Voice Technology Frees the Warehouse Workforce

Q: The supply chain and logistics sector has been positively impacted by a wide variety of input and output technologies. What are the most exciting changes inside the warehouse today?

Wills: Over the past few years, a lot of companies have integrated and benefited from voice technology, which frees the warehouse workforce to use their hands, eyes, ears, and voice to take productivity to new heights.

While still in fewer than one in 10 warehouses, voice-enabled logistics technology is not just for large enterprises. Warehouse and IT managers at companies of all sizes are embracing this technology, and the workers love it. Integrating voice-enabled logistics with host enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions and warehouse management systems (WMS) has improved our customers’ productivity by 20 percent or more, and helped achieve near 100-percent accuracy—all while creating safer, greener warehouse operations.

Q: What is the most common misconception about voice-enabled logistics?

Wills: The most common misconception is that it’s cost-prohibitive, both as a capital expenditure and operating expense. When voice technology first hit the market, it required a fairly considerable initial investment, and there remains a perception that voice is only for the large enterprise. Recent advances in technology, however, have made voice an affordable and cost-effective solution for organizations of all sizes. In fact, companies with as few as five to 10 warehouse pickers can recoup their initial investment in voice technology within the first year.

In regard to ongoing costs, warehouse and IT managers with legacy voice solutions are often frustrated by high maintenance, licensing, and training/retraining expenses—as well as by being strong-armed into limited hardware options. Fortunately, the newest technologies overcome these issues. For instance, phoneme-based voice engines are speaker-independent, as opposed to speaker-dependent, eliminating the need to ‘train’ the system to each user—a significant cost/time saver for organizations with high turnover rates.

The system’s open architecture allows customers to use whatever voice-capable hardware works best, whether it’s Motorola, LXE, or another hardware option. For example, the customer might initially deploy voice in conjunction with existing mobile computers, then adopt a voice/barcode or voice-only approach as needs change.

Q: Where do you see voice technology going in the future?

Wills: The benefits today are already pretty amazing: quick ROI, greater accuracy, and a safer, greener warehouse. Hardware improvements will continue to make headsets more comfortable, while offering better noise-cancelling capabilities. But the big changes will occur in software.

Universal translators and greater language understanding will continue to expand the computer’s ability to actually converse and eventually collaborate (instruct, query, and understand) with the worker. From picking to put-away, shipping and receiving, inventory management and beyond, voice technology will continue to expand throughout all aspects of the supply chain, including applications that extend outside the four walls of the warehouse.

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