The #AutonomousFuture is coming.

Machines are more capable than ever before. Independence and automation are changing the business ecosystem in the physical world in much the same way as software revolutionized office workflows. The result: greater efficiency for traditionally human-heavy tasks and industries.

The industries effected are the ones where many of the world’s hardest working humans are employed: labor-intensive, big-picture, society-building industries like construction, telecommunications, energy, critical infrastructure, agriculture, and their safeguard, insurance. Increasing labor efficiency in these “infrastructure industries” will reduce waste, cost, project completion times, and most importantly, lives lost to accident. It will be revolutionary for companies that successfully transition.

Tough Transitions Ahead

Drones will be particularly disruptive for infrastructure industries in the long term, where highly-capable, fully-autonomous drone solutions will be the norm. At scale, the advantages of fully-automated drone technology are obvious: increased safety, reduced cost, commoditized data availability, etc. Yet because today’s solutions are not fully-autonomous, some companies will delay their adoption of drone technology. They will wait for this future tripping point, hoping for an off-the-shelf product solution that will let them leap-frog their competition. This is a mistake. When that product becomes available, they will be unprepared to use it.

While some companies wait for automation technology to advance and a more automated-friendly regulatory environment to operate it in, others will act.

Some will fool-heartedly buy into drone technology that is widely-recognizable, and leverage consumer-level drones without a programmatic technology strategy or a plan for integration. They will likely fail to achieve adoption, and do more harm than good in the process. They will reflect on their predictable under-utilization of the technology and be left wondering, “What’s all the fuss is about?” Long after their last drone flies, their company will remember the failed adoption attempt. Overcoming this internal bias will lead to even slower to adoptions in the autonomous future.

And yet some will act strategically. They will begin to incorporate the results of drone capabilities — “drone data” — into their current workflows, without getting tied to exotic technologies outside of their areas of expertise. They will integrate benefits, modify workflows, and gain institutional experience without accumulating assets. This will prepare them well in advance for their automated futures, so that when technology and regulations align for fully-autonomous solutions, they will be the best prepared to realize the gains of that change smoothly, efficiently, and at-scale. Their advantage will be tremendous.

The Dangers of Going-It Alone

There are a plethora of techno-geek and legal reasons why non-aviation businesses shouldn’t buy their own flying robots without an industry partner, but the biggest reason is very intuitive:

The current state of the drone industry is not conducive to building internal commercial drone programs. Constant change, radically advancing capabilities, and dizzying numbers of options are just the beginning of the challenges a company faces in deciding just on drone hardware.

“If my drone breaks, who fixes it?”

“How does the data my drone produces become actionable information for my managers and employees?”

“If new technologies come out, do I need to buy a whole new system? What do I do with my old one?”

These are all questions that drone buyers will eventually have to answer, and often the answers equate to more work for their employees and more expenses for their business — the exact opposite of why they bought a drone to begin with. This becomes a disincentive to use the hardware, and companies eventually are left with the sour memory of an expensive toy that was “cooler” than it was useful. This has already happened to many, many companies.

When the autonomous future does arrive, these companies must work against the negative reputation of their previous forays into drone technology. This is often worse for adoption than having no history whatsoever.

Drones Change the Customer’s Experience

It’s not surprising that some of the worst rated brands are those that manage big infrastructure projects — after a certain point, a pleasant representative on the phone can only do so much to mitigate a company’s internal lack of information for their customer. Consider how different this is from other buyer experiences in their day-to-day life:

When customers place an order online, every aspect of that purchase — from search to delivery — is managed and reported to the customer, even for very small-ticket purchases. Yet for the largest purchases a business or individual can make — like a new house, office building, or any of the infrastructure that would support them — are routinely subject to prices and delivery dates that fluctuate wildly from estimates. Information “black-holes” are common, deeply frustrating, and compared to a typical Amazon order, likely much more detrimental to the customer’s balance sheet.

This will change. In the autonomous future, companies that successfully integrate drones will have significant advantages over those that are slow to integrate, or simply fail to do so. They will be faster to finish projects, have better information to communicate with their clients, and will get a higher ROI on their human resources. Critically for their customers, though, is that their client engagements will more closely match what their customers now expect to receive from other industries — an informed, well-managed experience.

Bridging the Gap

Drone services are key to a successful transition. History shows that efficient, wide-spread adoption of technology is an incremental process, especially in large organizations. Drone service providers (DSPs)– specialists in drone technology who provide data collection and analysis as a service — are the strategic partner, the bridge, that make this incremental adoption possible.

Through collaborative partnership, drone services allow companies to integrate the outputs of drone technology so that their workflows and employees are familiar and experienced with utilizing them. This is no small advantage in the future because changing entrenched work behaviors does not happen overnight.

By lowering the barrier to data access, DSPs that work closely with their clients to integrate into existing workflows maximize the likelihood of successful early experiences. As managers and employees become accustomed to making more decisions with more accurate and regular access to data, they recognize the value of adoption through their own experience. This experience then overcomes the natural human aversion to change that hinders any technology adoption cycle. Over time, this “formalization” of workflow around regular data becomes internalized and eventually integrates into corporate culture.

Long-Term Strategies Start Now

Companies that wait for the autonomous future to arrive will realize the truth of the old Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best is now.” They’ll be left fighting amongst themselves through painful, break-neck evolution, all for — at best — second place, without a guarantee that will leave enough to survive on. The thin margins typical to many infrastructure industries will magnify the advantages of early adopters even more.

Companies that act strategically won’t need to wait for the future to see their ROI. Through close collaboration with a DSP, companies can begin seeing immediate results with actionable data. Better-informed managers, clients, and workflows are possible — and for some firms, already common — today. By performing critical data processing and analysis, and tailoring the data output to plug into existing workflows, DSPs can immediately improve efficiency. In the process, they help to position their clients for even greater success in the autonomous future.