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ALOM is a global leader in supply chain management serving as a strategic partner to our customers by expertly and seamlessly conducting their key business functions from manufacturing to marketing.

How Tech-Focused COOs Are Transforming Supply Chains


A Q&A with Brandon Marugg, COO and CTO of ALOM

Brandon Marugg

Brandon Marugg

Brandon Marugg, a career supply chain expert with 20 years at ALOM, holds the dual roles of Chief Operating Officer and Chief Technology and Privacy Officer. His unique perspective bridges the gap between operations and technology within the supply chain industry. This Q&A, excerpted from the Smart Supply Chain podcast episode of the same name, explores Marugg’s insights into the evolving landscape of supply chain management and highlights the critical role of technology in driving efficiency and resilience.


Q: What are the top priorities for the COO of a supply chain management services provider?

Marugg: One is the integration of technology into our services. That’s something that I’m so excited about – the integration of our technology stack, our operations, and our services. In operations, productivity and service offerings are a priority, both from a breadth perspective and a depth perspective. Being more mature in some service areas so we can be more productive and really bring more value to our customers – that’s what I’m excited about. Every company is now becoming a tech company, and of course, supply chain is no different.


Q: Where do you think are the biggest points of integration of the tech stack within supply chain operations?

Marugg: Integration between partners inside of a network or within the supply chain as a whole. We’re talking about everything from the original manufacturer all the way through the entire supply chain, even to the end user. Getting as much visibility into that supply chain as you possibly can so you’re hitting some balance of being lean and being flexible and not being over positioned with your inventory or under positioned.

Prior to COVID, supply chains were super lean and super optimized. We were in a “set it and forget” mentality because things didn’t change that much. And then COVID happened, and we got the toilet paper on the shelves problem because things just changed too fast. That comes from a lack of flexibility and a lack of visibility into what’s happening and not being to be able to react quickly.

One of the ways of solving that is with technology. You can do better trend analysis of what’s happening, you can run models with things like digital twins, and you can be more predictive about environmental shifts or environmental changes that can save you in those situations.


Q: There’s another place in the supply chain where technology is becoming more integrated and that is product assembly. Can you give us an example?

Marugg: An example would be an air filter. They used to be fancy fans with filters. Now fans are Internet of Things (IoT); they’re like smart home systems. Products are being imbued with technology.

I also think about the last mile – that leg between the final distribution center and the end user – from a technological perspective. A lot of our customers want that most recent firmware update or have a piece of programming they want to add to their product before shipping to the end user. And the closer you can do that to the last mile, the better experience the user is going to have.


Q: Is it possible to separate operations from technology?

Marugg: For a long time, Operations departments could lean on a separate Operational Technology Department that oversees the Warehouse Management System or the Transportation Management System. Operations people didn’t really need to be super tech savvy or understand what the system is doing. As long as it worked, they could move on with their lives.

That is shifting; it’s less acceptable that the people who oversee those systems from an ownership perspective – from a usage perspective – don’t fully understand them and what they can do or could do.

It’s the same thing with any type of new technology. It’s going to be less and less acceptable for the users of these systems in warehouse operations, distribution operations, 3PLs, and supply chain companies to not fully understand how those systems work and how they could work in a better way.


Q: What are you excited about exploring and implementing in your role?

Marugg: Digital transformation and automation are two huge goals that I’m very excited to bring to bear. We’ve been doing this over time as part of our continuous improvement plan where we’re taking things off paper and onto electronic devices and those kinds of things. It’s always been a project between two departments, and it gets prioritized just like anything else. In my role, I feel like I can target those things in a much more efficient manner.

It’s still a struggle to bring technology into formerly manual and non-tech processes, especially with a lot of the largest supply chain service providers. In my opinion, we still have a lot of monolithic systems out there. They’re not bad systems; they’re jack of all trades and master of none. They’ve become restricted in certain ways because it’s very difficult for them to be flexible.

If you were a customer of one of our competitors that’s using something like SAP or Manhattan – one of those big monolithic systems – and you were integrated with them and had really good visibility, and everything was running great, and then they decided to switch from Manhattan to SAP … boy, you would know about it. You’re going to have to redo that entire integration and rethink how all that works. Which is why people don’t do it, right – people don’t switch from [those big monolithic systems].

Here at ALOM, we’ve had a different mindset about our technology. Instead of one monolithic system, we have a variety of really good smaller applications that are highly integrated with each other. The benefit of that is that you can take pieces in and out of that type of environment way easier.

My goal is that we could take a warehouse management system out of our environment, put in a brand new one from a different solutions provider that operates completely differently, and none of our customers who are integrated with us would even notice that happen. Instead of the game Jenga, where you have to be so careful in which blocks you remove or else the whole stack will fall down, now you can replace one piece of your technology without the whole supply chain collapsing.


Q: How hard is it going to be for people who are focused on operations in an executive role over the next five to 10 years?

Marugg: It’s going to become less and less acceptable that you don’t understand how your systems integrate in different ecosystems. You’re going to have to be more of a subject matter expert from a technology perspective than you needed to be in the past.


Q: What are some of the challenges facing supply chain providers and manufacturers?

Marugg: Labor is absolutely the number one thing. It’s almost hard to even talk about anything else because labor is going to be such a problem for everyone in almost every way, and especially in supply chain. It’s not even about skilled labor; it’s about getting anybody interested in a position you’ve got open, and I think that’s going to continue. I think we’re only seeing the beginning of that shift as people have rethought how they want to work and how they want to live over these past couple of years. And it’s been a dramatic shift.


Q: People are very hopeful that technology will be able to solve some of the labor issues, if not all of them. How realistic is that?

Marugg: It makes me think of Elon [Musk] and Tesla when they tried to build the cars 100% by robotics. And they tried that for almost two years, and then dialed it back. I forget what he said at the time, but it was something about, “We underestimated the value of manual labor on a production line.”

I think we’re always going to need people for those types of roles. It’s just too dynamic, especially in our business of contract supply chain where we have so many different products and so many different industries that we service that are all changing individually.

Automating or bringing robotics to bear at that type of scale across so many different program execution environments is just not really feasible. The way I like to think about technology “fixing” the labor problem is to make the jobs that no one wants to do, much easier to do and much more value add. Instead of screwing the top on a bottle over and over again like Lucy in “I Love Lucy,” I’m working with the robot to make sure that’s happening perfectly all the time. Rather than doing the manual labor, I’m actually managing the tool better. Having better tools can make those jobs that people don’t want to do, better and more bearable. More enjoyable, more rewarding, and more tech forward.


Q: If it came down to an employee like Lucy or automation, which one would you choose?

Marugg: Really good question. I’m a people person first, so I choose Lucy. Despite all her foibles, I think Lucy is going to have a ton of creative ideas on how we can do things better.


Q: Do you think that having these roles of COO and CTO combined creates some synergies and some efficiencies that you hadn’t anticipated before you took on both roles earlier this year?

Marugg: As far as communicating and brainstorming solutions on spot, I think will become a little bit more efficient, especially in working with customers in a kind of partnership, which is what we strive for. I do enjoy working with our customers, and I don’t think I’ll be doing less of that. I think that will continue; perhaps be a little bit more efficient.


Q: Is there crossover between a technology-oriented mindset and an operational mindset?

Marugg: I certainly hope so. Being able to work and collaborate with people very easily. Being able to brainstorm very easily. Being able to solutions build and really approach a problem from a process perspective.

How do we make everybody win? How do we make this thing work well, and do it in a way that is going to improve everyone’s lives around it – the people who make it, the people who put it together, the people who chip it, the people who receive it, the people who use it…

What’s really fun – how do we design the process for the product? The biggest draw to my work has always been finding those elegant solutions that are efficient, sustainable, and seem easy. I think our customers really appreciate getting that kind of elegant, easy solution that comes from me or from a collaboration that I’m putting together. I will be doing the same thing in the COO role, and maybe even more so, especially internally.


This Q&A was excerpted from a transcript of an episode of “Smart Supply Chain”. You can listen to the podcast episode here.