Innovation, Compliance and Efficiency: Ian Crauwels’ Serendipitous Path in E-commerce Logistics

Ian Crauwels | Head of eCommerce at AEB
Ian Crauwels | Head of eCommerce at AEB

The complex world of eCommerce in logistics requires a unique blend of expertise and innovation, a balance that Ian Crauwels, Head of eCommerce at AEB, has mastered. With a background in logistics, Ian’s journey into eCommerce was a natural progression, driven by the excitement and growth potential it offers within the logistics realm.

Embarking on a career in an up-and-coming industry presents both opportunities and challenges, and Ian thrives on finding the delicate balance between ensuring compliance and creating highly automated, efficient solutions. The customs side of eCommerce, in particular, has been impacted significantly, grappling with issues like liability concerns, data quality and the complexities of high-volume customs clearances.

In the search for solutions, Ian and his team explore a mix of utilizing existing solutions innovatively and leveraging the possibilities presented by rapidly advancing technologies such as AI. Ian’s passion lies in discovering solutions that were once deemed impossible but are now achievable through technological advancements, leading to heightened efficiency.

Reflecting on the industry’s evolution, Ian highlights the transformative shift from bulk clearances to individual parcel declarations, a game-changer that continues to provide flexibility and efficiency. This strategic move allows parcels to travel under a customs declaration independently ensuring smooth shipment flow even in the face of individual issues.

The ongoing pursuit of innovation presents AI emerging as a pivotal buzzword in eCommerce logistics. Ian acknowledges the initial hype and promises, noting the maturation of AI solutions that are now becoming more reliable. However, he emphasizes the importance of a ‘human-in-the-loop’ principle, recognizing that while AI enhances productivity, its results need to be carefully monitored, especially considering the liability exposure associated with customs declarations.

Ian’s role extends beyond embracing the latest technologies, it encompasses the careful consideration of responsible AI applications to ensure the industry’s compliance and efficiency. His commitment to addressing challenges head-on, coupled with an enthusiasm for technological advancements, makes him a leading figure in guiding AEB towards continued success.

Logistics Leading, Customs Following

Ian stumbled into the world of customs and e-commerce by chance, a story not uncommon in this industry. “Most people land in the industry by accident – it just happens, and you find yourself fascinated by its complexity,” he shares. Yet, what started as happenstance has evolved into a fascinating journey. “Customs is a bit old-fashioned, you know, in terms of processes and digitization,” he notes. However, he sees this as an untapped opportunity for improvement, creating exciting prospects within the field. The potential for modernization is vast, promising a more streamlined and efficient future.

One constant challenge in Ian’s line of work is navigating through regular legal changes. “Whether it’s a major shift like Brexit or smaller developments, the legal landscape is always in flux.” This dynamic aspect adds an extra layer of complexity, keeping the customs professionals on their toes. Currently, the logistics sector is at the forefront of innovations and Ian emphasizes the need for customs to catch up. “Logistics is setting the scene and customs has to align accordingly.” The interdependence between customs and logistics requires a centered approach, ensuring seamless integration of solutions tailored to the logistics world.

Diverse Needs, Tailored Solutions

We always start by looking at and understanding the complete logistics process of our clients and partners,” says Ian, emphasizing the importance of a holistic approach. To build the perfect customs solution, he explains that identifying key needs and requirements is crucial. Beyond being a mere tech expert, Ian highlights the necessity of grasping customs legislation to “translate it into software that optimally advances our clients’ business.”

This understanding has led to the inclusion of solutions catering to specific customs procedures. Ian cites examples like low-value consignments and solutions focused on customs returns with duty refunds. However, he underscores the importance of a tailored approach, stating, “It’s not about throwing every solution available at clients.” Instead, the focus is on involving all stakeholders to determine which elements of the customs management solution will benefit them the most.

Ian recognizes the diversity of client needs. For some, that means a highly automated set-up, highlighting the efficiency achieved by linking triggers in warehouse processes or external systems. On the other hand, he acknowledges that simplicity and robustness are key for others, enabling them to handle large volumes and exceptions with ease.

The Triad of E-Commerce Excellence: Timing, Speed and Cost

In e-commerce, timing, speed and cost are everything,” affirms Ian, highlighting the critical factors in this fast-paced industry. He emphasizes that the success of customs solutions for logistic service providers and customs brokers hinges on their impact on two crucial aspects. Ian asks, “Does it make things faster?” and “Am I able to provide the same quality as my competitors at a lower price?”

Given the fluctuating nature of e-commerce influenced by trends and seasonal peaks, Ian stresses the importance of scalability in solutions. “Any relevant solution, therefore, needs to be scalable as much as possible,” he notes. Additionally, it should have the capability to handle large amounts of data efficiently.

Ian’s perspective underscores the essence of adaptability and efficiency in the e-commerce realm. This competitive landscape presents customs solutions that must align with the industry’s core principles of timing, speed and cost-effectiveness to ensure success for logistic service providers and customs brokers.

Market Pulse

The pressures and needs of the market are always felt first and most acutely by our clients,” notes Ian. He emphasizes that maintaining close contact with clients, even during smooth operations is crucial.

Ian finds attending events like fairs and conventions beneficial for staying updated on industry trends and connecting with peers. However, he highlights another valuable source—AEB and its network. “As a business founded over 40 years ago, we’ve covered the long voyage of filing the first electronic declarations all those years ago, right up until now.” This journey, he adds, has provided them with an ‘invaluable network’ that keeps them closely informed about any changes within the industry.

Technological Triumph

While there are still those considering customs to be nothing but a necessary evil, we know it to be a crucial factor in successful cross-border logistics chains,” states Ian. He highlights the pivotal role of effective customs clearance in determining “how quickly customers receive their orders, how much they are charged in delivery fees and whether certain goods can be delivered to their country at all.”

According to Ian, technology is the game-changer in this scenario. By using data effectively and either using as much of it as possible or limiting data requirements, technology can drastically improve all the above points. This efficient use of technology is particularly essential for customers offering logistical cross-border solutions, where customs becomes a make-or-break element of their value proposition. Ian emphasizes that technology acts as a catalyst in this process, enabling higher efficiency and effortlessly providing transparency to all involved stakeholders.

Guidance, Exchange and Success

AEB is unique as a company embracing new work approaches and has done so for many years. “Leadership isn’t automatically tied to a position,” Ian explains. “Instead, it’s about inspiring and enabling people around you, working on topics collaboratively.”

This collaborative approach involves cross-departmental work, bringing together product development, project management, sales, and marketing to collectively tackle challenges. Ian emphasizes the importance of this setup, stating, “We can provide much closer interaction between the various departments and create high synergy without applying micro-management.”

To ensure everyone is aligned, the focus is on providing guidance and regular exchange. According to Ian, “Having this open structure has allowed people to excel in their strengths and recognize how they can best contribute.” This unique work approach fosters a culture of collaboration allowing individuals to shine in their respective roles and contribute effectively to the company’s success.

Catalyzing Collaboration

In the technology market, where switching providers can be challenging, Ian notes that conversations typically begin when companies face challenges or realize their processes are no longer competitive. He states, “We usually start conversations with companies when they have a pain or they identify that their process isn’t competitive anymore.”

To drive change, the initial step involves active listening, Ian explains. During these conversations, AEB collaborates with the customer, aiming to understand their needs and jointly embark on the journey of improvement or solution-building.

Ian emphasizes the importance of open communication  during these discussions, stating, “As this involves a lot of exchange between people from both sides, it will quickly build a relationship, allowing the customer to build their trust in us.” This trust becomes the foundation for a collaborative partnership, working together towards a future solution that meets the customer’s needs supported by AEB.

As the implemented solution proves successful and brings tangible benefits, Ian notes that it quickly drives the trust level further for the customer. This success acts as a catalyst, inspiring the customer to explore additional collaborative opportunities and activating them to look together with AEB at further ways in which they can collaborate. Ian emphasizes how this iterative and collaborative approach not only solidifies the existing partnership but also opens doors for ongoing collaboration, fostering a dynamic and evolving relationship between AEB and its customers.

In the Loop

The speedy solutions AEB provides for e-commerce only bring the desired results because our software is always up to date on regulations,” Ian underscores the critical role of staying current with regulations. In collaboration with customers, he highlights that compliance is a priority. “When working together with a customer, we will also keep the importance of compliance in mind and remind our customers of risks when necessary.”

AEB aims for a balanced approach. “In the solutions, we always aim to provide a mixture of full automation where possible and having a human-in-the-loop where it makes sense,” Ian explains. Flexibility is key, allowing customers to decide the extent of automation based on their needs. Via a lot of configuration options, the customer can then decide to which extent they want to interrupt the automation and how much they’d like the system to be processing automatically.

Having close ties to customs authorities adds another layer of efficiency. “It also helps that we have close ties to the customs authorities and a very good working relationship with them, keeping us in the loop in a timely manner,” Ian notes.

Motivating Through Action

I try to lead by example, involving myself with colleagues and spending time together on their tasks improves understanding of what they are doing,” says Ian. He believes in the power of enthusiasm, stating, “To be enthusiastic about what I do and to share my motivation with the people around me.”

Open communication is a priority for Ian, as he asserts, “People shouldn’t be afraid to say what they are thinking.” Encouraging a culture of contribution, he adds, “When someone feels they can contribute their own ideas, suggestions and approaches, it encourages them to speak up about improvements, about pain points and how to address them, about what solutions they would like to provide for clients.” Ian’s leadership style promotes collaboration, motivation and a culture of open dialogue within the team.

Innovate, Adapt, Succeed

Ian advises that he would tell individuals to first get a solid knowledge of the industry and its pain points. He suggests that innovation should be fueled by a desire to improve relevant aspects. Taking some time to learn customs operationally can really pay off in understanding the challenges and thinking. Enthusiasm is key, according to Ian. Customs and logistics isn’t the obvious career path for many but can prove a surprising fit for those driven by significant challenges.

Regarding e-commerce, Ian points out that the biggest strides are in automation. Any solution one may build should harness data and make use of it for robust and efficient results, both in e-commerce and in logistics. Continuous improvement is crucial. Ian highlights, “And, of course, you should never feel like you have finished. Strive for improvement, keep up with new trends, always have an eye on the latest developments in the industry.”

Ian encourages thinking creatively and expansively, “Don’t limit yourself. Trust your instincts and think out of the box to come up with ideas nobody else has thought of yet.” He emphasizes that sometimes, significant improvements come from simple changes. Ian suggests combining existing knowledge with new possibilities and cross-referencing to achieve further enhancements.

About AEB

AEB has emerged as a trusted partner for businesses across industries, offering a comprehensive suite of software solutions designed to streamline operations, enhance visibility, and ensure compliance with evolving regulatory frameworks.

From supply chain management and trade compliance to customs management and risk mitigation, AEB’s versatile software platforms cater to the diverse needs of enterprises, fostering agility and resilience in an advancing global marketplace.