Taking a lift from drones to stand out from the crowd

Taking a lift from drones to stand out from the crowd

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.

Posted in Drone Tech

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The outsider tasked with taking drones mainstream

We recently caught up with Graham Brown, CEO of drone trade body ARPAS, to talk about the future of commercial drones, the acceptance of their benefits in the business world and what ARPAS is doing to ‘normalise’ their presence in all our lives.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to recognise the opportunity in a market and, more importantly, help realise that opportunity.

Drones tend to be viewed in the extremes – either as a hobby toy or as military hardware. And while they are both, they are increasingly making their presence felt in the commercial world. While these inroads are more like footpaths (relative to the opportunity) the commercial application of drone technology is growing all the time, supported by the Association of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (ARPAS).

Headed up by industry-outsider Graham Brown, ARPAS is the non-profit professional body and trade association for the commercial drone market, focusing its energies on raising awareness of drones in business and engaging with regulators and Government to create the necessary physical and regulatory infrastructure to allow them to flourish.

While his professional background is in finance and technology rather than the drone community, Graham has become a rapid and keen convert.

“ARPAS is the not for profit trade association looking after the drone economy and ecosystem and when I joined, they were looking for someone who would be completely unbiased and work with all sectors of the market and Government,” says Graham.

His business background and his collaborative approach puts Graham in an excellent position to take a practical (but passionate) view of the role drones will play in all our lives.

“Drones are tools in the commercial world, and they happen to be very flexible. But one of the main reasons I believe every business should look at them is that if you have people working at height, or people working in hazardous environments, you have a responsibility to consider using a drone.”

“If you had someone working for you who fell from a height, injuring themselves or worse, and a drone could have done that job …” He drifts off letting the sentiment speak for itself.

“In most use cases drones will be safer, faster, cheaper, and often greener than the current alternatives”

For Graham, it is a no-brainer that businesses of all shapes and sizes, up and down the country, should be exploring the use of drones, particularly where workers are at height or in a hazardous environment. The question needs to be asked “Can that task be achieved by a drone and avoid the risk of working at height?” For many inspection tasks, the answer will be yes.

In most use cases drones will be safer, faster, cheaper, and often greener than the current alternatives. Beyond the obvious safety benefits, he says there are four key areas where drones are being or will be used extensively over the coming years.

“The number one use today is in data capture, using drones in surveys and inspections to collect all the necessary information,” he says.

“This includes their extensive use in construction, civil engineering, oil and gas, utilities, news reporting, media and film. The list is nearly endless and already impacts our lives, but we are still only at the start of the journey.”

The second area is the transportation of people via air taxis and buses.

“This is often referred to as Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and the intention will be to have services covering local and regional transport that deliver a greener alternative to current options. This won’t happen overnight, but it will happen,” says Graham.

The third area is freight – everything from large unmanned cargo planes to packages being delivered locally to customers and there have been trials of delivering everything from food to vital health supplies around the world. The UK has some of the busiest airspace in the world so ensuring these activities are carried out safely will take some time but again, but Graham is confident it will happen.

The fourth, and most exciting area, is ‘drones that do’. By this Graham means drones that perform a specific task beyond flight such as washing the windows of a high-rise office block or spraying crops in a much more selective, precise manner.

“Think of flying robots that can perform tasks. Those examples are simple but this area will expand as innovation kicks in,” he says.

“We are pushing some boundaries but the key thing we need to focus on is influencing the regulations and legislation”

And it seems that it is not only Graham who is getting excited by the possibilities here. Leeds University has experimented using 3D printers and drones to locate and make small repairs and Michigan State University has tested using a drone to find and replace damaged roof shingles and autonomously make repairs.

“There will be things we haven’t thought of yet, but it is the mix of drones and robotics that will create the market of drones that do,” he says.

But regardless of how drones are currently used or will be in the future, there is, Graham says, one constant: “Drones are faster, safer and cheaper, and often greener.”

His conviction that drones will become an integral part of our everyday lives is persuasive, but it does beg the question as to why we are still waiting for it to become a reality.

The reason for the delay is pretty much why ARPAS exists.

“We are pushing some boundaries but the key thing we need to focus on is influencing the regulations and legislation to focus on the imperatives for the use of drones in the future.

“We have to build some of the wider infrastructure before we can safely have thousands of drones out there. It is about building systems to monitor their use and if we don’t want to be behind the curve, we need to get some of that in place now, with dedicated test areas and proper funding,” he says.

“We are at the very start of the curve with a lot of companies using drones, but they are not using them everywhere”

He says that by engaging with the CAA and Government, ARPAS is helping to establish an environment in which drones can thrive.

“We are getting behind drones but in a way that makes sure their adoption is done in a safe way and where public sentiment is supportive,” he says.

But even if the correct, safe environment is established, businesses themselves have to be convinced of their merits. While various organisations from insurers and construction firms to local authorities and police forces have started using drone technology, it is not yet pervasive. And this, according to Graham, presents a challenge.

“Business buy-in is crucial,” he says, explaining that some still view drones as a toy rather than a business tool.

“The whole appreciation of safer, faster, cheaper hasn’t quite penetrated. We are at the very start of the curve with a lot of companies using drones, but they are not using them everywhere,” he says.

“There are some exceptions, but for most businesses, they are getting some but not all of the benefits.”

He points out that while they are being used effectively by many companies, the emergency services and search and rescue organisations, until the capabilities are integrated across the whole operation, the full benefits will not be realised.

For example, some insurers are using drones in claims, but they are not currently using them in building surveys, a use that also has applications beyond the insurance industry.

“Maintenance teams are usually reactive but by deploying drones, across all the assets they manage, they could get all the external surveys done and analyse the data.

“The comparison between past and current images and data can be reviewed and the exceptions rather than the whole asset base would be the target of preventative maintenance to help drive efficiencies. I appreciate this is a simplified view of the activity, but I hope it makes the point. Opportunities exist for change to deliver safer, faster and cheaper ways of working,” he says.

He adds that it is not until we achieve the extensive use of drones, that we can say we are properly using them.

While Graham and ARPAS relish the challenge of creating the physical and cultural environment that will allow drones to thrive, there is an awareness that the destiny of drones is not entirely in their hands.

“This is not one sector’s problem on its own. To get to the point where drones are used throughout industry, everyone needs to get together to drive this,” says Graham.

Posted in Drone Tech, General Interest, Information

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Building survey case study

For what started out as a niche plaything for flight enthusiasts, the penetration of drones into the commercial world is accelerating at rapid pace.

It’s not just the headline-grabbing Amazon delivery proposal – it’s everything from farming, utilities and insurance to the emergency services, engineering and even acting as a temporary mobile phone mast.

But one area where they are starting to make real inroads, and where the cost effectiveness and accessibility they bring is urgent, is in construction and building, in particular, council-owned buildings.

The anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy has just passed but the work to make tower blocks across the country safe, and avoid a repeat, is still to be completed. This is despite the fact there is a real urgency to inspect the buildings, understand the risk and map out a remediation plan for each one.

It’s not surprising that we find ourselves in this situation. It is a pretty monumental undertaking and the planning alone takes time never mind the practicalities of erecting the scaffolding at each site and getting all the necessary paperwork in place to do so.

The Government has committed £1.6bn to facilitate this remediation work and while that is to be welcomed, some commentators believe the final cost will be much higher.

And when public funds are at stake, it is incumbent upon those responsible for using the funds, to do so in the most cost-effective way possible. Thankfully, councils seem to be acutely aware of this and many are starting to wake up to the possibilities that drones open up for them.

Iprosurv was instructed on an 15 story high rise where the cladding is falling away from the base structure. This is creating obvious health and safety issues but as the cladding falls away, moisture creeps in threatening to compromise the integrity of the building.

To satisfy insurance requirements, the managers of the building had to undertake a thorough inspection of the property to identify and quantify the risk and put a remediation plan in place. For a multitude of reasons, time was of the essence.

Getting the scaffolding up around the building to conduct a detailed inspection would have taken weeks if not months so they looked to other solutions and found Iprosurv.

We were able to secure the area, send a drone up, get detailed imagery of the damage to the façade and, using thermal imagery, pinpoint where moisture had seeped into the fabric of the building.

From this, the client was able to prioritise the remediation and pull together a plan to take to their insurer to ensure that the building could be made safe and satisfy the insurance requirements. And of equal importance, all this was made possible with zero disruption to residents in the building or the surrounding area.

From instruction to delivery of all the data to the client, including a high definition 3D model, took eight days and cost 1% of what it would have cost to erect the scaffolding.

While this is just one instruction on one building in one council on one insurer’s portfolio, if we were to extrapolate those time and fiscal savings across the portfolio of buildings that require inspection, the savings would be monumental.

It is very encouraging to see more and more insurers and councils explore the possibilities of drone technology but for society at large to see the full benefit, we need to get to a position where drones are an integral, normal part of the process, whatever that may be.

Anyone directly involved in the commercial use of drones will recognise the effort it has taken to get them accepted as an integral part of business processes of all types. But increasingly, and particularly in nationwide safety projects such as the Government’s cladding remediation programme, their use starts to look like an urgent no-brainer.

Posted in Drone Tech, General Interest, Information

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The only perspective is the customer perspective

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?”.

Posted in Drone Tech, General Interest, Information, Iprosurv News

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There’s no turning back now

The insurance industry had no choice but to keep operating during the lockdown – the financial regulator made it clear that it expected claims to be processed and settled as normal. How exactly the industry should do that, was less clear. Unsurprisingly, for many, tech was the answer and here, Lisa Bartlett, the UK and Ireland President of loss adjusting firm, Crawford & Co, gives us some insight into what that looked like and what role drones had to play in keeping the claims machine moving.

It is a well-established idea that the more we embrace technology, the more we fear it will make us humans redundant. But what has been a gentle jog towards digital over the past few years, suddenly turned into a sprint during the lockdown.

Those that could, turned digital virtually overnight, having been forced to find new ways to operate and maintain customer service. It has shown many of us just how powerful technology can be and has made us completely rethink how we will work when life returns to ‘normal’.

Does this mean the machines have won?

Not necessarily. There is no doubting that the greater use of tech in insurance and adjusting is here to stay. That’s a given. It’s nothing new anyway – we have been introducing more and more digital processes into our businesses for years but perhaps what the lockdown has forced us to do is to really explore its full capabilities.

Crawford has been able to conduct desktop claims handling for some time now but when the lockdown was introduced, we went remote and digital quickly, across the organisation and it worked. But it also evolved.

For some time now, we have been using an app that allows customers to upload photos of damage to our adjusters to help speed up the claims process. During the lockdown, with no site visits possible, we had to find a new way, so we shifted to video conferencing and while not the same as having a human on site, provided the necessary insight for our adjusters to get a claim moving.

To supplement that, we have been using drones to conduct site visits and again, while this is not new technology for us, the use of it has increased and been applied beyond the traditional uses of flood and major fire events.

The immediate operational use of tech is obvious, but it goes beyond the practical and this is what, despite any reservations, we need to keep exploring. Because it doesn’t just make life easier – if used properly and blended with our technical expertise, it will make us better at what we do.

Take the cameras that drones use, for example. These high definition cameras take a series of NADIR (straight down), oblique and horizontal images, which can then be processed through advanced software to create a 3D interactive ‘digital twin’ model of the site. This permanent record can then be shared with all parties, reducing or even removing the need for repeat visits, with the obvious time savings that provides.

But perhaps more importantly, the data and imaging can be used with clients too, showing them what was found, the damage done, what the likely causes of that damage were and what the remedy might be. It just makes the whole claims process much more transparent for the customer and, indeed, for everyone involved.

And this can only be a good thing. Whatever reservations people may have about technology, I just can’t see Crawford, or anyone else, rowing back and not embracing the advantages it provides. Where there is a clear operational and customer service benefit, it is incumbent upon all of us to use it.

That doesn’t mean that technology is the be all and end all, however. Its full potential can only really be realised when it is properly paired with the technical expertise of adjusters. Indeed, as smart as the tech may be, it still needs the insight and oversight that only an adjuster can provide – drones are flown by a human, the 3D images are interpreted by a human and the adjuster is still making the final call on a claim.

And I think that is biggest operational lesson we can learn from all of this – yes, we are all more digital now but no, that does not need to be to the detriment of humans. It is with an open mind and a determination to explore all the possibilities (while reminding ourselves of our own value), that we will make the real digital leap forward that so many have been predicting for so long.

Posted in Drone Tech, General Interest, Information, Iprosurv News

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https://iprosurv.com/2020/08/10/taking-a-lift-from-drones-to-stand-out-from-the-crowd/Taking a lift from drones to stand out from the crowd

https://iprosurv.com/2020/07/24/the-outsider-tasked-with-taking-drones-mainstream/The outsider tasked with taking drones mainstream

https://iprosurv.com/2020/07/02/building-survey-case-study/Building survey case study

https://iprosurv.com/2020/06/22/the-only-perspective-is-the-customer-perspective/The only perspective is the customer perspective

https://iprosurv.com/2020/06/05/theres-no-turning-back-now/There’s no turning back now