Lanes Group has been entrusted with the impressive and equally daunting task of supplying Thames Water’s waste water infrastructure with repair and maintenance services. This contract makes the company solely responsible for the waste management of roughly 14 million homes or 25 percent of the UK’s population. Living up to this challenge has been a great honour for Lanes and its Utilities MD, Conrad Ashby; the work of the past 12 months stands as a testament to the efficacy of focusing on both customers and workforce simultaneously.

Operations

On the Thames contract alone, Lanes has more than 400 vehicles deployed, with around 270 equipped for specialist drainage applications; on an average day the company completes upwards of 1,000 jobs, as well as an annual average of 600 emergency daily callouts. Unbeknown to many, the Thames’ area covers much of the South East, in and around the Thames Valley and Greater London which has some 140,000 kilometres of underground sewers and drains.

A national drainage leader

Ashby highlighted that, alongside its utilities contracts, Lanes Group provides services for Vinci Facilities, Integral FM, Mitie Property Solutions and Network Rail, in addition to several other water authorities, national supermarket and retail chains. Lanes Group’s Reline Division takes on some of the most challenging sewer rehabilitation projects in the UK. Its rail division has a major contract with London Underground to provide maintenance and repair services for everything from bridges and structures to vegetation control and coin counters.

Lanes Utilities has had to address what Ashby called: “A paradigm shift in the water industry, where we are seeing demanding customer challenges and the opening up of the market by the regulator OFWAT, which includes the prospect of increased competition from other companies.” In response to this, the company has rolled out investments in excess of £10 million to strengthen its specialist fleet; it also follows Kaizen principles to maintain its ISO:9001, 14001, 18001 and 22301 accreditations. 

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Talent Management

Ashby noted that playing a major part in the smooth running of the country’s capital city can be a challenging and potentially stressful responsibility for his teams. He said: “We travel roughly 6.5 million kilometres each year, so we’ve invested a lot of time and energy in making our employees’ lives easier.” Over the past year, Lanes has invested not only in its fleet but also over £900,000 to provide training, tools and equipment for its employees, alongside a significant investment in its staff wellbeing project. Ashby said: “We’ve put a lot of time and effort into understanding workplace frustrations and exploring the more subtle elements of health and safety, including stress management and developing personal resilience.”

The company is serious about this attitude shift, already accruing 9,000 person hours of training in the past year. Ashby said: “We have brought in specific management capabilities to deliver 6 Sigma Black Belt support to help us drive our initiatives and continual improvement using incremental changes.”

Lanes also incentivises its workforce: on top of a competitive salary, employees earn bonuses every time they successfully deliver excellent service, as evidenced by feedback from customers; in additon its top quarter of drivers are entered into a monthly prize draw. Underpinning its mutual dedication to its customers and employees is its simplified Essential Standards operational handbook, which has already won an award from Construction News for its innovative format of communication through illustrations; it has even been adopted by some of Lanes’ clients.

Ashby also noted that Lanes is keen to actively support and develop its staff at all levels, which has enabled members to progress to senior management positions. Ashby said: “We have a bespoke management course for all front line managers. We put them through MSTS and IOSH training, as well as providing them with training from the Institute of Leadership and Management.”

Competitive edge

Lanes has profited from developing seemingly simple innovations and IT functionality. Its adoption of app-based technology has not only saved countless paper documents, but also saved time and effort, while enabling the business to remain transparent through the extensive use of photographic images.

Ashby said: “We do roughly 320,000 jobs a year as part of our Thames contract, so instead of having a paper risk assessment our app records the risks and the mitigating actions undertaken, evidenced through the use of date and time stamped photographs.” Backing this up, he said, we take over 4.5 million images every year in support of the company’s ongoing customer service and H&S measures. It’s an innovation that has resulted in Lanes Utilities being selected, again, as a finalist in the 2015 Construction News Awards, being announced in June.

Efficiency is not a merely abstract concept for Lanes, which relies daily on the smooth running of its fleet of hundreds of vehicles, Ashby said: “We have invested in advanced vehicle tracking units which will help our engineers drive smarter through real time feedback on driving behaviours; since implementation we have seen an improvement of 15 percent in our fuel costs.”

Ashby also noted how the company makes use of its diverse sector coverage to gain a broad competitive advantage. He said: “One of the beauties of a diverse customer and business base is that we have a lot of experiences that can be shared within the group; we learn from our experiences and improve through sharing best practice.”

Corporate Responsibility

Lanes Utilities often works with Thames Water to remove sewer ‘fatbergs’ (great masses of congealed fat and debris) and is now working to educate households and businesses on the correct grease disposal. Having hundreds of thousands of drainage jobs under its belt, Lanes is perhaps the best placed in its sector to confidently drive positive change in the industry, Ashby said: “Lanes really cares; we always want to  deliver for our clients and customers and we are not scared of trying things differently.”

The company was one of the first in its space to implement ‘no dig’ solutions; using cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) techniques, Lanes can renovate a damaged drainage pipe without excavation by creating a new pipe within the existing one. Ashby explained: “Rather than excavating and cutting up someone’s garden or ripping up the highway, we have the technology to quickly offer our clients proactive solutions.” These liners refurbish the asset in a cost-effective and more carbon efficient way than pipe replacement. They also have an effective operational lifetime of nearly a century, which means that communities have utility solutions that are built to last. In 2015, this same spirit of innovation has led the Lanes Rail Division to perfect a vacuumation cleaning system that promises to revolutionise rail track drainage maintenance.

Lanes Group has taken extensive measures to reduce its impact on communities and the environment. It has become the UK’s largest user of specialist recycler jet vacuumation tankers, which use less water and fuel In May, Lanes Utilities became the first drainage contractor to deploy acoustic sensing technology to survey sewers, an innovation that promises to make sewers more efficient and reduce pollution. It is also a leader in it sector in using hybrid vehicles.

Lanes Group has shown that it can be a jack of all trades while mastering all of them: its dedicated focus on both the needs of customers, including the 14 million it looks after for Thames Water, and its expanding workforce, has produced a balanced and powerful model for continued growth. 

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