Voice Technology

Voice directed / speech recognition, hands-free warehouse and distribution center computing, voice in the warehouse, voice technology and voice systems. Voice Directed Picking and Voice-enabled workers wear a headset connected to a small wearable computer.

Voicing Concerns

02-Aug-2013
Voicing Concerns
Some logistics managers perceive voice technology to be expensive and disruptive, but the evidence proves otherwise, says Darrel Williams, regional director for Vocollect

The business of logistics is extremely competitive. Consequently, those involved are often open to new ideas and are relatively sophisticated and progressive in their methods, so surprisingly, , a recent market study by Redshift Research on supply chain efficiencies revealed that many companies are still using outdated processes in the warehouse.

The study divided its respondents into those using voice-directed warehouse solutions and those that werenot. Of the ’non-voice’ users, a surprising66% were still using manual processes including paper lists and spreadsheets and36% were using RF terminal technologies, despite the fact that half of these non-voice users recognised that voice technology could help increase productivity and reduce errors. This assumption was validated by the actual results of the survey, which revealed that of those using voice-directed solutions, some 80% saw an improvement in accuracy and 60% saw speed and productivity gains.

So, why are some logistics managers still reluctant to adopt voice technology, despite the overwhelmingly positive evidence that it really does work? It would seem that their decision is based on a two major misconceptions:

1.Cost
Redshift’s research shows that inevitably expense comes at the top of the agenda. In today’s economic climate managers are under increasing pressure to justify any additional expenditure, particularly when existing systems are perceived to be ‘good enough’. 49% of non-voice users said that they perceived voice solutions to be expensive. But is this true?

Voice technology can have higher upfront costs than alternative solutions such as RF scanners. But, return on investment is usually achieved in less than two years,more often within 12 months, thanks to the high productivity and accuracy gains.For example, Connect Distribution, a growing, UK-based domestic appliance and parts distributor reported ROI within the year when they implemented voice technology. Holland & Barrett was able to save money through a 75% reduction in the need for agency staff within the first few months of deploying its voice solution.

Businesses also need to realise that it’s not always necessary to invest in completely new systems and equipment. In mostcases, voice technology can be deployed onlegacy devices, and systems can be reconfigured or discretely extended. Although new systems are likely to offer expanded functionality, logistics managers need to weigh up their business needs and current market requirements and see what can be achieved with IT on a case by case basis. It is now a simple step, to integrate voice technology into any existing WMS or ERP with no expensive retrofit or time-consuming changes to enterprise IT structure.

2.Disruption
Many businesses postpone decisions on new technologies because of the fear of operational disruption. In fact, this was another issue highlighted in the Redshift study with just over a quarter of respondents (26%) stating that they were concerned about changes to IT infrastructure and around the same (23%) believing that voice technologies were difficult to integrate into a warehouse management system (WMS).

In reality, voice technology can be deployed in many ways, integrated into any business system and, in some cases, used straight out of the box. It can be drip-fed into a business with implementation closely controlled and the results measured stage-by-stage, employee-by-employee, team-by-team.

The systems are easy to use and don’t require long, protracted training sessions. In fact, in 60% of cases, employees are up-and-running with Vocollect voice technology within two days or less.

So far from being expensive and disruptive, evidence shows that voice technology will bring fast and significant benefits. In addition, the study also demonstrates that increased job satisfaction is a further advantage;90% of voice technology users reported being ‘fairly satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ in their daily activities. By contrast, only 70% of non-voice organisations reported being ‘fairly or very satisfied’ in their work.

For every job vacancy in the UK, there are 5.6 people unemployed, according to the Office for National Statistics. Yet, with its abundance of physical work and difficult shift patterns, the logistics sector is facing a shortage of skilled workers. These statistics show that a voice solution can ease this pressure, as not only does it improve staff satisfaction levels, but it can also considerably speed up staff training and improve the productivity of warehouse workers.

Logistics businesses and the supply chain are facing huge pressures and so it’s understandable that many are wary of change. However, as consumer demand for fast-changing product lines and rapid delivery is unlikely to abate, they do need to evolve and develop new processes and efficiencies.

Voice technology is a relatively fast win, promising an early ROI and delivering consistently high levels of performance. In most cases, the barriers to adoption result from common misconceptions that could prove to be the undoing of an otherwise solid business.

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