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Drones and Data: Designing a Framework to Maximize Innovation

Jason Diamond, North American Community of Practice Lead for UAVs, Arcadis
Jason Diamond, North American Community of Practice Lead for UAVs, Arcadis

Jason Diamond, North American Community of Practice Lead for UAVs, Arcadis

The cutting edge. Leading the charge. The goal behind innovation presents itself in a variety of ways across organizations. However, capturing the spirit of innovation and channeling it into strategic, actionable change is more elusive.

Drones, or small unmanned aerial vehicles (sUAVs), are one technological advancement that appears inherently innovative. Remotely operating a device that can collect data through high-powered cameras and sensors is the kind of next-generation solution that fits naturally into an innovation framework for an organization. Given drones’ ability to collect more data than ever before and federal regulations around operations, incorporating this digital tool into your service offering comprehensively requires proper planning and management.

Maximizing and protecting drone data

Equipped with a range of sensors, drones can collect a variety of data – everything from underground temperatures and agricultural health to the structural integrity of a building. Combining those sensors with drones’ unique ability to access hard to reach places, spaces and heights, provides an unprecedented opportunity to capture an immense amount of data more quickly than ever before. At Arcadis, our drones have collected more than 77,000 data points per minute. For comparison, traditional environmental surveys conducted by people yield about one data point per minute. But as data management and cybersecurity move to the forefront of organizational planning conversations, it is pivotal to take into account all of this data that drones collect.

Drones are quick to deliver value; however, to protect the long-term impact of this innovative technology, as well as our operators and clients, planning for safety is non-negotiable

It can be tempting to let employees use any technology they see fit to get the job done, but to maximize the value that data delivers, organizations should establish a clear framework for how drone data is managed and integrated into their overall data strategy. This integration helps detect patterns, establish benchmarks and can complement pre-existing data with new details that may not be as obvious in isolation. With a transparent data management strategy, and the appropriate security protocols applied, drones can empower innovation at an enterprise level.

Operating drones safely and sustainably

Just as new data sources require incorporation into a larger data and cybersecurity strategy, so does the physical operation of the drones by staff. In North America, Arcadis works closely with customers in a number of safety-focused industries. From oil and gas to manufacturing and railroads, the nature of many of our client’s work requires an intense focus on health and safety. Working to help them meet those goals requires our teams to always put safety first and foremost in any operation.

While drones largely help protect the health and safety of our field staff, there’s no scenario that’s completely risk free. As such, we ensure our drone operators are all FAA-certified. This means logging plenty of practice hours, understanding federal regulations for operating aerial vehicles and designing the safest, lowest-risk flight path possible. We also insure our fleet of drones as an added measure of business security. Drones are quick to deliver value; however, to protect the long-term impact of this innovative technology, as well as our operators and clients, planning for safety is non-negotiable.

Drones have proven to be a valuable investment at Arcadis and have improved how we deliver value to our clients. However, putting plans in place to get the most out of this technology at an enterprise level was an essential step in maximizing their true innovation potential.

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