The disruptions caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have touched every aspect of businesses, from massive remote-work shifts to ongoing breakdowns in the global supply chain.
But one particular form of disruption required an especially visionary form of innovation, because it required being in many places at the same time, even in the face of travel lockdowns. That was the act of due diligence before a deal, when teams of decision-makers would visit facilities for on-site inspections.
“If you want to buy an asset, you have to go and see that asset,” said Agnieszka Gajewska, a partner at PwC Poland who leads the firm’s Drone Powered Solutions Global Center of Excellence.
“That’s why due diligence lies at the heart of every single business transaction,” she continued. “To do this, you need to physically travel and see the asset. But when you can’t travel, you need to come up with an innovative solution — that’s where you can involve drones and on-site cameras to do the job for you.”
Gajewska sees the new solution as an expression of PwC’s commitment to delivering bold ideas and solutions that are human-led and tech-powered.
Drone technology goes above and beyond for site inspections
When the pandemic began to limit in-person travel and interactions, Gajewska and her team of engineers and data scientists moved quickly to design an aerial data-capture program that could be the eyes and ears of inspectors while they waited out the lockdown. This team developed the solution that would become known as Remote Asset Insights.
The goal was to navigate drones, satellites, and video cameras above and through a space with the same type of intuition and intent a human would bring. Gajewska said the tool allows viewers to see inside and outside a facility, for example, including difficult-to-reach areas and places where special safety precautions limit human presence. Other benefits of remote viewings include overhead views inaccessible to in-person visitors and 3D modeling to represent topological changes over time.
Remote Asset Insights keeps site inspections focused on smaller teams and greater gains, said Will Jackson-Moore, a partner at PwC UK and its leader of global private equity, real estate, and sovereign funds.
“Buyers will likely want to visit at least one site to say they have ‘kicked their tires,'” he said. “But now their visits can be much more concentrated on time with the seller’s management team. The drone solution will be the key tool of the site visit, as it reduces cost and increases the quality of the assessment.”
An aerial example of human-led, tech-powered innovation
“Remote Asset Insights and drone-powered solutions are how I see the future, which is people and technology working hand in hand,” Gajewska said. “Insight and information are very different from the gigabytes of data that we receive from the field. We as humans use this sophisticated technology to analyse that data and translate it effectively into meaningful information for potential buyers. This is how we create real trust in the whole process and with the whole transaction.”
Sites to be inspected aren’t always near airports or other travel hubs, Jackson-Moore said, so in-person visits were never a perfect scenario. With the enhanced data and insights that drones can deliver, the tool creates value even beyond the benefit of not having to lose time in transit.
“Our drone solution not only allows for sites to be reviewed regardless of location, it also provides a much greater depth of inspection,” Jackson-Moore said.
An environmental and social uplift
The ESG benefit of reducing airplane travel by executives responsible for deals, who trail carbon emissions in their wake, cannot be overstated. A round-trip flight between London and New York City, for example, has been shown to generate more emissions than the average person in Burundi, Paraguay, or over 50 other countries produces in a year1. And shorter flights can generate more emissions per passenger than longer ones.
But reducing air-travel reliance is not the only uplift Gajewska imagines drones creating. “There is also the social impact of the tool,” she said. “It gives our clients an opportunity to create working conditions for employees that help their work-life balance, rather than spending days traveling to visit new sites.”
She’s also proud of the opportunity the tool creates for local drone operators and video companies, who are often contracted to work from the ground in their own markets.
“This solution is first and foremost about people — human insight based on real experience,” she said.
That’s why it’s critical that each virtual tour be customised according to what the end users wish to see and experience for themselves.
“Remote Asset Insights proved to us that if we put human intelligence, passion, and a real business need together with the most innovative technologies, we are able to create real value for our clients,” Gajewska said. “This is even more important than the drones, the data visualisations, and the data-analytics technologies involved. You could never take people out of this equation.”