December 2008 | How-To | Ten Tips

Choosing Voice-Directed Technology

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Voice-based warehousing can result in high productivity and accuracy rates, safe working conditions, and a boost in worker morale. It can also have a positive impact on your organization's bottom line. Paul Lightfoot, CEO and president of Rockaway, N.J.-based solutions provider AL Systems Inc., offers advice for selecting a voice-directed technology vendor.

1. Analyze your needs. Voice-directed technology is best used for low reach density items that have few reaches per unit of travel or are rarely picked. For high reach density items, light-directed technology is a better choice.

2. Make sure your voice-directed technology vendor understands warehouse and distribution center operations. Your potential vendors need to be familiar with these types of operations, not just the hardware or software they're offering. Be sure they know what your associates do on a daily basis and understand the efficiencies you are trying to create.

3. Don't buy more than you need. No vendor should require that you change your current shipping, receiving, and warehousing processes. Don't make these alterations unless they improve operational efficiency and productivity.

4. Explain the uniqueness of your warehouse operation. Not all picking, packing, and receiving operations are the same, so the vendor must be able to accommodate your warehouse or DC. For example, is your warehouse climate-controlled? Are items shelved, containerized, or on pallets? Do you provide cross-docking services, and will the voice-directed equipment work in these areas? The vendor should consider these factors when planning your solution.

5. Take stock of mobile computing devices. If you are happy with your current hardware, ask if the voice-directed solutions provider allows you to keep and utilize it. Be sure you can still leverage your existing vendor relationships.

6. Consider the ease of integration with existing systems. How well will the voice-directed systems integrate with your warehouse control system, warehouse management system, and other solutions? What if one of those systems changes? Make sure you can easily integrate systems now and in the future and are not limited by custom integration software.

7. Ask for references. As with any service provider, find out how the vendor treats its customers and handles problems.

8. Investigate the company's financial stability. Make sure the vendor will be able to meet your warehouse needs now as well as in the future. Ask about profitability, current and prospective customers, future plans, and customer service.

9. Look for excellent voice-recognition technology. Choose a vendor that offers high-quality systems, and make sure the technology can filter out background noise. The voice-directed technology must be able to "hear" and distinguish the speaker's voice over all other noise.

10. Don't let language become a hurdle. You can select speaker-dependent solutions and get core vocabularies in a variety of languages. If your workers comprise multiple ethnicities and speak several languages, make sure the voice-directed technology will understand what they say.

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