Expert Insight

By Scott J. Yetter

Voxware, Inc.

Date: April 14, 2011

Supply Chain Comment: Voice Picking And The Cost Of Change

"Speed Of Change" Is Becoming As Important As "Speed Of Payback" In Evaluating New Technology

In an industry that values nimbleness and the ability to quickly change one’s operation for the better, it is ironic that so few companies are actually prepared to do so.  Advanced technologies such as voice picking can bring this paradox into bold relief, and it can be instructive to dig into the underlying reasons.


Consider the Cost of Change

All too often, even a great benefit-producer like voice picking can hold a company back if it is difficult or impossible to change.  But the ability to change a solution – and its associated cost – is often not included in the payback calculation for a new technology.  This is why executives can get severe sticker-shock when presented with the cost to make what seems to be a simple change.


Having been burned too many times, “speed of change” is becoming as important as “speed of payback” for enterprises that evaluate how a new technology might be leveraged to improve their operations.


But how can you assess a system’s ease of change when you don’t know what kind of changes you will make in the future?  What are the issues that typically make changing a deployed warehouse technology difficult and expensive – and how do best in class companies tackle them?

The Challenge of Change

Nobody knows exactly what changes they will make in the future, but top executives know that change is inevitable, so they plan for it in advance.  When it comes to voice picking, they recognize three fundamental truths:


  1. Configurable products are superior to custom-coded solutions.
  2. Deadly embrace with the WMS must be managed.
  3. Product architecture trumps option overload

Configurability: Making Change Easy and Inexpensive

Custom-coded voice picking solutions are the curse of the warehouse.  They sound great during the sales cycle. (“No other company has a unique operation like yours, and a one-size-fits-all product just won’t do, so we’ll build something to your exact specifications.”)  But the entire exercise is geared toward building a solution that is fixed and frozen upon delivery.  What you gain in customization, you lose many times over when changes are needed – because your voice vendor is now the only game in town.


At Voxware, we’ve been called in to companies who found that the cost of making a change to an existing voice solution was greater than the cost of original deployment.  That recipe might be great for the vendor, but it erases voice ROI and stymies the change needed to take the operation to a new level.


Configurable software products give enterprises the best of both worlds.  They can be tailored to a given company’s requirements, but because they are software products and not custom-coded solutions, they continue to evolve and many companies can share in the new enhancements that are periodically made available.  Through configurability, changes that are otherwise expensive and time-consuming can be implemented quickly and inexpensively.

The WMS Deadly Embrace

Early voice picking solutions were “direct-linked” to the WMS.  This seemed to be a good idea at the time, but today virtually every major WMS player is moving away from this approach.  Why?  The cost of change.


When a bolt-on extension like voice picking was embedded within the WMS, customers often found that two vendors were needed to make changes, and in many cases the WMS code itself had to be opened up and modified – never a low-cost undertaking.


The fact is that most voice picking deployments cannot be supported out-of-the box with direct-connect functionality, so changes are inevitable.  It is far better to use configurable, message-based, loosely-coupled interfaces.  That way the WMS and the voice picking solution can evolve independently of one another. 


In addition, many operational improvements can be made simply by changing the voice system without impacting the WMS (especially if it is configurable – see above). This gives logistics executives a powerful tool to improve daily business processes.

Architecture Matters

Some systems give the appearance of configurability by offering many options.  In one case, a bewildering array of “hundreds of thousands of options” was presented.  But options do not equal configurability.


Simplicity is the essence of sophistication.  Elegant, configurable software architecture can be leveraged to support many different styles of voice picking.  So, it is important to evaluate how configurability is delivered – via what tool set or user interface.  You should get your IT group involved, since they have experience with configurable systems and know what to look for.  Or, you can read Voxware’s white paper, Is Your Voice Solution Engineered for Change?

Control Your Future

The initial payback provided by voice picking is pretty amazing.  But “failure to plan is planning to fail.”  Don’t watch that ROI head in the other direction when you want to evolve your operation.  Consider the issues of change outlined above, and you will be more prepared for tomorrow, and empowered to keep your workforce voice-optimized as your business grows and evolves.

Final Thoughts

For more information about VoxWare's Portable Voice Picking Solutions, please visit:

Voice Picking Expertise You Can Use.

Agree or disagree with with our guest contributor's perspective? What would you add? Let us know your thoughts for publication in the SCDigest newsletter Feedback section, and on the website. Upon request, comments will be posted with the respondent's name or company withheld.

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About the Author

Scott J. Yetter has served as President of Voxware, Inc. since November 2006.  He is a long-time executive in the supply chain industry, bringing over 20 years experience in sales, marketing, operations and executive management to his position.  Prior to joining Voxware Scott spent 10 years at American Software/Logility, an early provider of ERP and supply chain solutions. 

For More information, please visit:

Voice Picking Expertise You Can Use

Yetter Says:

How can you assess a system's ease of change when you don't know what kind of changes you will make in the future?

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