Arlington pioneers customer service extranet

Copyright: David Lawson/Financial Times 2001

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Arlington and pioneer are almost interchangeable terms in the property industry. The company almost invented the modern business park in the UK. It began selling bulk services like telecoms, electricity  and water  to tenants at big discounts two years ago, years before others climbed on the wagon.  Now it is leading the way with an ‘extranet’ – an online portal covering a multitude of services ranging from local news to building maintenance for around 150 occupiers on its string of business parks.This combines B2C and B2B functions through serices ranging from information on local cinemas and bus service through to service desks handling space planning, leasing and facilities management.

 No-one is twisting the arms of managers to use the service, however. ‘This is not a question of telling people we can get things cheaper,’ says Howard Bibby, managing director of Arlington Business Services. ‘It is about improving choice and convenience.’  In other words, it is there for a manager to check the range of services and suppliers and  use if they appear better value. But Bibby has strong views about managers concentrating on overseeing use of workspace and maximising productivity rather than becoming buried in the routine of supply orders. He is even sceptical about the fashion for cost benchmarking rather than concentrating on engineering change within organisations.

  Arlington is now looking at opening up its system of help-desks and bulk supply to landlords and occupiers beyond its parks. Bibby admits this may be more difficult because most current users tend to be high-tech firms used to outsourcing and concentrating on core business. ‘It could be more difficult to persuade a business like insurance services to do this,’ he says.

  There is untapped potential within Arlington’s parks, however. A good deal of construction and alterations takes place even on fairly mature parks. Many occupiers do this themselves after buying sites or expansion land. Bibby sees possibilities for expanding into the construction process, drawing on similar economies of scale with material suppliers and contractors.

    There are too many false boundaries between these various functions, he says. And too much emphasis on e-procurement and whizzy technology.  The success of serviced office providers like Regus showed the real message was to provide comprehensive, good value services which enable occupiers to get on with their core business.

 ‘There is a huge gap between FM companies offering these comprehensive workplace solutions and the traditional suppliers, who know the value of everything and the value of nbothing,’ he says.