latest version of its EV Black Book which devotes 60 of its 271 pages to cathode powder formulations, raw material requirements and the principal players in those markets.

In their slow adoption scenario, Bernstein expects the battery market for passenger EVs to exceed 360 GWh per year by 2025, which implies an annual cobalt demand of roughly 55,000 tonnes.

Interestingly, Bernstein also forecast a mining industry capital spending requirement of $ 350 to $ 750 billion to support a full transition to EVs and noted “the lead time required for conversion of exploration success into an operating mine has lengthened considerably and now stands at ~30 years.”

Ultimately, Bernstein’s battery materials discussion concludes, “Either the world must do without EVs or it must pay more for the commodities it consumes, the choice really is as simple as that.”

UBS Bolt Teardown

In May 2017, UBS published the results of their teardown analysis of a GM Bolt EV and estimated that global cobalt production would need to increase by 1928% to support an annual EV build of 100 million units. My estimate of a mere 900% global cobalt production growth requirement pales in comparison.

Morgan Stanley Cobalt Report

In June 2017, Morgan Stanley issued a 25-page commodity report on cobalt that surveyed planned capacity additions and forecast primary refined cobalt supply growth from 94.4 tonnes in 2016 to 148,300 tonnes in 2025.

On the demand side, Morgan Stanley forecast that in 2025, 59,600 tonnes of cobalt would be used for non-battery applications, and 47,500 tonnes would be used for consumer products batteries, which would leave 41,200 tonnes for use in EV batteries.

VW’s Glencore contract

In July 2017, we learned that Contemporary Amperex Technology and its customer Volkswagen signed a four year 5,000 TPY cobalt offtake agreement with Glencore last fall.

VW’s Contract Solicitation

In September 2017, we learned that VW is soliciting 10-year requirements-based cobalt offtake commitments for 16,000 to 24,000 TPY and wants contracts in place this year.

Until recently, I wasn’t completely convinced that leading automakers were truly committed to their EV initiatives. While the Chinese are deadly serious about promoting new energy vehicles as a mean of reducing pollution in their mega-cities, Nissan (OTCPK:NSANY), Tesla, GM (NYSE:GM) and BMW were the only western automakers with credible EV programs. That dynamic changed after dieselgate when VW came to the EV party with a vengeance, partly as penance for past sins and partly in response to Germany’s increasing political support for electric drive.

In its “Global EV Outlook 2017” the International Energy Agency summarized the electric car ambitions of the world’s automakers as follows:

BMW

100,000 electric car sales in 2017; and
15-25% of the BMW group’s sales by 2025.

Chevrolet

30,000 annual electric car sales by 2017

Chinese OEMs

4.52 million annual electric car sales by 2020

Daimler

100,000 annual electric car sales by 2020

Ford

13 new EV models by 2020

Honda

Two-thirds of the 2030 sales to be electrified vehicles
(including hybrids, PHEVs, BEVs and FCEVs)

Renault-Nissan

1.5 million cumulative sales of electric cars by 2020

Tesla

500,000 annual electric car sales by 2018; and
1 million annual electric car sales by 2020

Volkswagen

2-3 million annual electric car sales by 2025

Volvo

1 million cumulative electric car sales by 2025

With an average cobalt content of 8 kg per car, the 41,200 tonnes available for EV batteries in 2025 will only support the manufacture of 5.15 million EVs, a little over half of the aspirational totals set forth above.

At this point I have to believe the EV revolution has entered a melee phase where there won’t be enough cobalt to satisfy everybody’s needs and anyone who wants to play the game will have to stand toe-to-toe and compete for cobalt supplies with China Inc. and six of the world’s ten largest automakers.

I don’t think Tesla is up to the business challenge establishing robust and reliable supply chains in the face of relentless competition from the big boys.

I know it lacks the financial strength to stand toe-to-toe with the big boys in a bidding war.

I can almost hear Elon Musk and JB Straubel reprising a Tesla version Thelma’s last conversation with Louise.

Conclusion

Benjamin Graham, the father of value investing, once explained that in the short run, the market acts like a voting machine – tallying up which firms are popular and unpopular. But in the long run, the market acts like a weighing machine – assessing the substance of a company. Tesla is clearly a voting machine stock that will maintain an irrational value until the market starts to act like a weighing machine. Since I expected Tesla’s stock to crumble when it was trading in the $ 30s, I haven’t a clue when that will happen.

This article focuses on a third reason why I think Tesla’s business model is fatally flawed and its inherent investment value is zero. I will discuss others in future articles. The biggest challenge with macro issues like the cobalt supply and dynamics discussed in this article is that it’s almost impossible to predict when an unavoidable outcome will occur. In my experience, being right about an unavoidable outcome too early isn’t much better than being wrong.

Since Elon Musk is the most talented stock promoter I’ve ever seen and I’ve never shorted a stock, I have no advice to offer Tesla bears. That being said, I wouldn’t own an un-hedged long position in Tesla because the downside risk is enormous.

From my perspective the only safe place to watch this circus is the sidelines.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Tech

Uber defends business model at UK tribunal on worker rights

LONDON (Reuters) – Uber went to a British employment appeal tribunal on Wednesday to argue its drivers are self-employed, not workers entitled to a range of extra benefits, less than a week after the firm was told it would lose its London license.

The U.S. ride-hailing service has faced regulatory and legal setbacks around the world amid opposition from traditional taxi services and concern among some regulators. It has been forced to quit several countries, such as Denmark and Hungary.

Losing its license in London, one of the world’s wealthiest cities, is one of the U.S. technology firm’s biggest setbacks so far. The London regulator cited the firm’s approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers.

It can operate during its appeal, which could last months.

Last year, two drivers successfully argued at a tribunal that Uber exerted significant control over them to provide an on-demand taxi service and had responsibilities in terms of workers’ rights.

At the two-day appeal hearing starting on Wednesday Uber will argue its drivers are self-employed and work the same way as those at long-established local taxi firms, according to a court document seen by Reuters.

The self-employed are entitled to only basic protections such as health and safety, but workers receive benefits such as the minimum wage, paid holidays and rest breaks. This would add to Uber’s costs and bureaucracy across Britain.

“Almost all taxi and private-hire drivers have been self-employed for decades before our app existed,” an Uber spokesman said before Wednesday’s hearing.

“Uber drivers have more control and are totally free to choose if, when and where they drive with no shifts or minimum hours,” he said.

Around 200 trade union-led protesters marched through central London on Wednesday against what they deem “precarious labor” in the “gig economy”, where people work for various employers at the same time without fixed contracts.

Some, however, opposed the decision by London’s regulator to strip Uber of its license, saying the firm should be allowed to operate but must grant workers’ rights.

In a bid to strengthen itself in Britain, Uber said on Wednesday it was seeking to appoint a UK chairman, a newly created non-executive role which it began recruiting for around six weeks ago.

Uber faces a further challenge as law firm Leigh Day said it would represent a female driver who says Uber is putting her and other women at risk as drivers do not know the passenger’s destination until they get in the car, and that could mean traveling to a remote or unsafe area.

An Uber spokesman said drivers could cancel trips without penalty and did not have to go to a particular area if they did not want to. He said many women worked for Uber due to its safety features.

“One of the main reasons why women choose to drive with Uber is because of the safety features in the app. All trips are GPS tracked and a driver is able to share a live map of their trip with a friend or loved one,” he said.

Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by William Schomberg and Andrew Roche

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Tech

Driverless Cars in Pittsburgh, Tattoos Control iPhones and Other Small Business Tech This Week

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Kids live in a world filled with possibility, where no dream is too big and no idea is too small. Because of this can-do attitude, kids starting their own businesses are having the kind of success some adults can only dream about

We could all learn a thing or two from these mini moguls. Here are the three biggest business lessons for grown-ups from the kidtrepreneurs who are beating them at their own game.

#1 – Start where you are

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Robotics tipping point: What business leaders and entrepreneurs need to know NOW (webinar)

robots

VB WEBINAR:

Join us for this live webinar on Friday, September 25 at 10 a.m. Pacific, 1 p.m. Eastern. Register here for free. 

Silicon Valley is at the center of the perfect storm of robotics.

It’s at the center of the talent, the investment and the research, the center of the software and hardware industries — all key ecosystem components to build the robotics companies that need to rise to serve the world’s future.

But the event horizon to make that happen is something that needs to be considered in terms of decades, not the typical start-up timelines of a few months to a few years, according to Andra Keay. Keay is managing director of Silicon Valley Robotics, and one of the panelists in this upcoming webinar that will be shedding light on what businesses need to know now to take advantage of the evolution that’s reaching a tipping point.

“Robotics moves slowly but it’s been around a long time,” she says. “The industry has done a great job over the last 50 years of helping us to envision what uses we could make of robots and what that could mean to the quality of our life and our economy. Yet, few of those promises have yet been met.”

The problem, according to Keay is that our expectation of robotics has been inflated.

“We did it wrong. We’ve created this situation where we look at robots as humanoid,” Keay says. “There’s no way that robots have anything like the capability of a person. It’s just absolutely impossible in this century for a robot to replace a human in anything.”

That’s not to say that robotics technology isn’t already very much a part of our lives, or that now isn’t the right time for the industry to become more established and scale.

“Five years ago in the industry we said, OK, the time is right,” Keay says. “It’s clear that robotics is at a point where it’s time to move into new areas. Out of industry, out of research labs, into the service industry and into the home.”

Robotics technologies are well engrained in certain industries, like automotive. It’s just that, for the average person, it doesn’t feel like something that’s particularly close to home. For this reason, it’s easy for people to dismiss robotics as science fiction because it seems so far away and the tipping point moments so elusive.

Understanding what that future may actually look like comes back to understanding the technological and economic drivers that are making robotics peek right now.

Don’t miss out!  Learn more about Andra Keay’s vision for the future of robotics by tuning-in for the webinar “How robotics will change everything, including your business.”

Register here for free.

“In many cases it will be taking this ubiquitous connectivity that mobility computing delivers and making a gradual transition to products that are just that much more powerful and versatile,” Keay says. “It’s not going to be a disruption, but once in a while one of those devices will change in how we use it and that will lead to other changes. I think that, with time, robotics will account for the same kind of seismic shift that the internet and computers had in the 20th century.”

One popular belief is that the growth of robotic technology will inevitably equate to the loss of human jobs. But Keay says there is good reason to believe that the opposite will be true.

“Everywhere I look there are industries that have increased the number of robots that they employ. They’ve also increased the number of people that they employ,” she says. “An exciting vision of the future is that of the skilled mobile tradesperson. They’ll still drive a pickup or an SUV but instead of a leaf blower, or a power tool, they’re working with smarter tools that are used in applications to take care of robots.”

Keay sees a correlation between this future of robot builders and technicians and the opportunity to create small, regional pockets of highly-specialized, entrepreneurial manufacturers and service providers of a variety of stripes to support niche industrial and commercial requirements for robotic technology. “Robots increase the number of jobs that are needed and they also increase the productivity of a company that allow it to expand and create even more jobs,” she says. “That will create opportunities for a new class of entrepreneurs.”

Ultimately, the future of robotic technology means creating machines that augment, not replace, humans and socializing the idea that people can work with robots in an integrated fashion.

“Some of those fences are starting to come down as computing power and intelligent algorithms lead us to a better understanding of how people can work alongside robots,” Keay says. “To make a significant impact on our economy, we need to build a lot of robots because there are not that many out there today.”

“People need to build them and people need to maintain them and the only way we can do that is to create opportunities for the industry to grow in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.”

What you’ll learn:

  • The key consumer and commercial applications of robots and drones
  • The role robots will play in societies and economies
  • How smartphone technologies will pave the way to robotics’ future
  • How cognitive technologies will transform our lives and business
  • The foundation of many IoT applications in shaping the way to robotics

Speakers:

Jim McGregor, Principal Analyst, Tirias Research
Andra Keay, Managing Director of Silicon Valley Robotics
Anthony Lewis, Senior Director of Technology, Qualcomm
Maged Zaki, Director of Technical Marketing, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

This webinar is sponsored by Qualcomm.


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