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How to Get a Successful Drone Program off the Ground


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Photo courtesy of Construction Review Online

It isn’t every day that a new technology rapidly finds a welcome home in construction, and it’s even rarer that the industry finds itself among the early adoption leaders. But that’s exactly what’s happening with drone technology, which is being embraced by construction professionals at an even faster rate than agriculture and manufacturing, according to CNBC.

Over the last few years, as companies continue finding new uses for drones that improve safety and efficiency, their benefits are becoming harder to ignore, particularly as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has relaxed regulations governing the commercial use of drone aircraft.

That's opened the door for the aircraft to be used in a variety of construction applications like performing aerial jobsite surveys and creating detailed maps much faster and with greater accuracy than human surveyors. They’re also being used in performing routine inspections of buildings and other structures to ensure essential architectural components are holding up over time.

The “shiny object syndrome” has seen many technology implementations inevitably fail as the costs eventually outweigh the expected benefits.

But there are many things to consider before rolling out a drone program at your firm, from getting decision-makers on board to implementation to safety regulations and liability concerns, all of which must be navigated carefully to ensure a successful integration of the technology.

Far too often firms get flummoxed by the sheer amount of new technology out there. With so many choices, it can be difficult to decide which among them makes the most sense for their specific business needs. This “shiny object syndrome” has seen many technology implementations inevitably fail as the costs and headaches of getting a premature or incomplete rollout off the ground eventually outweighs the expected benefits, including drone programs.

“Sometimes what happens is in the enthusiasm for the technology, we just kind of rush out and try to establish some kind of capability without actually binding it to the specific problem that needs to be solved,” Tariq Rashid, chief pilot at drone software and services provider Skyward told Construction Dive. “That may result in going down the wrong direction or over-specifying for something where you actually don’t need it.”

To avoid the dreaded shiny object syndrome, clearly identify the business need for drone technology. What pain points would it address and how specifically would implementing a drone program address them? Maybe the firm is seeing increased demand for aerial topographical maps for remote clients wanting to see work in progress. Or maybe an increase of thefts or accidents is calling for a better jobsite monitoring solution. If adding drone capabilities to the mix can accomplish those things faster and more cost-effectively than doing it manually, that becomes a clear selling point within the organization.

This will make it easier to get support, which is essential for any company-wide initiative that leads to fundamental changes in process. Having a champion of the technology on the inside will be necessary for the initiative to get any forward momentum.

Workers should be sold on the idea, too, as they’re likely the ones who will be most affected by any changes that come about.

Workers should be sold on the idea, too, as they’re likely the ones who will be most affected by any changes that come about. It should be clearly demonstrable how the new technology will make their jobs easier and safer. Of course, that’s not a difficult sell, but taking that time to educate workers greatly reduces the chance of dissension in the ranks or of any one group feeling they were left out of the decision-making process. Nobody likes when their company shoves new technology down their throat, especially if it changes their job day to day.

In the case with drones specifically, somebody at the company will most likely need to be trained in how to fly them. If you’ve already fostered enthusiastic support company-wide by touting its benefits, the chances greatly increase of seeing more hands go up when you ask who wants to be a drone pilot. Those who step up for the training should be eager participants, not just doing it because they were told to. Giving that responsibility to the people who actually want it increases the chances of a successful integration.

FAA rules may have relaxed, but there are still scads of legal and safety requirements governing commercial drone use, all of which must be followed to the letter. There are airspace considerations, line-of-sight requirements, and of course regulations against any possible interference with commercial aircraft. A drone program is not something to be entered into lightly, and convincing a legal team to green light such an undertaking may well be the toughest nut to crack. Any plans presented to risk management or legal teams should spell out in great detail what safety protocols are in place to avoid subjecting the company to potential litigation in the event of a drone failure resulting in injury or property damage.

There are many angles to consider before making the investment in time and money to get started using drones. But if the need is clear, if the obvious solution is drones, you’ve got backers inside the company and a firm grasp of the obligations involved, the sky’s the limit for a successful drone program.

If you liked this article, here are a few eBooks and webinars you may enjoy:

Drones on the Jobsite - Enabling Better Workflows

Drones

Landing Drones in the Business of Construction

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