Phoenix rising: Who will the enterprise trust for their drone needs? (Part 2)

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For decades there was no firm that had a broader impact on corporate America than IBM. And trust was at the center of that firm. Thomas Watson, the CEO and Chairman of IBM during its critical formative years, famously said that "The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it's so very difficult to build and so very easy to destroy".

And so the rise to global dominance of another three-letter firm in the rapidly evolving global drone market - DJI - evokes inevitable comparisons to great firms of the past. But what should have been a story of an emerging global enterprise powerhouse has instead turned into a cautionary tale of broken trust. Given how hard it is to rebuild trust, the question becomes do they have time to rebuild it and how?

THE INFLECTION POINT OF BRAND AND TECHNOLOGY

As adoption rates heat up and a new technology goes mainstream a key inflection point occurs when it’s suddenly clear you’re no longer selling to early adopters. Early adopters are all about the technology - emerging firms that have the best technology at a given price point dominate. But when a market accelerates into the mainstream, you are now selling to mass markets. In the case of the enterprise, this means peoples’ livelihoods rest on the dependability of your product. Feature functionality is expected but trust in your brand is demanded. And while drones are more like power tools than IBM mainframes, the same rules apply.

When a construction worker picks up a power drill, they're looking to drill a hole or tighten a screw, and frankly, not much else; new features mean very little in this context. The only feature here that matters is that the drill works every single time they pick it up. In the technology world we call that 100% uptime. Now if that drill doesn't work 100% of the time, they are just as likely to throw it in the trash as they are to return it, because they live on tiny margins and lost time costs them real money. And because time is precious, the next drill they buy will be with a brand they trust. There will be no technology “bake off” to see if one drill is better than an another. This is the standard by which enterprise drones are being measured. And by this measure, DJI’s brand is failing. So which vendors out there are meeting this standard?

WHO YOU GONNA CALL?

Parrot Group's enterprise division Sensefly specifically with their Ebee Plus fixed wing product - comes about as close to that measure as we've seen at PrecisionXYZ. We have put literally thousands of acres under the wings of this product, and landing after landing, takeoff after takeoff, the product is as reliable as an electric drill. We have not had a single instance of their flight management software crashing during operations. Tightly coupled with Pix4D, they offer a well integrated experience enabling faster processing and a more seamless handoff to CAD and GIS applications. And while Sensefly is doing yeoman's work building a trusted brand, what they lack is something the enterprise wants - the complete product suite. Without a strong multi-rotor product they invite bigger, better funded competitors to seize share.

Intel is just such a firm. Best known for their drone light show technology, they deliver marketing campaigns both technically impressive and visually stunning. And with deep resources they’ve crafted a credible enterprise drone suite. However, their product suite challenge is three-fold. First, both their fixed wing and multirotor systems are too expensive. Buyers will pay a premium for a dependable brand but right now they are 20-30% above market price and their technology is not at parity. Which brings me to the second point: Their multi-rotor platform, arguably their strongest technical element, lacks the flight time needed to meet many operational requirements. Lastly while Intel's brand is amazing, they have never delivered a successful sub-brand outside of their core business, and have in fact shut down many of them. From an enterprise buyer standpoint this creates moments of pause that run counter to great brands ("will I get fired for buying Intel..."). Intel could, if they wanted to, entirely own the enterprise drone space. They have the power and resources. But right now they do not appear fully committed to that path.

Beyond Intel and Sensefly, there is a bevy of interesting and compelling contenders for the enterprise drone market. At PrecisionXYZ we've looked at a lot of suppliers and categorize them broadly as either LPLA (Limited Payload, Limited Application) or GPMA (General Payload, Multiple Applications) drones. Several US based firms offer truly strong solutions. Kespry stands out as an interesting LPLA play, with very well defined applications for specific vertical markets. On the GPMA side Straight Up Imaging offers a great domestic solution relative to DJI's offers, while Pulse Aero with their US Vapor series of products provides industry leading flight times with a solution capable of carrying any payload under almost any wind condition.

BUILD, BUY OR PARTNER?

As drone services go mainstream in the enterprise, trust is key. The dependability of the platforms you use directly affects the quality of the output. As I wrote in the last article the structural obstacles DJI faces are substantial, so while their presence is strong, enterprise customers have a lot of viable options upon which they can build their operational UAV capabilities. Whether an enterprise builds it internally, buys a firm that already has those capabilities, or partners with a Drone Service Provider, there are a number of trusted options available. IBM was right - trust is hard to build and easy to destroy. So who can the enterprise trust when it comes to finding partners amongst Drone Service Providers? More on that in our next post.

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Mark Culpepper is the founder of PrecisionXYZ, a drone service provider focused on the solar industry and serving development, construction, engineering, survey and industrial inspection clients. Our mission is to enable our clients with the most cost effective aerial IoT solutions designed to increase profitability and improve the quality of delivered projects.

 

Mark Culpepper