Other Voices: Voice-directed warehousing is showing its age—in a good way

As voice technology matures, it's taking on new roles in warehousing, distribution and order fulfillment

May 01, 2013 - MMH Editorial

Editor’s Note: The following column by Ian Hobkirk, managing director, Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors, is part of Modern’s Other Voices column. The series features ideas, opinions and insights from end users, analysts, systems integraters and OEMs. Click on the link  to learn about submitting a column for consideration.

                                                        ***  ***  **

I was recently asked to speak at the Material Handling Industry’s spring conference in Charlotte. The audience was a group of supply chain software executives that wanted to better understand the reasons why companies hold back on replacing or upgrading their WMS systems. To prepare for the speech, I interviewed about thirty of our customers who have either undertaken or are considering WMS projects right now.

Our research brought to light an interesting aspect of a trend that has been developing for the last several years: the rise of voice directed warehousing as an alternative to WMS enhancement. The eye-opening finding is that the headline with voice is no longer about hands-free operation, although that certainly continues to be a major benefit to adopting such systems.

To back up a moment – let’s look at what our research uncovered regarding the reasons why companies hold back on WMS enhancements. Companies repeatedly stated that they were searching for improved functionality in their warehousing operations companies with primitive, legacy software are looking for basic functionality like the ability to automatically confirm pick transactions to improve accuracy.

Companies with more advanced WMS systems are looking for the ability to perform more complex picking processes like batch and zone picking. Despite the need for these features, many companies refuse to upgrade or enhance their WMs systems due to fears about risky or “bad” implementations. Commonwealth has written in the past about the potential for problematic go-lives that seem to accompany WMS projects.

Many companies are choosing voice not so much for its hands-free, ergonomic benefits, as for the ability to achieve key functionality items without the risk of a full-blown WMS roll-out. These companies are not evolving along a paper-to-bar-code-to-voice path, but are going straight from paper to voice. These projects tend to be more palatable to the IT group, as they are more about overlaying than ripping-and-replacing.

As a cautionary note, however, it is worth pointing out that many of Commonwealth’s customers who have deployed voice have reported some bumps in the road both during and immediately after the go-live (although these generally have not risen to the level of severity that can be experienced with a broader WMS deployment). Additionally, some of the voice providers seem to be spread very thin at the moment with multiple implementations straining their resources.

Stay tuned as we continue this research, and look at some of the keys to successfully deploying a voice system in the warehouse.



Subscribe to Logistics Management magazine

Subscribe today. It's FREE!
Get timely insider information that you can use to better manage your
entire logistics operation.
Start your FREE subscription today!

Recent Entries

The ongoing themes of tight capacity and carrier pricing power are still in full effect, much to the dismay of shippers, based on the most recent edition of the Shippers Condition Index (SCI) from freight transportation forecasting firm FTR.

Information abounds about the growing trend of electric lift trucks and the advantages and disadvantages of the electric solution. Amid all of the information from so many sources, what's the truth about electric lift trucks? This complimentary white paper breaks through the clutter to review why electric lift trucks are gaining in popularity and also to review their challenges, as well as their economic and environmental benefits.

Three weeks after initiating a coordinated series of slowdowns that have mired the major West Coast ports of Tacoma, Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach, the ILWU has pushed away from the bargaining table.

DHL has released the third edition of its Global Connectedness Index (GCI), a detailed analysis of the state of globalization around the world.

The truck driver shortage is worsening, threatening the trucking industry’s ability to serve the nation’s supply chains. The shortage will almost certainly cause fleets’ costs to increase and shippers’ rate to continue to rise.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. Contact Bob Trebilcock.

Comments

Post a comment
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.