Drones: It’s all about the data

22 August 2018


by Stephen Mills Data & Analytics in Assurance, North Regional Leadership

Email +44 (0)7966 265804

The latest Instagram fad, according to a recent report, is to take a selfie (preferably while somewhere exotic on holiday) from a drone. Inevitably it comes with its own hashtag – #instadrone.

Drones are becoming a more familiar (or annoying, depending on your point of view) sight in our skies and not just as an aid for aerial photography; their use in the business world is expanding rapidly too. Our recent report into the impact of drones on the UK economy estimated that drones will add £42bn to the UK’s GDP by 2030.

Drones are a particularly exciting development for asset-based and logistics businesses because they allow you to assess, measure and monitor buildings, land, stock and infrastructure quickly and efficiently. Housing associations, for example, could use drones to monitor the condition of their properties. Surveyors and auditors can quickly assess a site or building, and drones can be used to scan inventory within a warehouse for real-time stock checking.

Drones are already used very successfully in a number of sectors. Oil and gas companies use them to inspect dangerous and hard-to-reach infrastructure; an under-deck inspection of an oil platform, for example, can be completed in five days by a drone when the traditional scaffolding-based method would take eight weeks.

But the real value of drones lies in the data they collect – which is from the camera (still or moving pictures) and sound - which when combined with machine learning algorithms can provide companies with improved speed, accuracy and efficiency of dealing with tasks as outlined above. However this brings with it significant security and privacy issues. Drones could inadvertently collect sensitive data such as people's faces and vehicle number plates  – and this brings drone data within the remit of data privacy legislation.

This was a topic we discussed at length at our recent Chief Data Officer event in Manchester; it’s clear that drone technology is seen as an exciting area which can make a crucial difference in managing costs and controlling risks, but many difficult questions remain.

What should the data be used for? For how long should it be held? Where will it be stored? Is the storage secure? Much of the data is – initially at least – stored on a sim card on the drone itself, so what happens if the drone is intercepted? Underpinning all of this is an issue of trust, something Elaine Whyte, our Drones leader, recently discussed.

What’s abundantly clear is that drone technology needs intensive input from Chief Data Officers. Drone data should be treated as carefully as any data held by an organisation; the method of collection is irrelevant. There should be clear policies in place for what should and shouldn’t be done with the data that’s collected.

A member of our UK drones team, Jenny Frances, who spoke at the recent event, commented: “I was impressed to see how engaged everybody was in talking about drones at the Chief Data Officer forum; the range of questions, potential applications, opportunities and risks discussed was broad and far reaching. It is clear to me that CDOs play a pivotal role in helping companies understand and appropriately utilise the data that drones can collect. This is an emerging technology with an ever growing range of applications, and I look forward to continuing to work our clients CDOs to embed this new form of data collection to deliver tangible business insights.”

It’s essential that companies explore drone technology with their eyes wide open. Drone technology is still developing – and the regulation is still evolving – but the potential is increasing by the day. The increasing use of tethered drones is just one example of how this challenge is being overcome today. Companies and their Chief Data Officers need to consider how they lay the groundwork for using emerging technology such as drones. It’s important that they consider the two ends of the spectrum - firstly how they exploit the data generated from the drones for commercial advantage (which includes efficiency and accuracy gains) as well as how they get their data management policies and strategy in place to protect that data within the boundaries of the regulation. Do that, and the sky’s the limit.

The Chief Data Officer forum is a regular event that PwC organises and hosts with a variety of different topics depending on what the attendees would like to discuss. The forum takes place in London and in the North. If you’d like more information on the event or are interested in attending future events then please contact, Stephen Mills ([email protected]).

To find out more about PwC's Drones practise click here 


by Stephen Mills Data & Analytics in Assurance, North Regional Leadership

Email +44 (0)7966 265804