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August 9, 2017

Commercial drones have failed to take off in business – why?

Use of commercial drones by companies is lagging behind because of little transparency on implementation and how it fits into existing supply chains, argues Cognizant's Rupert Chapman.

By Ellie Burns

The possibilities of commercial drones are diverse and promising now that there are numerous pilot schemes and in trials: drones that deliver packages, drones that monitor agriculture, drones that assess property damage, drones fighting fires and locating chemical disasters.

Last year around 10,000 commercial drones were in use in Europe. However, the use of drones by businesses is barely visible in some countries and organisations still seem to be reluctant to deploy drones. This is often due to complex and strict legislation around their use and negative messages about privacy. As can be the case with any new technology, there is fear and concern of misuse, with limited understanding of its potential value. Nobody can deny that drones are a hot topic that, despite the challenges, can provide a number of benefits to a variety of companies.

The impact of drones on businesses can be immense. For example, drones could carry a heart from one hospital to another quickly as it is not blocked by traffic. Or a machine component that is delivered within a few seconds on the other side of a large university or manufacturing campus, revolutionising supply chain and logistics processes.

Drones can speed up efficiency and reduce costs associated with traditional supply chains, they can deliver an additional source of data gathering and provide added convenience in delivery. High priority packages can be delivered very quickly and online retailers can benefit from increased accessibility in both urban and remote areas. Basically, drones can be used as a service provider.

However, the implementation of drones by businesses is developing much more slowly than expected due to a number of challenges that still need to be overcome.


Lack of knowledge

Of paramount importance is that companies are confronted with strict rules and regulations. For example: drones cannot fly in crowded areas due to strict airspace legislation. Drones must fly within direct sight of the controller and for that reason they can travel only short distances. Camera visibility could be a fix for this, but that remains to be proven. Furthermore, it is important for companies to be compliant with strict privacy rules.

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Developments around drone capabilities if subjected to bad weather or disruption by birds/flying object are yet to be proven. Most importantly, companies are still not integrating commercial drones into their business processes, because it is not clear how they can fit drones into their workflow. Undertaking research on possible solutions is often time consuming and expensive with little idea on the return on the investment.

Companies are depending on the information that is communicated about drones through others that are successful in testing situations. On one hand, there are negative messages in which drones are described as dangerous and intimidating. On the other, there are positive messages in which the benefits of drones are explained. However, communication about what a successful integration looks like is still very limited.

Companies already using the new technology seem reluctant to share too much information in order to reap the benefits of their early investments in market leading and innovative tools. As a result of this reluctance to share, further integration elsewhere lags behind as companies wait for successful user stories that may never appear.

Commercial drones have failed to take off in business - why?

Transparency is a must

There is an important task for companies to encourage the development and implementation of commercial drones by other organisations if they want to change the legislation and encourage the relevant infrastructure – which, ultimately benefits everyone. Companies that successfully integrate drones into their business processes should be encouraged to communicate proactively about how they achieved this success.

For example, what techniques do they use to prevent drones being hacked. In addition, companies could provide examples of how they fit drones into their existing business and supply chain processes. By collaborating, changes to legislation and overcoming other hurdles could become easier.

When companies are willing to communicate about how they achieved their success, it provides third-party partners with a way to encourage further integration of drones through coordinated collaboration sessions between companies that would provide value in a non-competitive way, build the business case and risk/benefit scenarios to ensure investment and strategic vision approval.

In addition, external partners can also help the company to envision the possibilities throughout their supply chain with some external perspectives and design-centered methodology. Altogether companies can overcome the limitations and improve further development of drones to join the innovation movement.

In short, the possibilities of commercial drones are very promising as long as the benefits and examples of successful integration are communicated and companies are willing to collaborate to drive forward innovation in the supply chain process.


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