Drone Services For Mapping And Inspections – A Threat And Opportunity For Consultants

For decades consulting firms like AECOM, SGS and Sweco have provided a wide range of technical services for environmental impact assessments, infrastructure inspections and incident analysis.  Over the years, environmental data management has been improved with software from vendors such as EarthSoft, EScIS and Gaea Technologies. Inspections are enabled with cherry pickers, digital cameras, and mobile apps. Despite the use of more technology, the consulting day rate business model has not changed. And customers haven’t had alternative options. Now they do: commercial and industrial drone services.

Consultants who think that the drones market is populated by hobbyists fascinated by ‘Back To The Future’ gizmos should think again. Following the August 2016 ‘Part 107’ provisions laid out by the US Federal Aviation Administration anyone over the age of 16 can apply for a ‘Remote Pilot Certificate’ which allows the individual to fly a drone in line of sight, under 55 pounds, in daylight, below 400 feet and at less than 100 miles per hour. In practice, this means the market for drone-based managed services will explode into life. And these services will replace the fieldwork currently conducted by consulting firms because a field worker plus drone-based service is cheaper, faster, safer and better than a field worker-only service.

That’s why Boeing, Caterpillar, Intel and Verizon have invested in or acquired firms providing drone services, software and/or equipment. What’s more, customers are buying into the value proposition. Syngenta has used senseFly for five years. Costain, ENI and Shell have used Sky Futures for industrial inspections. The Singapore National Environment Agency has used Avetics. In the aggregates sector, Heidelberg Cement Group and Peckham Industries have worked with Kespry. BNSF and Union Pacific have made significant strides in using drones for track inspections. Skeptics about the size of drone services contracts should examine the deal won by Martek Marine to provide the European Maritime Safety Agency with remotely piloted aircraft services. Granted for an initial two years, the five year contract is valued at EUR 67 million.

With drone innovators such as Nimbus, SkySpecs and Talon Aerloytics springing up, there is no reason why multi-billion revenue consulting firms can’t get involved in the market. Drones are just another piece of technology that can deliver better value for customers. Ignoring the impact of drones will turn them into a threat. Launching a drone managed service in 2017 will turn them into an opportunity to grab market share from less innovative competitors.