We’ve already got refrigerators that can tell the repairman what’s wrong — which is pretty incredible.

The next step, though, is the one that could really re-shape field service: the refrigerator that sends an alert to the repairman when it’s about to break down.

And that, according to the Wall Street Journal, is the impetus behind General Electric’s recent rollout of NewFi, a program to outfit home appliances with computer chips that can not only be accessed for data by field technicians, but also broadcast out information to a cloud-based G.E. repository. We reported on the NewFi program last month and its exciting potential to improve first-time fix rates. But, as the Journal points out, it’s the ability to collect granular data from a huge number of in-home appliances — things like average temperature, the number of times the fridge door is opened and closed, etc. — that lets the company tap into what’s known as “big data.”

That term, nebulous though it may be, is pretty widely recognized as the Next Big Thing in business: Think of it as the ability to see the forest for the trees — to discern patterns of behavior that only emerge through a huge mass of detail. With a wide-enough view of how their machines work, G.E. may soon be able to implement things like predictive service calls, order needed parts ahead of time, or alert a customer when their appliance is likely to hit the skids.

With that much data flowing in and painting a pretty detailed picture of how machines work (and break), G.E. will be in a position to get really smart about how it handles service. And that’s really big news.

Per the WSJ:

  • Using the data, the software would anticipate possible appliance problems and inform GE when a part is ready to be replaced. Ideally, should technicians be called to appliance owners’ homes in the future, they will come with proper replacement parts to eliminate additional service trips. Currently GE Appliance’s 1,000 U.S. field technicians care for 130 million appliances installed in homes and offices around the country.We’re going to get to the point where, based on the information coming from this appliance, we can pre-ship parts so that we don’t have to make multiple service calls to resolve the consumer’s issue,” said Jeff Moore, a business technology leader in the factory service division of GE Appliances. This diagnostic information will not only help GE cut more costs tied to service trips, but it will also help GE improve its development of next-generation products.

More: G.E. Exploiting OEM’s Advantage With New Program.

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ABOUT Ian Stewart

Avatar photoIan is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.