Astonishing as it may seem, oftentimes in business there are noticeable attempts at halting progress within a particular industry by the very people who specialize in it. Resistance to change, albeit selfishly impractical, can be attributed to insecurity and the need for self-preservation by those who benefit the most in continuing with conventional methods. Whether it is the intimidation of having to learn a new way of thinking – and working – or whether it is fueled by greed in an effort to keep hold of more expensive billable methodologies, resistance to change is in fact quite real. PCC Group of Calgary is one such company with a pioneering spirit and fortitude that dares to buck those stale, outdated conventional methods in order to provide improved, more cost-effective business solutions for its clients.
PCC Group is Western Canada’s leading designer and integrator for plug and play low-voltage IP solutions; including modular data cabling, multimedia integration, audio visual, sound masking and mass notification systems. Quite simply, PCC offers immediate value and savings to project implementations and sustainability, resulting in the best return on investment for clients with systems that are scalable, reconfigurable and 100% reusable to offer unparalleled sustainability for the people and companies they serve.
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with PCC Group CEO Peter Crawley about the successful inroads his innovative company has been able to attain as it celebrates its 10th anniversary this August.
Initially part of the UK banking industry with CitiBank and Barclay’s Network Operations Divisions, Crawley started in this industry while still living in London, providing firstly conventional services and later pre-terminated plug and play structured cabling. At that time the company was named PC Cabling, because most of the work was cabling to personal computers. It’s mere coincidence that the initials match up with that of the founder. When Crawley began operations here in Canada there was a certain level of confusion about the name, with many people assuming they were dealing with a cable TV company, and so inquiries would be made about the channels they carried. In order to mitigate the confusion, the business partners made the decision to go with just the initials PCC.
“It was a case where we’d already built up some momentum and people knew who we were in the marketplace so we didn’t want to change our name completely,” Crawley tells us.
The initial intent for the business model when Crawley opened operations in Calgary was for his company to set up as a consulting and design house in 2005. But that soon changed for a variety of reasons, some more surprising than others.
“It took about 18 months to understand there was an underlying hesitancy to look at new solutions. A lot of the big players in the electrical market were not so much interested in new innovations and how to do things a bit smarter, but in fact what they wanted to do was sell labour,” he recalls. “They wanted more technicians and engineers in the field and so when we came along with labour-saving opportunities and pre-fabricated modular solutions there was quite a bit of resistance to that.”
As a method of delivering more efficient, cost-effective measures for its clients, PCC Group has the ability to provide end to end IT modular solutions, from design specification consulting, procurement of product, full installation and ongoing maintenance thereafter. The company initially entered the market with a couple of intriguing solutions. One of them was IT cabling and the other was a sound masking system. Everything offered is plug and play, which means it’s all predesigned and factory prefabricated with the lion’s share of the work done ahead of time. The onsite workforce is greatly reduced with very little work required onsite, resulting in de-risking projects and taking labour intensive tasks offsite. That right there is why Crawley’s company has been faced with significant resistance by those who want to keep labour numbers where they have always been, in spite of the fact there is cold hard evidence that such outdated methods are no longer necessary.
One of the most challenging aspects of breaking through into this competitive industry was the need to change the culture that has been so deeply engrained for decades. The traditional way of doing business, while less efficient and more costly for the end user, was something that had always been done, so there has been a lot of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality. Trying to break that stubborn mold has been anything but easy. In fact, it became evident to Crawley and his executive team that there really was only one logical way to proceed due to continued resistance in the marketplace.
“We realized the only way we were going to bring value to clients was to go out and do the whole thing ourselves from start to finish,” he says. “We have had fantastic feedback from some very sophisticated buyers within Alberta’s leading corporations, who were all saying that what we were doing made perfect sense and it would bring value to them.”
A major breakthrough for PCC Group came in 2007 when the company’s first big project was to fit-out a building called Livingston Place for Provident Energy. Crawley’s team was entrusted with 250,000 square feet of real estate. Delivery was on time and on budget. The key, as Crawley mentions, is to establish a level of trust with your clients and the best way to accomplish that is to deliver as promised – providing excellent modular solutions.
“We’ve forged closer links with the engineering and design practices – joining them at the higher professional level – so many big companies invite us to the consulting table now. We sit with their design teams and the engineers and help them to engineer in value. It’s not just a cabling solution that we offer but rather it’s a full suite of products that carry the same method of deployment,” he says. “The structured cabling, sound masking, AV and media collaboration are some of those aspects that have moved into the plug and play arena, which is a perfect fit for us.”
Progressive thinking by some companies in knowing they need to embrace modular solutions has resulted in their being able to accommodate change-outs far more effectively. In a modular setup, every component is flexible and sustainable, so space can be reconfigured at the drop of a hat. With so many movements in the marketplace, this type of value-added solution is pure gold for companies.
“Clients not only make use of our solutions but they have made us part of their national design team,” Crawley says. “A great example is a national accounting firm, one of the largest in Canada rolling out a fully modular office infrastructure. They’ve got about 1 million square feet of real estate and we just completed two projects in Ontario and another one in Burlington on the go right now. We’re also in Vancouver and Saskatoon, delivering our full suite of products as a national rollout. The client is on record as saying their fit-out projects are in the low $70 per square foot delivered, while conventional is typically $90 plus – so it’s proven to be cheaper to do it on a modular basis than conventional.”
When PCC Group put their prices forward for some major organizations, those large companies in turn enlisted the advice of independent cost consultants to measure how PCC’s methods would actually stack up. This evaluation would not only assess the delivery of the initial project but with respect to ongoing ownership costs. Upon receiving a thumbs-up from each of those independent consultants, a number of large corporations have since decided to climb on board with the modular way of doing things.
Statements like “no brainer” are often shared with proof that it will in fact provide a massive return on investment and lower the cost of ownership. It’s something the critics try to verbally shoot down, but simply cannot dispute with any form of tangible evidence.
Word of mouth is always an important factor for obtaining new business. With no direct marketing or sales, other than his own people, Crawley estimates about 75% of the work PCC Group carries through the door is based on referrals from other companies who have been impressed with the results provided to them. The largest IT consulting company in Calgary is moving its headquarters, and that particular project came to PCC purely as a result of work they had already been doing in the same building.
Supported by an excellent referral from the previous tenant, the modular infrastructure is being redeployed to meet the space planning of the new occupant.
“We know we offer the best products in terms of being able to deliver service that will give people an excellent return on investment and lower the cost of ownership without having to pay a premium for it,” Crawley says. “That’s the starting point for most of our customers. For us as a business, because we are using pre-terminated, prefabricated products, the assembly is done at the factory level and is 100% tested, so we know we are delivering a working product. With the conventional method, whether it’s the cabling in the field or the audio-visual or the sound masking, there is a high exposure to human error and that means risk.”
The bottom line is that PCC Group is able to reduce the required labour needed onsite by about 75%. For example, to cable a 20,000-square foot floor of a building would typically require four technicians for four weeks on a conventional basis. PCC will finish the same job in one week.
“As a team, we are much more productive with our workforce and I can redeploy those guys very quickly, allowing us to cut through our projects at a great rate. We’ve typically multiple teams of three to four techs covering projects up to 80,00 square feet in a month each and they are essentially kept busy all the time. We’re in growth mode at the moment and recruiting again,” Crawley says.
In an effort to keep everyone engaged and excited about what they do at work, PCC Group makes it a core objective to have all of its employees learn and cross train on all platforms of the business.
“As far as the technicians are concerned, they would originally come in with whatever particular skills they have. Because everything we do is plug and play, our main effort is the upfront in-house design work. We don’t just want technicians; we encourage training to designer, project management and programmer level. I don’t want to deny anybody an opportunity in our business,” Crawley says.
Analog to Digital
There have essentially been two recent fundamental steps in moving away from analog and into digital.
The first was with voice technology coming off the old PBX systems and migrating to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phones. That evolution helped with the infrastructure movement again, with people recognizing the value, and where the integrity of the cabling was required to be top-notch. About 18 months ago there was a step on the audio-visual side where designing and installing analog was basically abandoned with the industry migrating fully into the digital arena. This was a natural progression for PCC in that the company had already undertaken a considerable amount of time and effort in preparing for that event. The older legacy analog systems are very complicated. A move to digital simplifies the system architecture and frees a customer from outdated and extensive support of outdated legacy products.
“The beauty of AV moving into the IP arena the way it is now is that all the components are standardized and modular, making it much simpler to deploy and operate,” Crawley remarks. “Our goal is to educate the end users and explain in very simple terms to people what is happening with their audio-visual or data and show them that if it’s designed correctly it will look after them for a long time to come.”
Crawley and PCC Group have deliberately turned their backs on conventionality, choosing to be 100% committed to modular methods that bring the most value to their clients. Plug and play systems and modular technologies bring pre-terminated, prefabricated solutions to the table, where every product is reusable, reconfigurable and sustainable. Despite receiving numerous offers, the experts at PCC have consistently refused to go down a conventional path. For Crawley and his employees, it’s all about building long-lasting relationships based on trust and the most efficient methods of doing business. In addition to that, all projects are quoted inclusive for the products and services PCC Group supplies with no hidden additional costs for labour, products, project management and documentation.
In the conventional fit-out world, the word extras is the norm. “We’ve never once gone back for extra money on anything outside of major changes to the scope to any of our clients,” Crawley confirms.
“When we put a proposal together it shows the scope, products, services and everything that is inclusive.
With a modular setup we can remain flexible in a project right up till the last five minutes, even when the guys are onsite and installing and it’s recognized, for example, that the furniture location must change and it will be flipped over. Because it’s modular and plug and play, it’s very easy for us to make a change right at the last second without us costing the client a penny.”
PCC Group also takes great pride in having a strong commitment to environmental responsibility and support ways to cut down on waste. Typical examples from a project site would be mounds of old cabling that have gone into landfills for decades using the conventional approach.
“People are building modular office solutions that are becoming business assets you can reconstruct and redeploy. One hundred per cent of what we install is reusable,” Crawley emphasizes.
Part of the move to the creation of intelligent buildings is that along with energy-saving efficiency, you can reconfigure the internal assets without any difficulty. An example would be when one tenant leaves the building and another moves in, PCC Group can help them to configure their office IT services that maximizes efficiency for the client.
“If you’re producing product in a factory instead of in the field you are not having off-cuts going to the dump because measured cuts are made and assembled back in the factory, which can then be directly shipped with no wastage other than the packaging. Even that’s been taken care of through recycling,” Crawley notes.
The LEED program has made great strides in helping with environmental design issues with an encouragement to have companies move towards greener, sustainable building methods. It doesn’t dictate the company or products to be used, but rather is intended for architects and designers to follow best practices.
“In the last couple of years the cabling systems, with an emphasis on modular, is being introduced into the LEED program to gain points,” Crawley says.
PCC Group recently opened up an Edmonton office thanks to referrals that reached the northern part of the province from Calgary and Crawley also has further expansion plans in mind.
“We were intending to open our next office in Toronto but Edmonton has become a higher priority because of the number of projects active in the city. The plan is to be in Toronto within the next two years and have five branches across Canada by the year 2020,” he says.
Crawley is committed to continued education and the development of beneficial industry standards and a member and supporter on InfoComm for the advancement of all things audio-visual. He is also a long-standing member of BICSI (Building Industry Consulting Service International), the worldwide association for cabling design and installation professionals. It also certifies cable installers and designers who specialize in complex voice/data cable layouts. Crawley has held the RCDD and NTS accreditation for more than 15 years.
“I’ve been a strong supporter of BICSI for a considerable time,” Crawley mentions. “I think it’s an extremely valuable organization. Unfortunately, not enough people know about it. In the U.S., I don’t think a building ever gets put together without having a BICSI registered designer on the team.”
Excellent employees, quality workmanship, integrity and most of all, building that all-important level of relationship trust is what drives business success. The best way is most often not the easiest way, but in the end it’s definitely the most rewarding. There are times when the words “creativity” and “innovation” are used somewhat interchangeably, but it’s a mistake. Creativity is the thought process that results in new ideas being born, while innovation is about following through and having the wherewithal to bring those conceptual ideas to life. It’s about thinking outside the box and actively broadening horizons.
“You need to dare to be different and dare to add value,” Crawley states. “It’s important for me that people understand we have taken a different path and made a big commitment to stay on the modular path and educate people that there is a better way of doing things.”