You’ll often hear us say we help companies build, scale, and innovate drone operations. A few weeks ago, I shared some of the most common questions we hear from folks working on launching a drone program. Now, let’s take a look at what it means to scale and innovate drone operations and when it might be time to start working toward expanding your program.

Scaling a drone program

What does it mean to scale: Most often, drone operations start with a pilot program. Typically one to three technicians will work to adjust processes and workflows to begin using drones. Scaling a drone program means taking existing drone operations and expanding them to the rest of your team. It can also mean giving other teams a path toward using drones across different departments and for different use cases. Take a look at how our customer Hensel Phelps scaled up their program

When is it time to scale: It can be easy to see success with your pilot program and feel antsy to use drones more broadly across your business. It’s so important to first ensure you’ve got your ducks in a row with standard operating procedures, the right drones for your use cases, a solid way to manage your operations, and have the software you need to produce business ready deliverables. Once you’re confident in your team, use cases, and management of your operations, you can start thinking more broadly about how drones can be used to improve safety, efficiencies, and cost savings. 

What to avoid when scaling: As you think about growing and expanding your program, be sure to appoint a UAS program leader. That way, you’ll know there is a clear strategy for moving the program forward. A common scaling pitfall we see is the strategy not aligning with the complexity of future use cases. A simple plan for a complex expansion can leave your pilots feeling discouraged and ill-equipped, whereas a complex plan for a simple use case can leave them feeling burdened and bogged down. Growth can bring challenges— here are a few more obstacles to avoid as you grow

Innovating a drone program

What it means to innovate: Drones are still new tech and are innovative in themselves. When a company shifts from scaling to innovating, they begin to extend past the standard use cases for their industry. So, using drones in ways that others in their field are not. In these cases, work with a provider to test and explore the use case you’d like to implement. Or, if what you’re looking to do extends beyond the current regulatory environment, you may need to ask regulators for an exception

When it is time to innovate: Organizations often begin to innovate when they find that they are unable to implement use cases within the standard regulations and off-the-shelf technologies that exist today. Remember that innovating your drone program could mean that you may need to get special permission from your airspace regulator, such as a waiver from the FAA, to pursue your desired use cases. . In that case, it is likely that your regulator will want to see that you have standardized your drone operations and have a paper trail to show your commitment to safety, risk management, and accountability. While this can be overwhelming, for companies that don’t have the resources to take this on, Skyward’s professional services team are pros at helping organizations collect what they need to make their best case to regulators. 

What to avoid when innovating: The biggest thing to avoid is starting something you’re not prepared to see through to the end. Innovating is a commitment and involves collaboration and resources. It will take longer to implement and you’ll need buy-in from across your organization before you ever begin the process. You’ll also need to budget for working with a vendor on researching and developing interesting and unique solutions. Ideate, explore, design, and build consensus throughout the organization. Once you’ve done that, begin the discovery process with vendors.

There are so many ways drones can be used across an organization to see real return on investment, improve worker safety, and innovate processes. And, while it is exciting to think of how transformative a new technology can be, don’t forget the crawl, walk, run approach! The key to success is a scaled implementation based on small technical or regulatory achievements that you build on in order to get to the best solution.

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