2020 has felt like two hard years. We’ve all heard the words “unprecedented” and “new normal” more than we’d like to. With every day being “Blursday,” a lot of people understandably pine for a pre-pandemic world.

The reality is that things have changed. And change is hard. While it felt like the world stopped in March — and then at other points after that — the drone industry didn’t. We’ve seen companies adapt and create or rejuvenate new value streams. And, unfortunately, we’ve seen organizations struggle that, for whatever reason, haven’t been able to adapt. 

It’s not business as usual, and this isn’t truly our new normal. The drone industry won’t look the same as it did before 2020, but we won’t always be completely remote, either. Personally, I envision a hybrid world. We’ll experiment, learn, and adapt, taking the best of both worlds. We’ll improve communication and remove inefficiencies. We’ll persevere. 

Adapting business operations in a crisis

Drones are all about helping businesses adapt and persevere, doing higher quality work faster and cheaper. Never has that been more important than in 2020. When the pandemic struck, Skyward’s top-line goal became making things better for each other and our customers. We adapted by simplifying our goals and supporting our customers, and I believe that has paid off.

Let’s step back for a moment. The 2007-2008 financial crisis was the closest I’d been to pandemic-like conditions in my professional career. At the time, I was working for a software-as-a-service company that helped companies with their OSHA and EPA compliance. That industry saw massive daily layoffs, and customers had to figure out how to do the work of 80 people with only 20.

For the company I was working for at the time, customer need led to deliverable value. To help companies solve their capacity challenge, we developed a chemical inventory system and service that was integrated into our core compliance platform. The system reconciled what they really had onsite with what they were tracking in their inventory and compliance systems. This helped augment their teams, significantly improving their compliance in the process. It became our fastest growing product and a meaningful contribution to overall revenue — a true win-win for us and our customers. 

Today, I see a similar level of challenges and opportunities for drones. While we envision return on investment increasing by magnitudes as drone capabilities and regulations improve, drones have been providing tangible ROI for a while. In 2018, 88% of companies using drones reported ROI in one year or less. And it’s been beautiful to see how customers are increasing the value of drones and pushing their existing use cases even farther as they adapt to the challenges around them.

How Skyward’s customers found ROI with drones in 2020

Brasfield & Gorrie, an ENR Top 25 Contractor, is a prime example. They’ve been using drones since 2014, creating 2D maps and 3D models of construction sites. When their teams were forced to work from home, there was still work to do. They began doing job site walkthroughs with drones, livestreaming video from the site to stakeholders in their homes. Brasfield & Gorrie saw immediate value from this opportunity, and they plan to continue this service in the future, with or without a pandemic.

Another great example is West Virginia Department of Transportation. Launching their drone program in 2017, they recently shared with us that they saved $343,000 in a month. Read that again: $343,000 in a single month. Using drones for stockpile surveys, they are saving time and money. The overall economic benefit is pretty fantastic, especially considering it’s taxpayer money in an economically challenged state.

Opportunities for commercial drones in 2021

As you think about 2021, rather than thinking “woe is me,” consider woe as an opportunity to:

  • Solve problems that existed prior to the pandemic, but weren’t highlighted until everyone was working from home. 
  • Improve operational efficiency with new technologies — the combination of drones, general robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and connectivity may help us design super efficient transportation systems or keep incident rates lower than ever on job sites.
  • Reevaluate your workflows and systems to make sure they are providing benefits up and down the value stream — ask yourself, “Why did we implement this in the first place?”
  • Improve how you engage your customers without traveling to deliver value and build authentic relationships — customer partnerships are more important today than ever.

At Skyward, 2020 has helped to clarify the types of problems we are solving and why. It’s all about helping humans and our environments be more adaptable and resilient. We can’t abandon the lessons we’ve learned and the new habits we’ve gained just because 2020 is finally over. We will carry them forward with intention, and I am encouraging everyone else to do the same: experiment, learn, and adapt. Because the show must go on.

 

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