Future of Inspections

Inspections have changed over time and they continue to change with advances in technology. There are a lot of trends and buzzwords being used right now that have the potential to impact how inspections are performed in the future. We’ve all heard of these buzzwords but understanding what they mean at a basic level may be a bit challenging, so we’re going to walk you through the latest trends, discuss their strengths and make you aware of their pitfalls and things to consider. 

Trends include:
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Analytics and Big Data
  • Drones
  • Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT is a giant network of things/devices that are connected to the internet.[1] These devices collect and exchange data using sensors, making them into “live objects” where the data can provide an understanding of what’s going on with the device. The data collected can be shown on a dashboard to deepen this understanding and can be used for a variety of reasons. The number of connected devices is increasing at an exponential rate. Gartner, an IT research and advisory company, predicts that there'll be over 26 billion connected devices by 2020 – that’s a lot of data being collected![2] Businesses are looking to adopt IoT as ways to lower operating costs and increase productivity.

What does this mean for inspections? Newer solutions like NFC technology are the start of IoT in inspections. NFC allows equipment to come “alive” and its data can be displayed on useful dashboards to deepen the understanding of what’s going on with the asset – i.e. does it require service, what is the manufacturer information, when was it last inspected, what month is the device most likely to experience a deficiency etc. As technology advances, becomes cheaper and security risks are reduced, more and more companies will look for IoT solutions.

Analytics and Big Data

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” - Edwards Deming and Peter Drucker.

Studies show that companies that are data-driven perform better financially and operationally; they are also more productive and profitable than their competitors.[3] When you are able to measure, you are empowered to know more about your business and make more informed, rational decisions which leads to better performance.

There are two main types of analytics for inspections: portfolio and predictive.

Portfolio analytics track the pieces of equipment, their locations within a building as well as the value of these assets.

Predictive analytics help forecast the future needs of a building’s equipment, such as when inspections and maintenance are required and their associated costs.

What’s the difference between analytics and big data? Big data is similar to analytics but there’s much more of it. Big data comes from diverse sources, allowing you to retrieve unique patterns that you didn’t even know were connected.[3] Big data requires more storage, memory, processing and bandwidth etc. due to its large size but as technology advances these system requirements are becoming more cost effective. The biggest issue with big data is people don’t know what to do with that much data.

Inspection methods using technology like NFC have the capability to provide both portfolio and predictive analytics. They also have the capability to use big data but like most industries, inspections haven’t tapped into how to use the information collected from big data yet. Over the next 10 years, companies will become more comfortable collecting and analyzing inspection analytics and big data, allowing them to make more informed business decisions.


Drones are unmanned vehicles that can fly in the air. This past holiday season, drones were an extremely popular tech gadget for consumer use but slowly industry applications are being witnessed in the news – for example, Amazon has been testing drones for package delivery; Domino’s delivered their first pizza via drone and not-for-profit organizations are using drones to deliver survival supplies and medicine in war-torn areas. It is expected that industry use of drones will dramatically increase in the near future.

The use of drones to complete inspections is in the conceptual stage but is a very interesting and realistic solution especially for dangerous or confined spaces. Each drone would be programmed to know what and when to inspect. If the drone identified a problem, it would be able to document and notify the right staff members to ensure deficiencies are corrected.
We’ve been testing out drones ourselves. So far our experience with drones is that they are hard to maneuver, have a short flying time, require extensive programming and of course, come with security issues. Despite that, we think its industry application will soar in the next 10 years as these issues are worked out.   

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

There’s virtual reality and augmented reality – most people think they are the same thing but they're not.

Virtual reality creates a virtual world that users can interact with through the use of equipment such as goggles or helmets.[4] It’s an immersive world that cannot interact with the users’ surroundings. This type of technology is awesome for gaming but its application within the industry is limited at this time due to the lack of real-time environment interaction.

Augmented reality, or mixed reality, blends real life and virtual reality.[5] Users are able to interact with virtual components within the real world. Augmented reality is more applicable to the industry and inspections for this reason. For example, Microsoft is already working on a product called Hololens smart glasses that uses mixed reality to allow construction inspectors to identify structural issues in buildings and bridges from miles away.[6]

Augmented or mixed reality would be a great tool for inspections because it could provide a two-way, real-time assistance channel for equipment that requires immediate attention. If an inspector identified extraordinary conditions, he or she could connect with an expert staff member, such as an engineer or manager, who could remotely walk them through how to rectify the issue. Technology like this would dramatically reduce risk and costs by eliminating the need to have experienced staff members on standby 24/7. Although the technology is not there yet, it is expected that its tools will creep into the industry within the next 20 years.

[1] Meola, A. (2016). What is the Internet of Things (IoT)? Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-the-internet-of-things-definition-2016-8
[2] Morgan, J. (2014). A Simple Explanation Of 'The Internet Of Things'. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2014/05/13/simple-explanation-internet-things-that-anyone-can-understand/#745d0e168284
[3] McAfee, A. and Brynjolfsson, E. (2012). Big Data: The Management Revolution. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/10/big-data-the-management-revolution
[4] McKalin, V. (2014). Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: What are the differences and similarities? Retrieved from http://www.techtimes.com/articles/5078/20140406/augmented-reality-vs-virtual-reality-what-are-the-differences-and-similarities.htm
[5] Diaz, R. (2016). Augmented Reality Versus Virtual Reality: The Battle Is Real. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2016/01/04/ar-vs-vr-the-battle-is-real/
[6] Clark, J. (2017). Microsoft Hololens set to bring mixed reality to construction. Retrieved from http://www.cbronline.com/4th-revolution/microsoft-hololens-used-construction/