The message should not be lost on investors. GE's cloud-based Predix operating system is enabling more and more machines to "talk to each other" in order to optimize efficiency in industries ranging from wind farms to jet engines and sub-sea drilling equipment.
And with GE's most recent deal with Europe's largest rail operator, Deutsche Bahn Cargo, it appears locomotives operating on Predix will increasingly be able to "self-analyze, self-diagnose and communicate" with distant headquarters.
In other words, Thomas the Tank Engine is no longer a fiction in CEO Jeffrey Immelt's mind, and that could translate into an earnings surprise for investors. (GE shares are held in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS charitable trust.)
"We're growing the new parts of our business in the high double digits here," Seth Bodnar, chief digital officer for GE Transportation, said in a phone interview with Real Money. "On the orders front we're growing significantly, and that's in a really challenging rail market."
GE Transportation, which accounted for more than 5% of the company's $117.4 billion total sales last year, is growing quickly thanks to the "rapid acceptance of digitization to improve both transit and freight rail productivity," William Blair analyst Nick Heymann said in a recent report.