Invest, evolve, and innovate: Shaping up for the digital future
Business development

Invest, evolve, and innovate: Shaping up for the digital future

How can organizations prepare for future success in markets driven by change, globalization, e-commerce, and digitization? Here is what AEB does to prepare.

We have published quite a lot of articles in this forum about technology advances that shape the future. We’ve also shared reports, studies, and facts and figures that deliver good business insights and impulses. And we emphasize what companies can do to manage digitization to their advantage in global trade and logistics.

I feel it’s about time that we also share some facts and figures about us – about AEB. And talk about how we – as an organization – are dealing with the changes driven by the digital transformation and changing consumer behaviors. Because after all, these developments affect us as an organization just the same as our customers, partners, and prospects.

Getting ready for the future comes with challenges. We know all about that, too. But, we are also very, very excited about the digital age, and we welcome the future with open arms. Here is how.

Investments for long-term success in a VUCA world

We are investing heavily in research and development (R&D), the digitization of our in-house processes, and the training and continuing education of our employees. Our aim is to sustain the healthy path of growth over recent years and broaden the foundation of our long-term success.

Overall, we are investing over 5 percent of our annual revenue in employee development and over 10 percent in R&D. We are financing these internal investments from the cash flow of our day-to-day business operations. Our recent financial report – like those of previous years – boasts rising revenues, a robust cash flow, and record levels of new orders:

Revenues in fiscal 2016 were up nearly 9 percent to €40.8 million, while new orders rose over 12 percent to €18.4 million. And our current fiscal year is developing with similar positive trends. As a forward-looking organization, we seek success that we can afford and that underscores our long-term orientation. This is also rooted in our corporate philosophy: We are willing to forgo short-term profit if it makes us stronger in the long term.

Both our employee development and our R&D work focus on fulfilling the changing needs of companies across industry sectors that trade and ship their goods – internationally or domestically – in a “VUCA” world.

But while change has become a constant factor in the environment we operate in, there are also things we do not want to change: AEB proudly continues to be employee-owned and employee-led – without external investments. We are convinced: Staying independent – strategically, financially, and philosophically – and keeping both the reins and shares in our own hands makes us an even better business partner the more VUCA the world gets.

Key aspects of the new IT generation

We are developing a new software platform, which is much more than just a technical framework and a new stack of development tools. It’s not just “static” software that simply automates a given task. It’s a powerful enabler to support businesses in succeeding and adapting to a systemically volatile environment that is subject to constant change. Elevating the role of global trade and logistics as differentiating factors for businesses in increasingly challenging markets forms a crucial part.

This makes flexibility and adaptivity two of the key drivers of our development strategy. Another major objective is to extend and further internationalize our existing portfolio. A good example here is international customs management: the area of broker integration or multi-country customs filing present great opportunities for businesses to increase competitiveness in dynamic environments.

Mobile services
Mobile services

Another important factor is also the look and feel of modern IT solutions today. User experience expectations have changed and evolved tremendously over recent years. Engagement levels on mobile devices have skyrocketed, for example, both for business and private use. And apps are becoming ever more crucial components of all business services these days. So, we are aligning closely with latest trends and demands to design cool new apps with intuitive and fun user interfaces tailored to the needs of different types of users, their roles, and daily tasks.

Winning mix: experience meets state-of-the-art

We have built a powerful and comprehensive software portfolio – with constant improvements and developments over more than 38 years. And our new generation of IT solutions relies largely on standardized components from this portfolio. But what’s new is that these components can be integrated into a customizable process layer so that customers can model their own unique processes down to the last detail.

Basically, users get a software solution built upon best-practice templates – and so easy to customize that they can even make desired adaptations themselves. And the standardized components with specialized features provide the necessary stability. It’s a truly winning mix that combines our existing and future portfolio to deliver high performance and flexible yet stable business services to traders across industries. All business services for the different areas of global trade and logistics are available in the cloud and can be integrated easily in our customers IT environment.

This work towards the future IT generation has started some years back already. I don’t want to bore you with technical details – but, all in all, we will be on our way for some time. As markets develop further and digitization continues to proceed, this path will take some unexpected turns, too, which again emphasizes the need for more flexibility in the future. And we’re working closely with our customers to create new possibilities for leveraging global trade and logistics IT to fuel business growth and performance throughout these developments.

New head office: modern, green, and inspiring

Our vision of the future and AEB’s corporate culture are also reflected in our new company headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. We have invested over €32 million in a new high-tech structure that we moved into earlier this year, in June 2017.

Our new head office is absolutely stunning and quite beautiful: it boasts 8,950 square meters of office space and is designed to accommodate 500 employees. The building features an open and transparent central atrium and over 400 workstations in bright, flexible-use open-office spaces – without fixed workstations for the various members of a team. And of course, we have invested in an energy-saving-concept which is trendsetting for office buildings these days.

AEB HQ atrium
AEB HQ atrium

The idea is to foster communication, collaboration, and creativity among the AEB employees. The open spaces alternate with “think tanks,” private retreats, project rooms, and creative spaces. The outside area even features herb gardens, an athletics zone, and open-air workspaces.

Our new head office also includes two data centers that house both the heart of our in-house IT infrastructure and the cloud-based and on-demand software for over 5,000 businesses. Among other business transactions, we process some 3.8 million export declarations transmitted to the German customs authorities each year alone in this data center.

We had the official opening ceremony on September 19, 2017 and celebrated our new head office together with customers and partners. As a special highlight, the Governor of the German State of Baden-Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, also took part and emphasized the government’s support for digitization strategies of local businesses. You can enjoy some impressions in this short film (in German).

AEB HQ meeting room
AEB HQ meeting room

Start-up launch: making space for innovation

Last but not least, we have established an in-house “startup”: a dedicated business unit that is focusing on developing new business models, technologies, and solutions. Why? Because true innovation needs space and focus. It’s not something you can successfully do on the sidelines of a normal business day.

Even developing an innovative mindset in the first place requires to break through the confines of daily business and leave established challenges and solutions fully behind. You can find out more about this approach in my blog post “Are you looking for innovation on dusty old shelves?” – take a look. It also sheds light on challenges that such an organizational change involves – including structural and cultural aspects.

So, what do you think? I find it sometimes quite useful to have a tangible example of something rather than just a theoretical recommendation. I hope these insights on how we manage changes driven by the digital age at AEB can deliver some impulses and ideas to you. We are on our way and we are very excited about it – challenges, twists, and all. And we look forward to the new possibilities that the digital era presents – both for our customers and for us at AEB.

Please let me know if you have any questions – feel free to submit a comment in this forum, or contact us for a personal discussion. I welcome especially questions regarding the new “start-up” business unit, which I am also personally involved in .

My fellow blogger Daniel Terner may tell you a bit more about this in his next post – stay tuned. I look forward to your views on XING or LinkedIn.