Thursday, August 13, 2020

The important gap between capability and need

 I'll be writing occasionally for my friends at the Collective - a group focused on autonomy, mobility and the use of drones.  I think this group has an excellent opportunity to create new solutions and influence new products.  I've learned a lot this summer, especially about drones, because I bought one and started flying it, and my son interned with a drone company.

What we learned flying drones and viewing the imagery was the range of opportunities and solutions that could be created.  From being able to hover in place in very tight windows, looking down at (for instance) a roof mounted HVAC, or flying along a pipeline and inspecting for damage, drones promise a significant opportunity in many industries.

In my family, we discovered a new use for drones when we found that a contract logger, who was supposed to cut timber on an old family farm, had logged land that was "out of bounds" and damaged a creek bed as well.  Using a drone, we were able to record where the logger had illegally cut timber and share that with the Forestry Service and eventually use the video in a case against the logger.

But with all of this promise, there is still a big question.  The drone technology, its ability to fly almost anywhere, and increasingly fly autonomously, to carry items or record video, promises almost unlimited capabilities.  Which are important to customers, and which are customers willing to pay for?

The difference between a capability and a need

This is a classic issue in marketing and innovation.  Companies create new technologies that have a lot of capabilities.  A new product outstrips a previous product or service in key features.  A drone can fly down a pipeline at far less cost than a manned airplane or a driver in a vehicle.  These are "capabilities" that may drive benefits for the user.

What the drones haven't yet proven is if the markets actually need a better solution, and if drones are the "best" solution for needs that are currently met, or emerging unmet needs.  Here we start to address the ideas of the "jobs to be done" model of Clayton Christensen.  What "jobs" do loggers, pipeline companies, HVAC maintenance teams, mapping agencies and others need done?  When we combine the jobs and their "whole product" solutions in these specific industry needs, we can begin to ask - what can the drone do, what other capabilities are necessary for a whole product solution, and most importantly, is the drone solution and its whole product requirements as efficacious, as safe and less expensive than what people do today to solve these issues.

Note that even if the drone can do everything that existing solutions can do, there will still be the friction of change.  People who are used to a specific solution and have been using a solution for years are often slow to change, no matter how technologically superior a new solution is.  And, frankly, the drones offer a lot of promise, but much of their capabilities are still in the future.  In Raleigh, at WakeMed, there's been a program to examine using drones to fly drugs and possibly organs between hospitals.  While it has been a measured success, the drones are still limited in the distance they can fly and the weight they can safely carry, not to mention concerns of people on the ground who may fear items falling on them.  Regulations and human behavior often form a significant barrier to new technologies.

Innovators must cross the chasm

Drones and mobility have significant promise, but they must cross the chasm from early adopters in the market who are willing to accept limitations and service gaps.  The early majority on the other side of the chasm - the chasm between the 15% or so of the market that will adopt new technologies and the 80% or so that want whole products - are watching and waiting for whole product solutions, which will be tailored to industries and specific needs.  Capabilities are great, and will continue to evolve.  What's needed now are solutions that address very specific needs, and ready and willing regulatory and legislative bodies willing to take risks to advance new ideas.

The Collective will be part of the group that helps shift drones from early adopters to the early majority, based on standards, testing, whole product development and work with regulators and legislators.  I look forward to watching what they can do to develop the capabilities of drones into real solutions.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 2:55 PM


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