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Time for flying robots: Drone technology taking business efficiency to new heights

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—aka drones—have become increasingly attractive for businesses to cut costs and boost competitiveness.



UAVs have been successfully deployed in limited commercial settings in recent years, and demonstrate strong business value in several applications.

For example, BP plc, one of the world’s biggest oil companies, in 2012 used UAVs for pipeline inspection tests in Alaska. Another global energy leader, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, tested unmanned aircraft for land surveying.

And, of course, there’s Amazon, the big online retailer, which unveiled its Prime Air service to optimize package delivery.

These examples demonstrate how autonomous UAVs will extend and amplify what humans are already doing by adding remote sensing, actuation and predictive tasks.

UAVs have potential to alter emergency response, food production, manufacturing and production facility inspections, and more.


The UAV market is gaining momentum, with some countries permitting the use of these flying machines for law enforcement and emergency response. Other countries continue to impose fairly strict regulations on commercial applications.

Despite the variances, global spending on unmanned aircraft is expected to double over the next decade, to nearly $90 billion, according to Teal Group, an aviation and aerospace industry research firm.

The U.S. accounts for about 62 percent of research and development spending and 55 percent of procurement spending, Teal Group estimated.

From an enterprise perspective, possible business uses for UAVs are wide-ranging. However, the technology is also potentially quite disruptive in terms of how these companies will operate.

As business leaders assign UAVs to complete tasks currently done by humans, they must address a number of operational challenges and adjust underlying processes to accommodate a collaborative environment between people, robots and IT systems.

Additionally, they must determine what business value can be derived from automated data gathering, as well as which tasks can be both electronically and mechanically automated in a workflow and what intelligence can be obtained from that data.


Some parts of the world are already using or experimenting with commercial UAV applications. Others are awaiting imminent regulatory approval. Whatever the case, now is the time for enterprises to start planning innovative uses for this technology.

To do so, business leaders need to understand the impact to the status quo and prepare for a new dynamic between people, processes and robots.

They need to evaluate where best to leverage and benefit from the use of UAVs in business process automation.

Some factors to consider include:

  • Business strategy formulation.

  • UAV technology capability alignment and road mapping.

  • Identification of relevant use-cases.

  • Proof of concept and pilot development.

  • Full-scale deployment.


Our recommendations for the deployment and integration of UAVs into business processes include:

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 will 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 businesses plan 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 this data for preventive maintenance, operational intelligence and/or predictive maintenance. This requires a data management platform to capture, process and analyze the incoming information to identify notable events and create reports.