The use of drones in industries such as shipping and agriculture has become pivotal to certain business functions, having been able to nimbly fill in the gaps where businesses were struggling to adapt to new challenges—challenges that include the use of the appropriate technology to address business barriers.

The field service industry is no different. Last year we looked at how field service software can help overcome several field service management challenges; this year we’re looking further ahead. The use of drone technology within the industry is becoming a critical necessity, and small to medium sized field service organizations that employ its use will gain significant competitive advantage over those who resist the ‘outsourcing’ of certain field service tasks.

Why should field service organizations care about drones?

Research conducted by Gartner on the Top Technology Trends for SMBs[1] shows that 41 percent of businesses are using or planning to use drones within the next 1-2 years, with 27 percent of these describing drone technology as a critical necessity to their business, and 52 percent describing their use as beneficial.

The current adoption rate of drone technology among SMBs stands at around 53 percent, compared to only 6 percent of large enterprises, indicating that not only is drone technology already attainable for SMBs, but that drone technology is already helping SMBs achieve their business goals. These results are woven into a bigger story: according to the same Gartner survey, 21 percent of businesses believe that using the right technologies is currently the biggest challenge to achieving their business goals. SMB business challenges

The answer? With such large projections for market expansion, field service organizations should be aligning the challenges they face with new drone technology.

 

In this article I’ll go through four of the following pain points within the field service industry that drones for business can address:

Pain point #1: Hazardous working conditions for technicians

By definition, field service technicians’ working conditions are often dangerous, and responsibility lies with the employer to ensure that their safety is protected, despite the hazardous challenges field work entails.

There are around 4500 workplace fatalities per year in the US alone—a large proportion of these related to the field service and construction industry. According to the Department of Labor’s website, some deaths included falling from a roof, ladder, or scaffold.

When field technicians are on-call in remote locations with unique circumstances, drones can eliminate the need for workers to physically access potentially dangerous areas. Drones can also help to predict potential safety hazards before sending technicians on-site.

David Pitman, CEO of Converge, a commercial drone software company, says that heights are one area in which drones can reduce the risk of accidents. He says:

“Anytime a worker is more than 6 ft above the ground, the risk and hazard to them skyrockets, along with the cost of workers compensation for their employer. By sending a drone, and keeping both feet on the ground instead, field workers are not exposed to some of the most dangerous risks.”

drone uses for business

Source: Converge. Drone flight control at heights.

Recommended action: Scrutinize your accident log and pinpoint in which situations most accidents are happening and make the following judgment call: could the use of drones help mitigate the risks your technicians are currently taking?

Pain point #2: In-field time constraints

We’ve discussed field service scheduling woes before, and job incompletion, productivity gaps, and customer dissatisfaction haven’t gone away—in fact, optimizing field technician efficiency and meeting customer demands are still both high on the list of priorities for the field service industry.

Drones can reduce the time needed for field technicians to stay on-site, by eliminating the need to erect and dismantle equipment, and can also reduce the need for extra transportation. Pitman says:

“By using drones, an insurance adjuster can not only survey an entire roof much faster than walking across it themselves, but it also removes the need to get out a ladder off a truck, put it up, and leads to eliminating that bigger truck used to carry the ladder in the first place.”

Commenting on how drones address productivity gaps, Larry Cochran, CEO of Claimatic says:

 “On average, companies using industrial drones [after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma] went from inspecting three storm-damaged homes a day to three homes an hour.”

Cody Swann, CEO of Gunner Technology, also notes how drones help keep workers efficient. He says:

“After several meetings with a client, we noticed that one of their biggest pain points was their employees actually showing up to sites and showing up on time.

The company rotated trucks, so we couldn’t use GPS location of the vehicles to determine if they were going to the proper location, so what we did is deployed drones to the work sites.

The drones would hover and patrol and would constantly record the area. Using facial recognition technology, the app on the drone would mark who showed up and when – almost like a digital timecard.”

Recommended action: Weigh-up the investment costs of drone technology versus how many hours your organization has lost in the past year due to productivity gaps.

Pain point #3: Difficulty matching worker skills with new technology

For the past few years, the world has seen an inordinate amount of fear mongering over robots and their potential to push us all out of employment—take this headline from The Guardian just last month: ‘Robots will take our jobs. We’d better plan now, before it’s too late.’ The data, however, proves otherwise.

In fact, rather than simply replacing field technicians, or a large proportion of their tasks, many view drones as cobots (collaborative robots)—that is, robots that interact with and collaborate with humans to capitalize on both skills (namely agility, knowledge, and speed combined).

Pitman says:

“We see the greatest productivity gains when a drone and skilled field workers are collaborating. Insurance field workers can document a claim using a drone, but also preemptively work with customers to identify issues before they become a claim.

“Where there’s a good understanding of the damage involved before the drone takes off, a field worker will collaborate with the drone and build up their knowledge of the building, and what to inspect further.”

Recommended action: Assess where the skills gaps are in your organization, and ask yourself whether it’s cheaper and more efficient to upskill your entire workforce, or whether the use of drones could complement their existing expertise.

Pain point #4: Data collection

“But where does all the data go?!”, I hear you cry. “Can drones match the data I’m already receiving from my existing software?”

Field service management software already efficiently allows you to access data on KPIs, discovering average repair times, and predicting potential issues—but drones have the potential to not only complement your existing software data capture abilities, but to add an additional layer of data that goes beyond metrics such as job completion time. In fact, some experts are predicting that the future of drones ‘lies in data, not delivery’.

Drones offer a unique perspective—a bird’s eye view, if you will—on job sites:

Recommended action: Analyze your current business data: where could your organization benefit from the unique data that drones can collect?

Drone uses for business: the next step in field service optimization

Drone technology represents an opportunity for field service organizations, especially SMBs, to invest in technology that could optimize their organization in a myriad of ways. As we’ve discussed in this article, the drone industry also has several advantages: drone apparatus is generally multi-use, demand is growing, and the technology is already filling the technology gap for SMBs.

Drones in the field service industry target a comprehensive set of field service problems:

  • Technician and operational issues: can address issues such as employee scheduling, routing optimization, and reduces time spent on site.
  • Technology gaps: can match the latest technology with already highly-skilled technicians, avoiding worker upskill costs.
  • Granular data: can collect data that can help your organization master larger scale jobs, and that can allow your business to specialize in certain areas of the industry.

 

Additionally, businesses avoid any significant capital costs that are normally associated with adopting sophisticated technology, due the proliferation of ‘drones-as-a-service‘ providers. SMBs who shy away from this technology risk being significantly overshadowed by the 41 percent who have already invested or intend to invest in the next 1-2 years.

Next steps:


Methodology: 

Gartner conducted this survey in April-May 2017 among 499 US-based small businesses, with more than 10 employees and annual revenue of less than $100 million. The survey excluded not-for-profit organizations. The qualified respondents are decision makers, or have significant influence on the decisions related to purchasing technologies for their organization.