Drone technology has become pervasive on work sites around the world. But every quarry, mine, construction site, and landfill operates at a different pace. We hear from companies all over the world in these industries that are in the midst of exploring drone technology, and some are moving much faster than others. We’ve learned that companies exploring drone technology in the heavy industries typically fall into four categories:
Drone Adoption Type 1: Single User
Many companies begin their exploration of drone technology conservatively. These companies’ primary motivation for using drones is simple: cost savings. They’ll begin with a small scale initiative, ordering flights from a service provider. The initiative will be aimed at reducing the time and cost of conventional data collection and processing. They’ll conduct flights on a quarterly or annual basis, focusing on limited areas, such as the stockpile yard at a quarry. They’ll get similar information that they were collecting with surveys before. At best, these initiatives usually increase speed and safety of surveys, and sometimes cost savings. But the improvements only benefit a few individuals on site, with a lot of the potential for the technology left untapped.
Drone Adoption Type 2: Site-Wide Data Enhancement
Sometimes we see work sites start their drone initiatives with larger goals than simple cost savings. They understand that drone technology can do much more than just reduce costs. These projects are usually borne from frustration with the accuracy of existing site data, as well as the time and cost of collecting and accessing it. The goals of these initiatives usually include enhancements of the work site data collection process and automation of some reporting. They’ll conduct drone flights on a quarterly or monthly basis, across the entire site to get a more comprehensive understanding of operations. A site-wide approach brings value to the surveyor, the site manager, and the accounting department.
These projects are usually much more productive than single-user initiatives. But at this level, the flights are still likely to be conducted by a service provider. While the entire work site may benefit, this approach still results in siloed data, and service providers are likely to have a limit on how frequently they’re available to fly. With limited flight capacity and no standardization of drone operation or data usage, this approach usually does not create a framework for organization-wide scale.
Drone Adoption Type 3: Company-Wide Process Creation
Some particularly innovative companies want to go further than simple enhancement, and see drone technology as an opportunity to create entirely new, more efficient business processes within their organization. They commonly see problems with their existing production capacity, operational efficiency, and costs. They’ll start an initiative with ambitions for drone-enabled cloud-based collaboration between the office and the field. They want to increase machine efficiency, effectively manage all operators, equipment, and processes from the cloud, and improve their bottom line while doing so. They’ll conduct flights monthly, or sometimes weekly in particularly active areas. Adoption will be a collective effort to drive collaboration between many stakeholders externally and internally, including GIS Managers, Engineering Managers, Safety Managers, and Accounting/Finance. Company-wide projects like this create processes that enable data-driven decisionmaking, and eventually enhance productivity for many roles. Scalability is a priority from the beginning in projects of this magnitude, so the only real challenge to success is the inherent complexity of the organization and the processes being revamped.
Drone Adoption Type 4: Industry-Shaper
There are a few first-mover companies in every industry that drive entire markets forward. When it comes to drone adoption, they see drones and drone data and analytics as enablers of their greater vision for organizational digitization and market disruption. They’ve been using drones and aerial data for several years, and understand that drones themselves are simply a means to an end – it’s the analytics that matter. But they want to take the technology even further. They’re collecting data and getting great results with it, but it has not been leveraged by all the people, processes, and systems within the organization that could benefit. Visionary drone adopters see an opportunity for sophisticated cloud-based data management and analysis, integration of up-to-date geospatial information with other business systems, and enterprise dashboards spanning work sites and business units. They’ll be flying drones weekly or daily, with hundreds of users across sites and departments. The initiative will be a top-down transformation driven from the highest level of the company, with involvement from the C-suite, to the heads of business units, all the way down to site managers and drone operators. Initiatives like this are in the process of being built out today. When the vision is seen to completion, companies taking this wide-scope approach will have built themselves a new digital foundation. This engine for growth will make it hard for competitors to keep up.
The potential of drone technology is vast, and any company that wants to explore it will have a unique set of considerations to make in their adoption process. The only thing that’s certain, no matter the business context, is that drone technology has opened the door to a whole new type of insight, which will impact every company in these industries, whether they’re ready for it or not. The question is whether those companies embrace the impact, bringing their work sites into the digital world, or resist it, and face the prospect of being left behind.