DRONES MAY NOT BE DELIVERING your Amazon Prime packages just yet, but these small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are increasingly delivering data that businesses can use to their advantage. “”Every day people are exploring and finding new ways to leverage this technology,”” says John Vernon, chief technology officer at DroneUp, a drone services provider (DSP) and pilot network, and a member of the Drone Advisory Council for industry organization CompTIA.
In its report The Drone Market: Insights from Customers and Providers, CompTIA notes that “”drones sit at the intersection of technology and business,”” and suggests that IT services firms can get in on the action by partnering or collaborating with DSPs, expanding both their portfolio and recurring revenue opportunities.
Channel pros bring complementary skills to the table. While DSPs provide FAA-licensed operators to fly drones with cameras and sensors that collect images, video, and other data, that data needs to be protected, stored, analyzed, and integrated with existing solutions in some cases, and must also adhere to corporate data governance rules. That’s the skill set of IT companies, says David Kovar, founder and CEO at URSA, a software platform provider for analyzing drone performance.
Drone service providers “”really need to take into account making sure the data is secure, making sure the information’s available where it needs to be utilized, and making sure that that data is well managed,”” says Kovar, who also sits on the CompTIA Drone Advisory Council. “”And that all really comes down to communications, infrastructure, data security—all the sorts of things that IT companies and related companies, that’s their bread and butter.””
In fact, CompTIA research finds that business customers increasingly want drone providers to have expertise in analytics, broad-based IT, cybersecurity, software development, and managed services.
There’s a lot of opportunity to capitalize on. The global drone services market is expected to grow from $4.4 billion in 2018 to $63.6 billion by 2025, with a CAGR of 55.9%, according to ResearchAndMarkets.com.
And the adopters are not just large companies with deep pockets either. Some SMBs are also turning to drones to gain a competitive edge and cost efficiencies, according to CompTIA’s report.
Emerging markets for drone services include agriculture, oil/gas, real estate, government, transportation, entertainment and media, telecommunications, and mining, CompTIA says. More than one-third (34%) of organizations it surveyed manage their drone projects internally, while more than one-fourth (27%) rely on the expertise of DSPs, and 39% use both in-house and outsourced resources.
The use of drone services varies from ongoing (40%) to one-time use (23%) to an even mix between ongoing and situational use (37%).
According to Vernon, however, SMBs lag behind larger enterprises in terms of adoption, and need more education around uses cases. “”The art of the possible is still often undefined for a lot of organizations,”” he stresses.
Kovar points out that a variety of small businesses could utilize drone services for aerial photography, inspections, mapping, and more to achieve competitive advantage.
Helios Visions, for instance, is a DSP focused mainly on aerial data collection for construction, real estate, and engineering businesses. Co-founder Ted Parisot, another member of the CompTIA Drone Advisory Council, says small construction companies that may have been using out-of-date Google Earth maps can now “”have a real snapshot of what the site looks like in near real time or very close to real time. They’re able to make better planning decisions, they’re able to bid projects more accurately,”” which could then help them win bids more often.
Drones are also useful to construction companies for insurance purposes, he says. “”A lot of the times, they like to have us come out there just once a month for a couple hundred bucks and just get a snapshot of the [construction] site, so if anything does go wrong, or there is some sort of dispute, or insurance claim, they have documentation readily available that’s timestamped.””
The art of the possible is still often undefined for a lot of organizations.—John Vernon, Chief Technology Officer, DroneUp
Customers can access the deliverables, typically images and PDF files, via the cloud or download and import them into an AutoCAD system, for instance.
Where DSPs and MSPs Dovetail
Small businesses that need to move, process, and store the large amount of data, mostly images, that drones generate onto a server will need help “”getting that server appropriately sized and then supported, and making sure it’s backed up properly,”” Kovar says, adding that’s typically not the skill set of drone service providers.
Security is an issue as well. Drones operate in the physical world, outside the office. DSPs must understand the type of data their drones collect, how it’s collected, and how it’s stored, as well as “”how that data gets from that outside environment back into the corporate environment, how to secure that data as it makes that transition, and then also how to make sure that data exchange doesn’t create any sort of new forms of potential cybersecurity attacks upon the company,”” Kovar says.
Jason Nichols, director of product marketing at DSP Kespry, says his firm often works directly with IT departments to meet specific requirements around where data is housed, who can access it, and how it is integrated.
Vernon sees ample opportunity for MSPs to partner with DSPs. Doing so, he adds, is far more practical than getting up to speed on the core expertise required to be a DSP, which includes understanding field service and dispatch delivery, knowing how to select the right type of drone and sensor, understanding airspace and industry regulations, and either obtaining an FAA operator’s license or contracting with pilots.
One area MSPs could play a role is customer acquisition, since “”they’re already out there talking to these organizations day in and day out,”” Vernon says. During a quarterly business review, for instance, the MSP could provide information about business problems drones could help address, and make recommendations on which DSPs to leverage. “”This creates an opportunity for MSPs to create an additional value add, and another stickiness factor,”” Vernon notes.
Another opportunity, he says, is integrating drone-centric data into customers’ systems. “”So a lot of what’s being built right now is the idea of being able to dispatch and deliver [from] an integration with a field services [system]. The drone service providers that are going to be the most successful are going to be the ones that have a platform that allow you to integrate and make those requests [for drone service], and turn that into a seamless process.””
In addition, drones are essentially Internet of Things endpoints, Vernon says, and as organizational usage increases MSPs will need to manage those endpoints.
MSPs can also be IT advisors to DSPs themselves, says Kovar. “”They could become a trusted, unbiased third party, to help the drone operator integrate some of these [IT] services into their existing operations.””
To get started, Kovar recommends that MSPs do some market research and find out who the drone service providers are in their area as well as who is consuming drone services. “”Both of those groups … are going to have these data management problems.””
Opening image: iStock