UCS creates sustainable connected communities with a focus on the future

underground cable service, the venture magazineIt’s a sign of the times: Electricity consumers are becoming more aware of the importance of renewable energy, and the benefits it brings to our lives and to the planet. For UCS Group (UCS), that sign is leading them to new horizons of sustainability, where solar power and forms of renewable energy are rising to take their place amongst conventional sources of electricity.

You might say that UCS is slipping the bonds of earth. Until recently, UCS was commonly known as Underground Cable Systems — a fine descriptor for its core work in underground electrical infrastructure — but that name is a bit limiting, as the Bendigo, Victoria-based firm reaches to the sky.

We recently chatted with Stephen Ellich, company CEO, to learn about the motivation for this transformation, and what we can expect for the organisation’s future. “A key aspect of sustainability is in finding ways to generate, store, and consume energy more efficiently with a greater reliance on the sun, wind, or other natural sources,” he explained. “To do this, Australia needs organisations that have the capacity and capability to create opportunities for innovative solutions to be deployed. UCS is one of these organisations.”

The company’s expertise in utility network connection, high voltage infrastructure, project management, design, and logistics, paired with the capacity to support large scale rollouts across Australia, puts UCS on the leading edge of service provision. “The combination of people, plant, technology and property assets creates a compelling deployment partner for any organisation wanting to deploy at scale. It is the ability to apply Tier 1 electrical contracting, safety, on time delivery, with high quality, and all at scale that differentiates UCS from others,” he stressed. “Our five-year vision is for UCS to be Australia’s leading urban development utility services contractor.”

underground cable service, the venture magazineWith revenues exceeding $100 million that are expected to at least double by 2024, we’d say this large Tier 1 contractor is well on its way to achieving that lofty goal. UCS offers design, construction, and project management services on all projects; their services cover high voltage/low voltage electrical infrastructure, NBN telecommunications infrastructure, and commercial solar.

At present, UCS employs roughly 160 employees and 30 specialised contractors, which Ellich expects to increase to 250 by year’s end.  Later this year, the firm will be expanding into northern NSW and south-eastern Queensland.

Literally and figuratively, UCS is miles away from their starting point as a regional contractor servicing Western Victoria. “The company was founded in 1995 on the premise of filling the gap where the service offering from utilities was not meeting the delivery requirements of property developers. Initially that was in providing HV/LV underground infrastructure, including kiosk substations and street lighting, and this customer service principle is still true today,” Ellich reported.

“It is important that the organisation’s purpose, brand identity, customer value proposition, and strategic direction work together, providing a path for growth. To be clear, there was fundamentally nothing wrong to fix with the original branding of UCS,” he affirmed. “However, over time the organisation has changed in relation to its geographical coverage, the markets it participates in, how it partners on opportunities and its service offering to customers. So this year, with our solar business going national and with our ever expanding depot/office footprint, it was time to refresh and modernise the strong brand of UCS and to create a brand that will take the company to its vision.”

He added, “UCS is a high-growth business, which provides opportunities for our people to develop and thrive. The real opportunities for UCS are in our geographic and service line expansion and seeing our people step up and grab the opportunities that present themselves.”

“I am really looking forward to bringing to the market some opportunities that will enliven our purpose. That is, sustainability focused solutions for urban communities. I believe that the technology and pricing is reaching the point with innovative solar products, combined with storage solutions will change the ways whole communities generate and consume energy. UCS is working with technology partners to find ways to bring these ideas into our current customer base.”

Connective Tissue

underground cable service, the venture magazineThese days, customer experience is key to the success of every business, and UCS is no exception. With a strategic focus on both operational excellence and customer centricity, the company aims to improve outcomes across the board. As Ellich put it, “Over the past year, our whole team has worked hard to create improved outcomes for our customers. That is, to give our customers a great experience of UCS each time. This is a multi-faceted approach. To grow a business, it is important to focus on the three areas of people, processes, and technology. Having all three in focus will improve the chances of success.”

To that end, Ellich and his team documented all of their existing processes to identify challenges and areas of improvement, especially when it came to streamlining workflows. “We then drafted the ideal ‘to be’ process maps and proceed to work towards these. The IT system transformation project has been an enabler of this change. By leveraging our systems, we have been able to increase throughput volume by around 50 per cent without a significant change in fixed overheads.”

Being on a high-growth path towards becoming a national provider has necessitated updates of systems, tools, platforms, and certifications. In 2018, UCS’s systems received ISO 9001 Quality, ISO 14001 Environmental, and AS/NZS 4801 Safety certification. They chose the Microsoft Dynamics business management suite, with Upvise from Kontrol4, with PowerBI as a reporting overlay.

“The transformation was recently completed with projects now arriving electronically from customers and flowing end-to-end in our systems with no physical handoffs and virtually eliminating paper from the processes. We are now exploring ways we can provide greater project data access to our customers through a secure customer portal. Our next steps will involve building out the customer portal and exploring the use of machine learning and AI to automate some process.”

Changes are happening on the people side of the business, as well. Ellich pointed out that changes in strategy and technology have equipped the team with renewed purpose, clarity, and alignment. “Over the past year, I have tried to improve the gender balance in UCS. We are getting to 50/50 in the office, but the field is a real challenge. This will remain a focus area for me,” he added.

“UCS is a great place to work, and we want to focus on improving it where possible. The culture at UCS is simply amazing and it is possibly the only company I have worked in where the company genuinely respects and appreciates the workforce, and this is in turn reciprocated by the workforce to the company.”

“As the CEO, I feel that our people enjoy delivering for our customers through our values. It is terrific to get a sense of our purpose being enlivened through our people and their actions every day. Being a high-growth and innovative company is not easy and it places a heavy toll on people’s time, at times. I am regularly inspired daily by the efforts and character of our people and what they do to ensure that we don’t let our customer down. I am very appreciative of our dedicated people, as well as the ongoing support of our loyal customers.”

While they still do the superior underground work that built their reputation, UCS isn’t planning on looking down. They’re way too busy moving forward and looking up.