How to build a successful drone program without losing your shirt

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Photo by Jason Blackeye at Unsplash

In six months, we built a drone program that spanned 17 countries, substituted more than 30,000 hours of hazardous work, and provided more than $10 million of commercial benefit. The AES Corporation quickly became recognized as a leader in the use of drone technology across the Power & Utility sector. Unlike most of their peers, AES never established a Drone R&D group, nor did they have an earmarked drone budget.  Here’s what we did that worked.

Photo by Matthew Hamilton at Unsplash

If you want to use drones in the industrial sector – you have to focus on safety, not on money. As the Director of Drone & Robotic Solutions for a multinational energy company, I spent two years traveling the world – encouraging the use of drone technology to improve safety in the industrial sector. I presented at AUVSI’s XPONENTIAL, AEGIS, NAEM EHS, Campbell Symposium, and the Commercial UAS Expo and was invited before the House Unmanned Systems Caucus to testify about the use of drones in the sector. My hope was to educate drone program managers on how to successfully build a drone program that would provide a genuine benefit to their people and the customers they served.

if you want to use drones in the industrial sector – you have to focus on safety, not on money

Photo by Rich Lock at Unsplash

Far too often, I’m asked about cost savings and revenue enhancements. In my professional option, these questions miss the point. When we hit $3m of benefit from our drone program back in 2015, to my knowledge, we were without equal in the sector. The secret to our program was that we believed in people, and we equipped them to be successful.

Here are a few tips from my experience:

  1. We enabled our people to use drones where they thought it made the most sense.
  2. Our people focused on safety and process improvement, not on using drones.
  3. We published seven strategic applications, helping people know where to say yes.
  4. We focused on maturity, not optionality.
  5. We found value in serving our people and our customers.

When you focus on money, you become blinded by the “what” instead of being inspired by the “why.” Your people will often see drones as either a toy that is distracting them from the real work, or even worse, they will see your drone program as another cost-cutting initiative as the power sector erodes to a zero marginal cost society.  Working with drone pilots and innovation leaders in 17 countries, I found that it was far more effective to inspire, equip, and channel their work than it was to govern, enforce, or direct their actions. We later created a program for measuring maturity and a platform for standardizing operations, but the core of our program was always about equipping people to do the job they had with technology that kept them out of harm’s way. In many ways, this was core to the founding mission of AES.

Photo by Jason Blackeye at Unsplash

I fundamentally believe in people. That’s not a secret. I think many drone program managers fail because they are too concerned with control and structure. In my experience, I like to think of a good drone program as a dead wood trellis serving a budding vine of innovation. If you need help growing your program, reach out to our team at Digital Strategies. We look forward to working with you to improve industrial safety.

 

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