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Savvy business executives are always looking for opportunities to reduce costs, mitigate safety risks, boost production and improve competitiveness. Increasingly, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—also known as drones—are becoming an attractive technology to help achieve these goals.
Successfully deployed in limited commercial settings during the past few years, UAVs have shown early signs of strong business value in several applications. For example, BP conducted UAV pipeline inspection tests in 2012 in Alaska; Royal Dutch Shell Plc has tested unmanned aircraft for land surveying; and Amazon has announced Amazon Prime Air as a way to optimize package delivery.
UAVs have the potential to alter emergency response, food production, manufacturing and production facility inspections, and more. Overall, these examples demonstrate how autonomous UAVs will extend and amplify what humans are already doing by adding remote sensing, actuation and predictive tasks.
The UAV market is gaining momentum, with some countries permitting the use of these flying machines for law enforcement and emergency response, while other countries continue to impose fairly strict regulations on commercial applications. Despite these variances, the aviation and aerospace industry research firm Teal Group estimates that global spending on unmanned aircraft will double over the next 10 years to nearly $90 billion, with the United States accounting for 62 percent of research and development spending, as well as 55 percent of procurement spending.
From an enterprise perspective, the possible business uses for UAVs are wide-ranging. However, the technology is also potentially quite disruptive in terms of how these companies will operate in the future. As enterprises leverage UAVs to complete tasks currently done by humans, they must address a number of operational challenges and adjust underlying business processes to accommodate a collaborative environment between humans, robots and IT systems.
In addition, enterprises must determine what business value they can derive from automated data gathering, which tasks can be both electronically and mechanically automated in a workflow, and what intelligence they can obtain from the data they gather.
With some parts of the world already using or experimenting with the commercial application of UAVs, and others awaiting imminent regulatory approval, now is the time for enterprises to start planning for innovative use. To do so, they need to understand the impact to the status quo and be ready for a new interplay of people, processes and robot technologies.
Organizations need to evaluate where best to leverage and benefit from the use of UAVs in business process automation. Some of the factors enterprises need to consider include business strategy formulation, UAV technology capability alignment and road mapping, identification of relevant use-cases, proof of concept and pilot development, and full-scale deployment.
Accenture has several recommendations for businesses to begin planning for the deployment and integration of UAVs into their business processes. We recommend that businesses:
Manage for a fleet, not a flight—Much of the experimentation done to date has been hands on and high touch involving a small number of UAVs. However, enterprises can expect that the actual number of UAVs they’ll need vary by situation. As such, they should work to acquire and manage a fleet of UAVs, some of which will likely be of different types, based on the business application.
Plan global, think local—Many organizations have intentions to leverage UAVs in multiple geographies. Although we encourage enterprises to prepare for such global deployments, these plans will have to be adjusted to accommodate local guidelines and regulations, which vary dramatically based on jurisdiction.
Design for data collection and analysis—Enterprises will use sensor data collected by UAVs to guide work processes and generate insight. They can use the sensor data they collect for preventive maintenance, operational intelligence and/or predictive maintenance. Companies will, therefore, need a data management platform to capture, process and analyze the incoming data to identify notable events and create reports.
April 18, 2014
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