James Harrison: The Innovation Interview

James Harrison, Co-Founder & CEO of Sky-Futures shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and the future of drone-enabled data businesses.

In 2006 and 2007 James Harrison served in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as an expert advisor to the US airborne forces. It was here that we saw the potential for UAVs to be used commercially to measure, monitor and inspect dangerous and hard to access infrastructure.

Alongside Chris Blackford a fellow serving army Officer, and Nick Rogers, a certified commercial airline pilot, Sky-Futures was incorporated in 2009 and in January 2011 the company started trading. James leads the overall strategic growth and positioning of Sky-Futures.

He has originated and driven sales and partnerships in 5 continents and has detailed understanding of new market entry. James has a strong understanding of international markets and corporate strategy with a focus on technology led innovation to create long term value and defensibility.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is about understanding how technology can benefit consumers or an industry and then applying it in a way that creates a clear value proposition.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

More mature industries typically have a risk-averse attitude and a view of ‘this is how we’ve always done it.’ Great recent examples include taxis e.g. Uber and retail e.g. ASOS.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

‘Don’t believe your own hype.’ There is always someone better, smarter and harder working, it may just be that you’re in the right place at the right time. It’s really important to be true to yourself and recognize that.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

Professionally it’s being a part of Sky-Futures and helping to shape a can-do culture where the team continually outperform. Personally, it’s cycling unsupported from Vancouver to Mexico down the West Coast of the USA for charity in 18 days.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital for daily use. Physical books are a luxury for holiday.

What are some of the strategic advantages for owning and operating Sky-Futures in the United Kingdom?

By being based in London we have access to the best and brightest European talent, without having to directly compete with Silicon Valley. The UK has fantastic global trade links and, being a smaller country, increases the requirement to export from an early stage.

When working on a remote offshore oil rig, which technologies is Sky-Futures using to ensure that UAV’s can broadcast HD video in real-time without a delay?

We are working with existing technologies such as standard 5.8ghtz transmission to the ground control station and real time to first person view goggles.

Which new technologies or services are you planning to integrate into is Sky-Future’s bespoke technology inspection platform?

Gas detection and laser measurement are the first two products to be integrated into the technology inspection platform. They are in beta test with clients now and will be commercially available in the next couple of months.

As a Senior Consultant at Deloitte, what was your greatest takeaway and how were you able to use that knowledge to help you build and scale Sky-Futures?

I was really lucky to work in the strategy practice and undertook individual month long projects evaluating lots of different types of businesses and business models. Seeing first hand common mistakes and examples of where companies have scaled quickly has certainly helped with the strategic planning and focus for Sky-Futures.

What is the future of UAV’s and how will you position Sky-Futures to benefit from this trend?

The future of UAVs will see segmentation of different types of hardware servicing specific markets as opposed to the ‘one model fits all’ approach today. Also the increasing role of automation and sensor technology will increase the size and sophistication of the drone data sets. Sky-Futures are a drone-enabled data business; therefore, as UAVs proliferate and segment we will be uniquely positioned to work with various drone data sets providing high value analysis for businesses.