Enterprises, Don’t Make These Mistakes When Launching Your Drone Program

Written by Eric Ringer
on September 20, 2016 1 Comment

The capabilities of drones are increasing rapidly, and we can’t yet imagine all the business applications that will emerge over the next five years. What is clear is that some of the most groundbreaking use cases are emerging from major corporations.

Here are a few hurdles to keep in mind when you’re launching a drone program at a major corporation.

Mistake #1: Trying to achieve buy-in for the technology, rather than what it can produce.

Like pencils, calculators, fax machines and personal computers, drones are only as valuable as what they can achieve. Before investing in aircraft, sensors, pilots and analysis software, your executive team will want a clear idea of the advantages that drones can provide. If your organization is large and complex, there will almost certainly be multiple ways in which drones can provide value, which may include supply chain, inventory management, data-gathering, infrastructure inspection, modeling and mapping.

Try this instead: Start small. Propose a pilot of the most simple, low-risk use case and lead with the value you expect to achieve: saving money, saving time or achieving access to entirely new data (or being able to access it with greater frequency) – or all three. “Let’s save our company money” is a much easier sell than “I’d like to find room in the budget to invest in drones and related assets.”

Be sure to track your metrics and report back frequently to keep your drone initiative top-of-mind.

Here’s a related mistake: being your company’s lone drone “evangelist.” If you’re going at it alone, be prepared to field every operational and compliance roadblock yourself.

With a committee, drones aren’t one person’s pet project; they’re a serious initiative. Also, different members can take on different tasks, as well as present a united front to your executives.

Mistake #2: Assuming that everyone understands the value of drones.

Drones are constantly in the news these days, so your executive team may think they know all about them without having any idea of the value they can provide your company. If you have spent weeks or months investigating the way drones can, say, manage warehouse inventory, it’s easy to assume that the value is apparent to everyone right off the bat. For many people, knowledge of drones is still limited to risks (which are low but are widely reported in the media).

Try this instead: Start by describing the problem or situation that drones may be able to solve – for example, inventory is getting lost, or infrastructure takes months to inspect. Then show how drones can provide a viable solution. When possible, provide third-party case studies and reports from other companies, universities or professional services firms.

Mistake #3: Leaving risk managers or the legal team out of the loop.

Corporate lawyers and risk managers are a conservative bunch. This makes sense: They are paid to prevent accidents and reduce liability. They can also create hurdles that can delay the launch of your project by months or years.

Try this instead: Meet with your compliance team early on. From the outset, show how your workflow will support internal and regulatory compliance, risk mitigation, insurance requirements, and operational safety and efficiency. They’ll want to see pre-flight, post-flight and emergency checklists, as well as the system you’ll use to analyze airspace; communicate with flight crews; and track all your aircraft, pilots and documentation.

Extra credit: Show how drones can actually mitigate existing risks by creating safer working conditions – by solving an existing business problem or by saving money.

Mistake #4: Having separate systems to manage compliance and operational efficiency.

That being said, companies invest in commercial drone operations to achieve business value, not to “be compliant.” At many big companies, compliance is handled separately from operations. When it comes to flight ops, this is a mistake; they should be part of one consistent workflow.

Try this instead: The most efficient flight operations are also the ones that integrate regulatory and corporate guidelines into the day-to-day workflow. When both are managed via a single system, your corporate risk managers and legal team will feel confident that you’re taking compliance seriously and that all your flight crews understand and abide by the rules every time. And with a complete system of record that includes the totality of operations and workflow, you’ll avoid last-minute scrambling to prepare for audits.

Mistake #5: Committing to a single aircraft or data software.

Launching a commercial drone operation is full of complexity. And though drones are a crucial element, finding the one “right” drone to invest in is less important than gathering the right data using the aircraft, gaining internal buy-in, hiring pilots and creating a training program. The reality is that there are many very good drones appropriate for numerous use cases. The technology is also advancing rapidly.

Try this instead: Rather than research aircraft in a vacuum, think back to your goals and work backward. What kind of results do you hope to achieve? What sensors, cameras or other payload will you need to achieve them? What software will you need to transform raw data into a usable product? Once you answer these questions, your decision will be more straightforward. Then, find a combination of aircraft that can get the job done. Experienced drone pilots may be able to provide advice. (Pro tip: Make sure your insurance policy includes hull damage and liability coverage.)

Mistake #6: Having disconnected or siloed drone operations.

Depending on the complexity of your organization – how many divisions and locations you have, the number of jurisdictions you operate in – you may have dozens of use cases for drones and hundreds of flight crews around the world. The North American Healthcare Division may use drones very differently than the Asia Pacific Agriculture Division does. What you don’t want are separate standards and operational processes that apply to different divisions or teams.

Try this instead: Having one system for managing diverse, far-flung drone operations will ensure standardization, risk mitigation and full transparency into the totality of operations. An ops management platform can provide international regulatory standardization, as well as ensure that separate divisions, internal flight crews and contractors have access to only the information that applies to them.

This article is adapted from a blog post by Eric Ringer, strategic projects engineer and co-founder of Skyward, a Portland, Ore.-based provider of a drone operations management platform.

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