Drones and big data are both enterprise tech trendsetters, and the convergence of the two in specific areas of application create new opportunities and challenges for IT. Among the heavy-hitter drone/big data applications in industry are:

Despite the fact that US drone regulations are still in a state of flux, these drone/big data apps are being deployed because they fill specific niches and it’s easy for companies to see the business value in their investments. The drone/big data tech meld is also a great foundational piece from which to launch new tech initiatives.

Here are three example use cases in action.

SEE: Enterprise IoT research: Uses, strategy, and security (Tech Pro Research)


Drones can map construction sites, fly over them, and capture information on site activities. This gives a foreman/forewoman documented status of each job so they can determine how far a trench has been dug or ensure that edifices on a structure are built to spec. The photographic imagery captured by the drone can be directly downloaded into a building information management system (BIM) that is used to manage the entire project with software. This enables managers of large construction projects to come prepared with specific questions when they visit the site.


In agriculture, drones can measure the typography of a field to assist farmer-producers in preparing field preparation plans. The drone also gathers information and imagery that’s used to analyze the composition and moisture content of soil at different points in a large field This can dictate the need to use different mixes of fertilizers in different field areas to maximize crop yield Color spectrum imagery of crops can also detect the overall health of plants–and to identify trouble spots in a field where crops are showing signs of stress that require attention.


Highway patrols are using drones with big data capture capability to plot geospatial points and obtain imagery of traffic accidents on freeways to document the accident and record forensic evidence without impeding traffic. This process takes minutes instead of hours, which eases commutes for travelers.

“We have really seen drone interest pick up this year,” said Mike Winn, CEO of DroneDeploy, which provides drone and UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) mapping software.

Winn is joined by Industry analysts who now predict a UAV market of around $48.8 billion by 2023.

This means that CIOs–and IT–should be integrating drone deployment into their big data strategies.

SEE: 60 ways to get the most value from your big data initiatives (free TechRepublic PDF)

Here are four key areas that should be addressed in strategic planning for drones and big data.

1. Guidance

There are regulations that govern how low drones can fly and where and what they can fly over in the collection of data. Some of the foremost US guidelines are that drone operators must be licensed, drones must be flown in the line of sight of operators, drones must fly within 400 feet of land, and drones must stay at least five miles away from airports and other restricted areas. Various states also have privacy laws that limit the information gathering and surveillance that drones perform. Although addressing these regulations might be better left to end business areas within the company that are charged with regulatory or legal duties, IT should still include guidance as a key point in any drone and big data collection plan.

2. Drone central

Which area in the company is going to be in charge of drone deployment and big data collection? Will a dedicated drone operations center be set up or will an individual business unit (e.g., a land surveyor group) be charged with operating drones? At some point, the data collected by drones will need to be passed to IT, and IT will be asked to assist in big data preparation and analytics. What policies, procedures, and work processes should be enacted so that different business areas and IT can seamlessly work together?

3. Data management

On-board drone technology can capture an enormous data payload in minutes–but Internet bandwidth can’t be counted upon to transmit this data in real time–or near real time–to a central data repository. IT needs to plan out remote data collection centers where drone-gathered data can be temporarily stored and then uploaded when time and bandwidth permit. Data backups and curation procedures also need to be defined for remote data collectors, who may not have the expertise.

4. Shadow IT

A drone can be acquired for as little as $1,000 and it doesn’t take long to learn how to fly one. This paves the way for shadow IT, where end users buy their own drones and big data technology and deploy them–and IT doesn’t know. In these cases, IT should strategically implemented an asset identification and management plan that accounts for drones and big data so that it knows where this technology is being deployed in the enterprise. However, instead of being just a gatekeeper, IT should be an enabler of this technology by assisting users with IT policies, procedures, and security measures that users might not be familiar with.

Your take

Has your organization made strategic plans to incorporate drone technology into your big data roadmap? Share your advice and opinions with fellow TechRepublic members.

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