Enterprises understand that drones – and the digital twins that they enable – solve critical business problems and lead to major efficiencies, getting data efficiently, quickly, and safely. As more digital twin software platforms enter the market, however, it can be difficult for companies to evaluate features and solution providers adequately. Purchasers need to consider what type of drones are used, which software platform features are most important to their business, and which partners will be able to support their company’s growth.
After working with many different enterprise customers, we’ve identified five questions that companies should ask digital twin platform providers before making a purchase decision: questions that will help purchasers cut through the marketing speak and focus directly on the most important capabilities of a solution.
1. How scalable is the platform?
Automated drone inspection programs generate huge quantities of data: and as stakeholders realize the value of digital data, drone programs tend to grow rapidly within an enterprise. Companies need to ensure that the platform they purchase will be able to handle this future growth.
Scalability must be addressed in every aspect of the solution: from drone hardware to processing capabilities. Purchasers should ask providers to specify these points:
- How much training or expertise will be required to use the drones?
- How much time does it take to process data into usable results?
- How many jobs can be processed in parallel?
- How does the system architecture support large scale enterprises with large numbers of simultaneous users?
- What kind of storage resources does the platform offer?
2. What is the extra cost of drone hardware?
Some platforms require custom or specialized hardware, that can add significantly to the total costs of an enterprise drone program. Hardware is an ongoing cost that increases as the program expands: support and maintenance costs for a drone fleet must also be taken into consideration. Hardware costs can impact CAPEX: so purchasers will want to choose a solution that minimizes capital expenditures while ensuring the availability of required hardware around the globe.
Purchasers should ask providers to specify:
- Does the platform require customized hardware, or utilize commercial-off-the-shelf drones?
- How much will drone hardware cost?
- How easy will it be to replace the required drone hardware?
- How easy will it be to find providers to service maintain the hardware?
3. How much specialized training will be required?
Training adds both cost and time to your program implementation and is an ongoing requirement. Some platforms require that operators be experienced in determining flight paths for different types of assets, and in operating a drone at a steady distance from the structure throughout data capture. Companies need flexibility in deploying resources: t’s important that the quality of data be independent from the specific drone operator.
Depending upon your company’s needs, you may wish to provide field operatives with drones to use when they are visiting sites: an efficient approach that ensures scalability and cost control. Some companies, however, prefer not to engage in drone operations and simply receive the data, ready to use.
In addition, the platform itself can require training: and it’s important to know how much training it will take to onboard new users.
Purchasers should ask providers to specify:
- Who will operate the drones?
- How much training and field experience will drone operators need to get good data?
- How automated is the data capture experience?
- How easy is the platform to use?
- Does the provider offer training resources and support?
4. How many stakeholders in your company will benefit from the platform?
The more departments in your company that benefit from a new platform, the more cost-effective it will be. In order for a platform to be widely used, it has to be easy to access the data and easy to use in solving business problems. Integrations with other business critical solutions may be a key element in optimizing the use of a digital twin platform and avoiding data silos.
Providers should understand your business well enough to be able to answer:
- How is the data organized – will it be easy to find, and easy to share?
- How will data fit into current workflows?
- What integrations with the platform are available?
- Is the platform developed to allow future integrations?
5. What customer references can you provide? Can you demonstrate your capabilities and features?
Perhaps most importantly, companies need to ensure that the provider they choose can really deliver. The current environment is dynamic and rapidly evolving, and new solutions providers appear every month. Your company doesn’t want to end up paying for their product development, however. Ask for specific company references and follow up.
- How will the provider be able to handle your company’s program growth?
- How often will the software be updated?
Finally, it is critical to ask providers for a demonstration. No written description of features and capabilities can beat a field test: ask providers to fly one of your assets and deliver a digital twin for you to explore.
Choosing the right digital twin platform is critical to the growth of your company’s drone program and the digital transformation of your business. When you’ve narrowed your selection to the platforms that claim to have the features you need, follow up with these five questions – and be sure that the platform you choose will be a long-term partner that can grow with your company.