The Future of Drones at Enterprises

Director of Business Development Skyward

Since 2013, most commercial drone pilots in the U.S. have either been in business for themselves or working for one of the many flight-and-data businesses that have sprung up. But now that the industry is maturing, larger businesses and major corporations are adopting drones at an impressive rate.

My prediction: 2017 will be the year that enterprises significantly invest in drones—and drone pilots.

Last month I attended Airworks, DJI’s conference for corporate customers, to learn how the world’s most popular drone manufacturer is delivering enterprise-grade solutions for companies with distributed teams and multiple use cases.

Enterprises are looking for holistic UAS solutions

DJI is known for affordable, high-quality consumer drones favored by aerial photographers the world over. Now, DJI’s software development kit (SDK) is empowering third-party engineers to integrate business apps with the DJI platform.

Giving businesses the power to access a growing ecosystem of ops management and data-processing apps that can work with every Phantom and Inspire will make DJI aircraft much more attractive to corporate customers who are looking at long-term business value and overall processes, not just an up-front hardware investment.

More importantly, by committing to an SDK strategy, DJI has thrown fuel on the flame of UAS adoption at major enterprises. It makes the technology so much more approachable for companies looking to explore value before building out a full-fledged UAS operation.

We already know that the release of Part 107 in the U.S. has opened doors for major corporations that want to use drones. The interest we’ve seen from large enterprises over the past six months has been astonishing. However, drone champions at big companies often struggle to sell the concept of UAS ops internally. How do I prove ROI? How do I test it? What are the risks? How do I achieve executive buy-in?

Ops directors at Fortune 100 companies want to avoid the business risks of being locked into one platform or provider—whether for aircraft, sensors, data processing, or editing. This may look like a reluctance to commit, but my take on it is that these are sophisticated buyers who understand that different software and hardware makers often have specific areas of expertise. And they know they can’t yet anticipate all of the use cases that will emerge at their companies in five years, or even in five months.

In a recent article, our customer Aaron Ames at POWER Engineers, shared the tech stack he uses, which includes apps and equipment from half a dozen different vendors. For example, POWER has invested in senseFly eBee for terrain and orthophotography collection and DJI Inspire for videography. Different use cases, different aircraft.

Using as many different tools as you need makes sense—as long as those tools can work together.

DJI clearly understands this. The more engineers use their SDK to plug third-party apps into DJI aircraft, the more DJI will appeal to sophisticated companies that want to assemble their own tech stacks based on functionality and results. A single out-of-the-box solution may sound easy and straightforward, and it is—but it’s only practical if you have one or two use cases. Most corporations will find dozens of ways to save time and make money with drones.

I predict that the ecosystem of apps that arise from DJI’s SDK will increase UAS adoption at major corporations for three big reasons: ease of adoption, testing, and achieving executive buy-in.

A caveat: There are certain use cases that DJI aircraft just aren’t cut out for. Companies that want to explore industrial applications or use cases that go beyond Part 107 should undertake thorough due diligence on aircraft prior to investing. Use cases that necessitate night flights and flying beyond line of sight will have a specific set of aircraft requirements that DJI’s drones may not fulfill.

1. DJI will become a “vehicle” for UAS adoption at major corporations

Until now, drone champions at big companies have spent a lot of time worrying about finding the “perfect” aircraft that can meet the most use cases. And many drones require proprietary data-processing software, which has added to the complexity of the decision making.

For major corporations, it doesn’t make much sense to invest in a fleet of aircraft that can only work with a single data processing application. That’s a huge financial outlay for technology that may be overtaken by something better in six months.

Now companies can test multiple softwares on a single, well-proven platform, reducing the complexity and cost of piloting a drone program.  

With all those connected apps, big companies can avoid getting stuck on the aircraft question and can focus on finding the best combination of data processing software for their use cases.

Remember: No matter what drone you fly, data drive deliverables, and deliverables drive ROI.

2. More integrated business apps will enable enterprises to test more data-processing software before investing in a full rollout

Finding the best combination of data processing software requires testing—sometimes a lot of testing, depending on the number of use cases.

The reality is that many companies do start with a DJI Phantom or Inspire. With an ever-increasing number of apps plugged into DJI aircraft, companies will finally have the opportunity to easily compare and contrast similar software apps that all work with the drones they’re currently using.

At any company with several divisions, new use cases for drones will continue to pop up. Now, those companies will have the ability to use the aircraft they already have and simply test new data processing applications.  

Again, this puts the focus entirely on the deliverable—the ease and efficiency with which software can transform aerial data into an actionable product that will make or save a company money. And that’s what executives care about.

3. Executive buy-in will be easier to achieve with good test results

We hear it all the time. Drone champions at major corporations email us to ask for advice on gaining executive buy-in. That’s partly because the technology is still somewhat new, but it’s also because, until now, testing has been expensive and cumbersome.

In my experience, executives prefer to base their investments on evidence and data. Enthusiasm just isn’t enough.

Now that drone champions will be able to compare and contrast similar solutions that all work with the same aircraft, they’ll finally be able to present solid test results to executives: Which solutions are the easiest to use, which are the cheapest, which create the best deliverables for different use cases.

This is information that changes the conversation. Instead of attempting to sell executives on the idea of drones, champions can instead focus on revenue-generating, cost-saving products. 

Download a preview of Skyward's standard operating procedures and checklists for drones