How GE gets information into staffers’ smartphones

Faced with an immense task and workforce, the global giant thinks big and goes small when it comes to communicating.

Search the words General Electric Co. on Google or Yahoo, and you sense the scope of the media-tracking challenge faced by the communications staff of a multinational corporation.

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The task can be overwhelming. But GE staff can access daily reports of company and industry coverage through their smartphones. A computer-based program also monitors coverage of the company and sorts it as positive or negative. Founded by Thomas Edison in 1878, Connecticut-based GE employs 300,000 people in more than 100 countries. But if he were around today, Edison might be less interested in scope of the company than in the ways it is communicating on those wacky, little mobile devices.

The company has created more than 45 applications, both for the market and for internal and external communications. A global giant with total revenue in 2010 of $150.2 billion, GE’s businesses reach from aviation to power transformers. It uses mobile technology to do everything from promoting employee fitness to explaining its health care business through a game.

Featured on Apple’s site

The company’s use of smartphones has been creative enough to draw the attention of Apple, which features GE on a section of its website devoted to the iPhone in business.

Railroad workers can use GE apps for handheld devices to stop an approaching locomotive or to calculate the number of trains that have crossed a stretch of track, their horsepower and their average load. An engineer with an iPad can check out a power transformer off in the wilderness and see whether it needs repairs before he drives out on a dirt road to inspect it.

“Everyone from field service engineers to sales team members to senior executives are playing the mobile field, whether it’s BlackBerry, the new iPhone, the iPad, Android,” says James Blomberg, IT team leader for new-media technology. “So we’re trying to make sure we have the right tools at their fingertips on those platforms.”

Playing doctor When GE wanted to inform people about its business in health care management, it could have trotted out a new Web page and e-mailed announcements to staff, inviting itchy-fingered employees to hit the delete button. Instead, it created a game for smartphones, targeting both employees and the general public.

Called Patient Shuffle, the application is a clever if insanity-inducing contest against the clock as you shuffle patients around the emergency room and assign doctors to treat them.

“If you’re in [GE] aviation,” says GE Ashley Sy, digital and interactive employee communications specialist, “you might not necessarily know what this kind of sub-business within health care works on as far as improving hospital efficiency.”

The game echoes real-world GE products and software, such as Performance Solutions, which helps health care providers improve operational, clinical and management processes.

Companies are increasingly recognizing the power of mobile technology in communications, said Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology. Smartphones are a powerful tool because they “deliver on the promise of the Internet: information whenever you need it, wherever you are.”

The emergence of social media has made timely knowledge essential, says Dayan Anandappa, GE’s executive IT leader for digital media technologies. The tool keeps “track of what folks are saying about us, the sentiment, about GE or a particular program,” he says. “But also seeing what we need to improve on as well.”

Monitoring the media A program called PR Insight tracks and sorts what people are writing about GE in newspapers, on personal websites, on blogs and elsewhere, a task that would otherwise be impossible in a worldwide company. GE plans to make it available on smartphones once new BlackBerry software is released.

PR Insight uses a layer of algorithms to rate stories as positive or negative, says Blomberg. It is even sophisticated enough to point out when a story is mostly negative but is positive about the company. (PR Insight is not marketed outside GE.)

Communications staff can check out where the stories are breaking and what they are about, tracking where geographically the strongest positive and negative coverage is happening.

A current application allows employees with mobile phones to view all daily coverage of the company and the industry.

Sy says, “This application allows you to see it on your smartphone instead of waiting and trying to view it via your e-mail.”

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