What we learned while working on drone-based software implementation projects in 2019
We partnered with numerous insurance, inspection, restoration, and roofing companies in 2019 to help them deploy a drone-based asset inspection program. We already had deep historical business relationships in these industries but the difference in 2018/2019 was the relative newness of aerial inspections. This created new challenges and opportunities and it quickly became clear that the most successful deployments were achieved by companies that possessed a specific set of capabilities and attitudes. We researched this further and came up with the following factors:
- Strategic maturity
- Competitive attitude
- Risk tolerance
- Change management
- Employee commitment
- Performance measurement
- Failure acceptance
Interestingly, these characteristics were not limited to the C-suite. Instead, the ability and willingness to comprehend, reflect, and act was present in all levels that we dealt with in these organizations.
Strategic maturity is demonstrated by the ability to plan, execute, and measure across the organization. We found that the weak link in the strategy is often the last step – measuring results so that tweaks can be fed back into the next plan. The ability to see progress as a loop instead of a linear path means that leaders continue to improve while their competitors are celebrating a project completion under the mistaken impression that a final goal has been achieved. In other words, success isn’t measured by the number of drones in service or pilots certified but by the results of data gathered, analysed, and acted upon.
The lesson: Drone tech isn’t about drones; it’s about what they enable.
Competitive attitude in our target industries is related to achieving industry-leading Combined Operating Ratios, acing Net Promoter Scores, earning viable Net Profit Margins, and seeking an entrepreneurial mindset when hiring. Best-in-class companies constantly seek new ways to out-perform their peers and, not surprisingly, they nurture out-of-the-box mavericks who thrive in a competitive environment. We met some truly outstanding business operators this year. The desire to excel is a powerful enabler of technology.
The lesson: Hire people to challenge the status quo and then empower them to act.
Risk tolerance is a core success factor. We saw a great example of this in early 2019. A major company expressed interest in IMGING® software. Then they didn’t. Then they did. Then they stopped again. And then an individual leader stepped up and grabbed the opportunity to drive her company forward. She articulated the pros (not many were provable at the time), considered the cons (there are always reasons not to act), claimed ownership, and convinced the organization that the risk was worth taking. We don’t believe the entire organization has to be risk-tolerant – often all you need is a strong, compelling individual with a clear vision and a rock-climber’s self-belief.
The lesson: Support the champion.
Change management has turned out to be an exceptionally critical part of our clients’ success. Implementing drone-based solutions requires a fundamental review of people, processes, and applications. Again, it’s not just about deploying drones but leveraging data in all sorts of new ways. This is where our industry knowledge really helped our clients achieve success. In its simplest function, IMGING allows a safer, more efficient, and more comprehensive asset data-capture solution. However, we’d see it as a massive failure if this is all that a client expects to achieve. The real benefits lie downstream – in new ways to apply that data. Some question to ask are
- If you could inspect and evaluate the condition of every square inch of a building’s envelope, what would you do differently?
- Which stakeholders (within or outside the organization) can benefit from that data?
- What financial savings or earnings can IMGING enable?
The answers will lead to clarity on what must change because drone-based data acquisition is not a plug-and-play solution. To declare that one drone will do the work of three roof inspectors is a very limiting point of view. Working out what must change, how to change it successfully, and to do that with the support and enthusiasm of the entire team requires focussed thought. Our most successful clients recognize this. A small number that failed to do so have not realized all the benefits they could have – often because they failed to fully review their current state and plan forward.
The lesson: Don’t let today’s silos limit tomorrow’s solutions.
Employee commitment or lack thereof is what makes or breaks an organization. The ways to win are through inclusion at the planning stage, demystifying the new technology, and explaining its benefits. We found that successful organizations seek technology solutions not to directly reduce the number of employees but to enhance their capabilities and, thereby, win a greater market share or achieve greater profitability. We’ve seen both successful and ineffective employee engagement. Successful engagements invariably have a significant ‘what’s-in-it-for-me’ element right up front whereas the ineffective ones tend to start along the lines of, ‘here’s a drone. Training starts tomorrow.’ A worst-case example that we encountered was a company that trained their most experienced roofer to operate a drone. After a lifetime of climbing ladders, the employee was expected to stay on the ground and use a drone to literally prove that his experience and knowledge were no longer relevant. Merely swapping a ladder for a drone just won’t work. A better solution may have been to use the employee’s decades of experience to monitor and augment the work of several other drone operators. That’s the promise of technology: amplifying capabilities by multiple factors. Recognizing and managing employee inclusion is a huge opportunity.
The lesson: Engage, involve, collaborate.
Performance measurement is a basic success factor for an organization since you can’t manage something you don’t fully understand. However, when it comes to a brand-new technology, an organization has to proceed in stages. Benchmarking the obvious things like time to inspect, report turnaround time, and the number of inspections per day is a good start. Then investigate new metrics like building envelop claims settlement times, job conversion rates, inspection costs, customer satisfaction rates, claims leakage, and so on. IMGING will give you more data and more opportunities to refine inspection accuracy and transparency but you have to work on these progressively. New metrics will evolve over time.
IMGING relies on deep learning for its damage detection capabilities. Deep learning, in turn, depends on large, properly labelled data volumes that are fed into the model so that consistent accuracy develops over time. Loveland Innovations (the developer of IMGING) is obsessed with data accuracy for good reason. It may be helpful to view IMGING as a new employee who offers some immediate benefits and then develops into an out-performing star in the medium to long term! Every single input creates a direct benefit in return.
The lesson: Revolutionary solutions are built on evolutionary steps.
Failure acceptance is a hallmark of forward-thinking organizations. As stated above, technology implementation succeeds most often when it is not seen as a simple alternative to an existing state. Instead, look for new paths and then prepare to find some dead ends. Understand that dead ends can be temporary – what doesn’t work this year may work later so revisit your failures from time to time and see if you find new opportunities. IMGING is under constant development and a lot of this is guided by users who want to solve old problems or find solutions to new ones.
The lesson: Assume that success or a learning opportunity are the only possible outcomes.
Overall, everyone knows that all viable companies can skillfully navigate familiar waters. They rely on past experience, employee capabilities, and well-developed business templates. However, all of the companies we worked with in 2019 were in uncharted waters – none of them had set up a done-based asset inspection program before. That’s when we saw them draw heavily on the seven characteristics (strengths, really) described above. In the process, we broadened our knowledge and appreciation of aspirational leadership and its holistic benefits at all levels of the organization. We look forward to working with many new leaders in 2020.
© Drone Software Canada Inc.