Our traditional view of farming owes more to childhood tales than reality with the harvesting of data almost as important as the harvesting of crops. Greg Emerick, co-founder of Sentera, an agriculture mapping software firm, tells Iprosurv how the future of farming is digital and how Sentera and Iprosurv are bringing that future to UK farming.
Our view of agricultural is often a romantic one, jolly farmers tending to their crops or their livestock and being one with the nature that surrounds them. But that owes more to the storybook version of farmers we are given as children than it does to the reality of making a living from the land.
The real face of farming is big business, worth billions to the UK exchequer, employing hundreds of thousands of people and providing 64% of the food eaten in the UK alone. Farming is serious stuff with serious consequences if anything goes wrong.
And when you’re reliant upon Mother Nature’s benevolence for your success, you’ll try everything possible to reduce the impact of her volatility.
Farmers have been finding innovative ways to do just that from the earliest times. Managing water through irrigation began around 3100Bc; harnessing the energy of animals with the plough was introduced in 3500BC; getting the most out of the land with crop rotation started somewhere in modern Belgium in the 16th Century; the widespread commercial use of fertilisers on soil really kicked off in the late 19th Century; the mechanization of tractors and implements began in the mid 20th Century; and seed breeding and traits accelerated in the late 20th Century.
None of this will surprise you but the point is that farmers have always been innovating and today is no different.
The only real difference is the form that innovation takes. Where once it was strapping a plough to an ox, now it is strapping a high-tech light sensor to a drone to conduct an aerial survey. But the motivation is the same – using any means or tools at their disposal to profitably improve production and quality while reducing risk as much as possible.
This focus has manifested itself in the last ten years or so in precision agriculture which in short, is the practice of precisely managing nutrients, water, seed and other agricultural inputs to improve economic outcomes in a wider range of growing conditions.
But it also encompasses the use of automated farm equipment like tractors, guided by GPS systems. And farmers in the US, where Sentera is based, have really embraced this new approach to agriculture. They’re applying tech to gain insight into a range of issues including:
• electromagnetic soil mapping • soil sample collection • crop yield data collection • remote sensing or aerial imagery • crop or soil colour index maps • soil types • soil characteristics • drainage level • potential yields
Not quite the picture of the jolly farmer ploughing his fields in his trusty red tractor that we all grew up with. This is the face of modern agriculture and it is changing all the time. When you look at that list of applications for the tech being used, one thing is common throughout – data. Agriculture experts are always looking for new and more efficient ways to gather that data and, most importantly, to act on it.
At a basic level, Sentera gathers and analyses data. The way we gather that data is with simple-to-use sophisticated sensors on drones or satellites and analytic tools, but when you boil it down to the basics, that’s what we do.
Farmers and their advisors use the analysed data Sentera’s sensors gather to manage their operations more efficiently – be that to measure the germination and emergence of their seed, evaluate the health and viability of a young crop or produce weed maps for precision spraying applications.
But there are broader applications. For example, asset managers use it to track and understand the value of their investments and to predict crop yields allowing for better crop marketing decisions.
And insurance companies are using drone surveys to gather the data to provide a more accurate view of what they are underwriting and, when there is a claim, calculating the most accurate payment.
In fact, the data is completely agnostic – it can be used by a range of people involved in the sector but the most important thing, and the biggest benefit, is that everyone is working from the same data.
This approach to agriculture is becoming increasingly more common in the US. With our recent partnership with Iprosurv, we are now bringing this drone mapping capability to the UK.
Because what drones do is make the application of our technology so much easier and accessible for farmers and their affiliates. Top of the rage equipment, well trained and experienced pilots and a platform that allows for quick, efficient and accurate collection and delivery of the data, allows growers or analysts, asset managers or insurance companies, to act quickly and effectively, whatever the situation is.
It may seem like science fiction stuff now, but I can assure you that tech is the future of farming. In the US it’s the present and it is fast becoming the same in the UK.
Today, agriculture is the least digitised industry globally. However, it is quickly changing into a sophisticated, tech-enabled industry that has, since its inception, been all about innovation. Now is an excellent time to be adding these capabilities to your operation.
Loss adjusting is is often seen as the preserve of men with clipboards and measuring tapes but as Darren Anderton, Head of Major Loss – North, at McLarens explains, the truth is far more digital than you might imagine.
Loss adjusting tends to be viewed as one of the more traditional areas of the insurance market: as a profession founded upon values such as trust, personal relationships and expert knowledge, but one in need of modernisation and disruption.
There is a lazy assumption that loss adjusters are an army of grey-suits in wellies, brandishing clipboards as they tour the nation’s disaster sites. Yet, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
While we still focus on what we do best – getting people and businesses back to where they were before disaster struck – our armoury of tools is far more digital.
For some time now McLarens have been shifting to an ever more digital model. We operate globally on a remote claims system where all our files and data are stored, where everyone is connected and where we can – as we have recently shown – work effectively as a virtual office. Our global technology strategy is about delivering convenience, agility, and safe services for our clients.
When lockdowns were announced across the globe, we were able to shift to 100% homeworking in 48 hours.
But not only have we been able to work remotely, we have extended our digital capabilities to policyholders. We have a purpose-built, mobile app that allows them to stream real-time, geo-tagged and tamper resistant image evidence of damage to their property from anywhere in the world, by photo or audio-visual recording, directly to our system from where we can start the claims process.
In less complex claims, this level of data can even allow a claim to be settled within hours or days, vastly improving the customer experience.
And that ability to assess and manage claims remotely has been enhanced considerably by the use of drones. They have been part of our toolkit for some time now where we have used them primarily in large losses such as building fires, and in surge events such as floods.
The necessity of lockdown has seen us, and others, deploy them for less complex losses – roof damage to a property for example – and all of that together, all those digital tools working in harmony, has allowed loss adjusters to focus our expertise and experience on what matters most to customers – getting their claim settled quickly and fairly.
There are some out there who fear that technology, including drones, is a threat to loss adjusting but at McLarens, we see all the digital tools we use as a huge boon – not just to policyholders and insurers but to us too, as a business and as individuals.
Will loss adjusters have a decreasing role to play in low level, low value claims as this technology becomes more prevalent? Probably, over time.
There’s no doubting that investment in front end personal engagement on certain cases brings about a more efficient and better customer experience, particularly for sectors of society such as the aged, vulnerable, and less IT savvy who benefit human contact over technology. But at the lower end of claim values, technology will enable a greater proportion of claims to be managed on a desktop or automated basis and we will see a greater focus on lifecycle reduction.
The secret will be in finding the right balance and ensuring that those claims that require the attendance of an adjuster due to size, complexity or a particular nuance, do find their way to a suitable expert to guide the claim through to settlement.
Far better to focus our energies, our expertise and the technology at our disposal on the larger, more complex and potentially more costly claims. The claims where we can really show the value of what we do. Whilst technology is no doubt assisting and bringing efficiency, it will not deliver the empathy or the innovative loss mitigation solutions that a good adjuster brings to such situations.
I don’t think there is any question that the increased use of technology in loss adjusting is a positive, for every party involved. For McLarens, the only real question is: where the next piece of tech is coming from and can it improve the way we work?
Rebecca Jones and her partner realised the commercial potential of drones, but, as she tells Martin Friel, it needed a leap of faith before their high-flying business could take off.
Drones, those little machines we see buzzing above parks and fields across the UK, have something of an unsavoury reputation. Whether it’s as dealers of remote death in the Afghan and Iraqi wars or causing huge disruption at Gatwick airport, people, understandably, are nervous about them and what they might be doing up there.
But love them or loathe them, drones are increasing in popularity across the country with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) estimating there are around 130,000 registered drone operators in the UK, of which, nearly 6,000 are commercial.
Now that Storm Francis has finally subsided our pilots are beginning to see instructions coming through around the UK and we will be inspecting many damaged properties over the next few days. From initial analysis we are seeing everything from fairly standard domestic roof damage claims through to more serious and larger Commercial property claims. Our first set of media will be available for our instructing client this afternoon which will be less than 24 hours from when we were first appointed. We’re always happy to help our insurance clients in getting their own customers back in shape.
If you need our support please call us on 0114 4055 007 or 0114 2541 250.
The world of insurance broking can be cut-throat where every client win and reduction in premium counts, says Aston Lark’s head of claims and risk management, Richard Graham. But by embracing tech and, in particular, drones, he is confident that Aston Lark can steal a march on competitors.
Standing out from the crowd as a broker can be tough, despite what anyone might think. There are a finite number of businesses out there to be insured and every single one of them are looking for the best terms while keeping costs down wherever they can. And they will go with the broker most likely to provide both.
As we progress through a hardening market, the challenge for the broker becomes even more acute which is why at Aston Lark, we are always looking for ways to differentiate ourselves with clients and insurers alike.
Our fundamental approach is to ensure that each and every one of our clients receives an Aston Lark level of service, regardless of who they are insured with. That means taking more responsibility for the services provided – as well as come up with our own innovative solutions. We want to take all the good stuff that insurers and loss adjusters do and do it ourselves but with a level of consistency that cannot be delivered by anyone but Aston Lark.
One of the most exciting and innovative ways in which we are doing that is in our use of drones. They have gained a strong foothold in the claims arena in recent years as they have shown just what they are capable of during surge storm events and in large, complex losses.
But the industry has been slow to explore their use in risk management and that is exactly where Aston Lark is headed. We have a large property book and these clients often struggle to provide the information on their properties that insurers would like to have.
For example, one of our clients is a large printing firm with huge premises, some of which were built 200 years ago. They were struggling to provide certain information to insurers as there was a good deal of uncertainty over the integrity of the roof as they simply hadn’t been able to access it properly for a number of years.
We suggested that we send up a drone to take a look and the 3D interactive model that was produced from the raw data allowed them to identify trouble spots and put in place a plan to fix them. This in turn also enabled them to satisfy the insurers requirements.
“It’s not just the clients who benefit – that value extends to insurers too”
This is one example, but we are convinced many of our clients would benefit hugely from the same service which is why we are about to launch a drone-powered risk management service to our client base.
It is not just the clients who benefit – that value extends to insurers too. Underwriters are constantly seeking more and more information about a risk and that appetite is only increasing in a hard market. Insurers can afford to be choosy and that choosiness is only satisfied by hard data.
They are always on the lookout for anything that can reduce their indemnity spend post loss so the pre-loss data that the 3D model provides them is hugely beneficial, not just for large risks, but smaller ones too.
For desktop building valuations, we use the drone data to provide our clients with an reinstatement cost assessment that provides insurers with the confidence they need to forego the average clause that’s usually inserted into a buildings policy as they are given a view of a risk that is reasonably close to a traditional boots-on-the-ground survey.
To be able to remove that clause provides a huge amount of comfort for clients where underinsurance is still a huge concern.
As I say, we are still in the early stages of appreciating the full application of drones in insurance, but the prospects are exciting to say the least.
Drone data and the way it is presented helps our clients manage the maintenance of their assets in a more sustainable way, allows insurers to offer better terms based on more granular detail and both of these things give Aston Lark a distinct advantage as we head into a hard market.
How long that advantage lasts will depend upon the speed at which other brokers pick up on this but in the meantime, Aston Lark will continue to seek out new tools and new approaches to ensure our clients are getting the terms and service they need.
One of the industry’s most enthusiastic early adopters of drone technology, Zurich Insurance saw that drones can get places humans can’t and get there quicker too.
So, when Zurich’s UK Chief Claims Officer, David Nichols had a personal roof damage claim, he was keen to see if drones delivered what he thought they did.
And here he gives us some insight from a unique perspective – a claims director experiencing the claims service firsthand.
As a claims director, you want to be pretty confident that your teams are delivering a top notch service and that the customer experience is always excellent but there is no greater test of your service than being ‘fortunate’ enough to experience claims services yourself. I have to say that everything was what I hoped it would be!
Anyway, the claim went smoothly but the bit I was particularly interested in experiencing was some new technology we have introduced to our claims service – drones.
We started using them because we thought it sounded like a great idea. Of course, the decision-making was more detailed than that but in essence, we have been looking for everything and anything that can speed up and smooth out the claims process for customers and drones seemed to be a simple, cost-effective way of doing that.
The obvious, immediate use is in claims where we can’t access the site such as in major floods or fires. Drones provide immediate access, but they also provide detailed imagery, measurements and a host of other data, putting our claims teams on the front foot.
It speeds up our processes and brings the customer closer to a clear decision, either way, in hours rather than weeks.
But there is an added benefit to using drones – customer engagement. The ability to share images of the damage with a customer and being able to explain next steps immediately provides reassurance and we are able to bring the customer into the claims conversation in a way we haven’t been able to before. Images provide the immediate truth of a situation.
More than that, this approach can also bring the customer’s knowledge of their business or property into play to help us allocate resources in the most effective way. For example, we had a factory fire earlier this year. By using the images captured by the drone, the client was able to indicate to us the location of their machinery, what parts of the operation were critical and what parts could wait. This allowed us to shape our response in a more informed and targeted way.
All of this makes using drones in claims a bit of a no-brainer for me. The clincher was when I experienced it for myself through a personal claim. My roof was damaged in the storms this year and obviously the extent of the damage had to be understood before the claim could go any further.
A drone was deployed within days of registering the claim. Within an hour of the drone being on site, I was shown imagery of the damage by the drone operator who then explained the next steps to me.
I did not have to wait for scaffolding to be set up or a cherry picker to be deployed. I was also brought into the conversation surrounding my claim at the earliest stage. It was fast, completely unobtrusive and I felt included in the process. Exactly the kind of experience I hoped drones would bring to our customers.
This is only scratching the surface though. Drones capture a huge amount of detailed data and I see no reason why this can’t be deployed more widely such as with the building estimation tools that we all use. Any process that can be automated to create a better customer experience has to be embraced.
And why stop at claims? There are obvious applications in a broad range of services, and we will continue to explore these. Imagine a process where we have the detailed drone data at policy inception stage and detailed drone data at the claim stage? Those data sets can ‘speak’ to each other, giving greater clarity, faster decision making and greater levels of transparency for all parties.
We can do that. The tools are there. As individual firms and as an industry, we just need to have the foresight and the confidence to use them to their full extent. What started as a “why not?” at Zurich is now a “where next?”.
“There’s a way to do it better – find it.” This quotation is widely attributed to the inventor and businessman Thomas Edison, but for businesses throughout the insurance sector, this has become an underlying mantra as they rapidly adopt new working practices and digital technologies during the COVID-19 lockdown. The long-term nature of such changes and the impact they may have on traditional means of doing business is still unknown but the speed with which the sector has responded has been widely praised.
When it comes to the new technologies being employed by insurers and brokers, most have been pre-existing services which were available but not utilised prior to the lockdown. From Zoom to Teams to the use of drone technologies, COVID-19 has encouraged the insurance sector, which has often contended with the label of being slow to innovate, to embrace new solutions.
Rebecca Jones (pictured above), owner and co-founder of the drone services provider, Iprosurv, noted that while, from a financial services perspective, insurance has lingered behind in terms of digitisation there is clearly new momentum. Insurance businesses are starting to embed tech processes into their business models, and this has evidently been accelerated by the lockdown.
“We’re seeing parts of the supply chain suddenly being forced to use tech services,” she said. “And previously they tended to be wary or apprehensive about these services or just to dabble with them as opposed to making them a fundamentally integrated process.
“It used to be a case of ‘we’ll try every other way we can do it first, and then we’ll adopt a tech perspective.’ [The lockdown] has been of benefit because the preconceptions about drones and tech in general have often been indifferent at best, and negative at worst, but now our clients have been in a position of being able to see what [these services] can really do.”
Jones outlined how Iprosurv, which is approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), is something of a pioneer in the drone services sector in terms of its insurance applications. Since its start-up in 2014, the business has seen dramatically increased demand for its drone inspection services and a definite uptick in the market in terms of adopting this technology. Iprosurv’s national network of individual commercial operators deploy drones on demand throughout the UK and offer a variety of services from damage assessment to risk management analysis.
The drone is the ‘tool in the box’, she said, capable of quickly capturing data and digital imagery which can be analysed to form a report. The range of applications of these technologies is vast and, for clients during the lockdown, this is an opportunity to explore alternative solutions so they have the data necessary to progress their claims or create risk management surveys on certain structures.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Iprosurv worked with the CAA as it identified that it would need to make site safety assurances and implement changes to the ways in which it communicated with its clients. There is some apprehension from a policyholder’s perspective regarding people entering their property during COVID-19 as they may be self-isolating, and so the hands-off approach has been useful.
By ensuring that all contact regarding an inspection is carried out prior to the site-visit, she said, the business is able to ensure that drone pilots operate in sheer isolation, and that there is no interaction from a policyholder’s perspective and minimal contact with the associated site.
“One of the biggest challenges that we have is getting people to dip their toe into new services,” she said. “There has been a little bit of apprehension in terms of what drones can do and what data will be received and whether or not it will be good enough. But what we find is that once clients have used the technology, they like it and their feedback is amazing and they are asking themselves why they didn’t use it sooner.
“It’s difficult to find positives out of this pandemic but as a digital and tech-enabled provider, this crisis has forced the industry to embrace and experience new technologies and the way they can help the customer experience and how, from the customer’s perspective, these solutions can help facilitate faster and more enhanced decision making. That is a real positive and I would like to see that the industry as a whole really embrace tech moving forward.”
If you had asked a farmer five years ago how they use drones to manage their land, they would have given you some very puzzled looks.
Today, however, most agriculturalists are thinking about using them.
After all, drones offer the promise of precision agriculture, in which micro-level data is gathered to enhance decision-making. Which farmer wouldn’t want to know exactly what their crops need at any given moment: the amount of water, quantity and formula of fertilizer, or type of pesticide?
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are quickly becoming indispensable tools for farmers who want to be more efficient in the field and make better-informed decisions. As a result, agriculture is now one of the fastest-growing markets in the commercial drone industry.
Over the past few years, a burgeoning ecosystem of ag-specific drone solutions has emerged to put aerial data to work in new and exciting ways – from detecting crop damage to analysing stand counts.
Speed is often of the essence in farming, with diseases and invasive species capable of spreading quickly. A small problem could turn into something much more serious in the days – sometimes weeks – it takes to schedule and process imagery from a manned aircraft or satellite.
The rapid deployment capability of drones, however – plus their range and speed – mean farmers can get a high-resolution map of their land in a matter of minutes.
What we can do for you
Iprosurv has a network of specialist drone pilots around the UK and can provide you with agricultural reports to help maintain your land. Our drones can collect information such as:
Overall crop and plant health
Land distribution based on crop type
Detailed GPS maps of crop areas
Put simply, we can help you maximise your land and resource use and determine the best planting locations.
From crop monitoring and planting to livestock management, crop spraying, irrigation mapping, and much more, our high-tech drones can help you improve yields, save time, and make decisions that will contribute to the long-term success of your farm or agriculture business.