Interview in the UK

Interview with Geoff Taylor about his new role as AEB General Manager

Just a few days into his new role as General Manager of AEB in the UK, Geoff Taylor shares insights on business focus, team values, market developments, customs management and Brexit.

What’s your focus right now?

Geoff Taylor: I have just completed a three-month handover from Claire Umney – the previous General Manager – and officially took the reins earlier this month. So speaking with you today, I am four days into my new role. Of course, these first three months have been a great opportunity for me to get an in-depth understanding of the business and carefully consider the best direction for AEB in the UK. 

From a team and software perspective, I fundamentally recognise that we have a fantastic solution suite and an amazing team of experts with great, long-standing experience. I am really very lucky to be inheriting an extremely strong foundation that I can build on and I’m very happy and excited about joining a profitable, growing business with a great supporting team. 

So maintaining strong team values is invaluable to the business going forward?

Geoff Taylor: Yes, absolutely. We don’t sell a commodity. What we really offer is a value proposition. And a big part of delivering value through solutions is based on a service culture and a motivated team that helps our clients to tap the full potential and value that our products can deliver to their business.

How has your journey so far led to your new position?

Geoff Taylor: I ran a technology business previously, and after ten years with that company, I decided to take the opportunity to think about what I wanted to do at this point in my own career. AEB as an organisation is really a very different type of company. The culture here is quite unique, it appealed to me and it was also what convinced me to come and join AEB. 

It is difficult to put the finger on cultural aspects, but AEB is still very much a family-type business, even though we employ 500 odd people on a company group level. We still retain a close-knit atmosphere, a “we’re all-in-it-together” type of culture, which is very different to the type of businesses that I have worked in previously. It is that feeling of unity and appreciation, which I think makes us a very different type of company. My job clearly focuses on growth of the UK business, but we need to always retain that ethos and culture within our company. 

Tell me a little more about your cloud-based app for customs integration?

Geoff Taylor: The area of customs management kind of mixes into many different fields of a business. Global trade solutions focus on areas such as exports and imports, regulatory compliance, risk management, and so on. Brexit will raise more awareness for the relevance of customs processes – presenting an excellent opportunity for AEB with its global trade expertise and portfolio. Only last week, the front page of the Financial Times highlighted in essence that Brexit will put a significant strain on HMRC’s own IT infrastructure as the number of customs declarations are forecast to increase from 50 million a year to 350 million a year post Brexit. 

So regardless of what trade agreements will be the basis for future UK trade, the volume of customs declarations is going to increase substantially. This is where AEB can support organisations to manage new types of customs processes to their advantage through integrated solutions. AEB’s systems provide direct interfaces to HMRC’s financial system “CHIEF” and once the new HMRC system “CDS” takes its place in the early part of next year, relevant integration will replace the former. Our solutions ensure that our customers are Brexit-ready regardless of what financial negotiations or new trade agreements will take effect once we leave the EU. 

Sure, so when it comes to being informed of changes, you will be able to ensure that the relevant individuals know about it?

Geoff Taylor: Knowing about ongoing changes and how they impact a business is important, yes, but even more important now is to take action and deploy flexible software that takes away the administrative burden from organisations through automating the customs processes they need to manage while making sure they stay compliant. 

The customs management solutions that we have at AEB help businesses set up and tune their compliance programmes, mitigate risks appropriately, and manage all transactions in line with latest HMRC regulations - and those of any other country that they export into. The value in the area of compliance is about security and safe trade, and about efficiency and removing administrative burdens. One of the things that we are currently investigating is how we can help smaller businesses to reap the same benefits as some of our larger customers in the area of customs integration.

With that in mind, how are you hoping to engage with smaller businesses?

Geoff Taylor: We’re always closely engaging with and listening to the business community. I can imagine that we’ll come up with a tailored solution very soon: easy to use and accessible to smaller businesses in the UK, with quick deployment options and quick delivery of benefits.

What makes your cloud-based system stand out from other competitors?

It is a couple of things really. A lot of large organisations want their applications managed on their own premises, hosted by their own IT systems, and there are organisations that want something in between (hybrid IT landscapes). 

From our perspective, we can deliver solutions to integrate into any IT infrastructure – be it on premise, in the cloud, or somewhere in between. Cloud capabilities are crucial today, but the options and flexibility that AEB provides offers extra value to businesses. Another key advantage of our customs solution is that while it is extremely effective on its own, there are other applications that can be integrated. 

Our broad solution portfolio is quite unique with its end-to-end services and modular architecture: our customers can cherry pick what they want and what they don’t want, rather than go for a mandatory package that includes parts they don’t want or need. We are able to offer solutions tailored to exactly what our customers require. For example, within our portfolio, we have a warehouse management system, freight and carrier management tools, a visibility and collaboration platform, and of course, global trade and customs compliance, as discussed earlier. 

All in all, it’s a unique offering, unrivalled as such in the market. Companies can put together their own elements across the different areas of our portfolio. They can get it all out of one hand from us rather than working with different providers for customs, carrier management, and so on. We’re able to offer all of it under one roof.

Regardless of Brexit, what is it that you are most optimistic about and in your new role and what are the challenges, if any, besides Brexit within your company that you would like to develop?

Geoff Taylor: I think we have an amazing product offer and my biggest challenge is to ensure that the market in the UK knows about it. But this is also my biggest opportunity and the most exciting part of my role. I really want people to understand the breadth of what we offer, how we can add value, and deliver benefit to their businesses. And if we get that right, and I am confident that we will, our business will continue to grow very well. AEB in the UK is a successful organisation and it can be bigger and it can grow - it will grow. 

With our head office in Germany, we’re already handling the customs declarations for about 40 per cent of exports from Germany with AEB systems. We have the capability, the experience, and the credibility to deliver systems that can manage the scale and the required resilience in a safe and efficient manner. I don’t think there is anything stopping AEB in the UK – and Brexit is raising the awareness for the need for our solutions, which I intend to build on. 

How much effort does the client have to go to with the systems you have in place? Is it clear and straightforward?

Geoff Taylor: Yes, well, “it depends” – on the scope of the project. There are slim products that customers can quickly implement themselves. For more complex solutions, we take a joint project management approach to integrate AEB business services. The customer needs to dedicate resources to ensure requirements are understood on both sides and we collaborate closely to deploy our solutions. 

We do tend to take the lead and hold the customer’s hand as much as possible – and as such, even more complex projects are relatively straightforward. We are taking responsibility from the outset and engage in joint workshops as soon as the customer decides to go ahead with us. We define the scope of the project in those detailed workshops, and from there, we jointly manage that together with our customers.

So what is the turnaround time on being able to implement the software?

Geoff Taylor: That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Every customer is different in terms of how many resources they can allocate to us, what their actual requirements are, and what political pressures they have in their own organisation in order to get the solution in place. It really does vary. It may be eight weeks or nine months, it depends on the scope of the project, the level of integration and customisation, and the customer’s prioritisation of the project – how does it rank in the overall company agenda? On our side, we are capable to integrate systems quite quickly – even directly in customers’ ERP systems with special plug-in applications for SAP-using companies, making it extremely user friendly.

Timing will always affect implementation schedules, too – it’s important to plan ahead and not implement new solutions last minute. Brexit is a good example. I worry that there are going to be many, many businesses that leave their decisions right to the last moment when in fact there is nothing stopping people today from making decisions and ensuring that they are Brexit-proof before 2019. People are not taking action because of the uncertainty around Brexit, but there are elements that are absolutely clear: the number of customs declarations, as we saw on the front page of the FT this month, is going to substantially increase. 

So there is a lot companies can do now to ensure that they are Brexit-ready when the time comes. There is no point in waiting for final, new trade agreements and other associated things to come out – those who wait now will risk delays later. There are often businesses that will just hold off. I don’t think that is going to be the right approach going forward. 

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