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About the Author

Stephen Gerrard
Vice President of Marketing & Strategic Planning
Voxware, Inc.

Stephen Gerrard, Vice President of Marketing & Strategic Planning, is responsible for the Company’s corporate marketing and long-range strategic planning functions. He returned to this role in April 2009 after serving as Vice President and General Manager of International Operations for the prior three years. Prior to joining Voxware, Mr. Gerrard served as a senior sales and marketing executive for numerous high technology companies.

Supply Chain Comment

By Stephen Gerrard, Vice President of Marketing & Strategic Planning, Voxware, Inc.

November 3, 2011

What’s the Goal of Your Voice Project?

Optimizing Your Warehouse Processes

Voice is an exciting technology to have at your disposal – it is the logical next-step in order picking, and based on the current low penetration of the larger market, it will continue to grow into the future.  The enthusiasm for voice is well-deserved.  But too often, companies get caught up in pursuing the technology, and sometimes forget just what the point of the technology was.

This is where enterprises need to be cautious.  Voice has proliferated to the point where a wide spectrum of options is available, at many different price points and capabilities.  All of these voice systems have benefited from the campaigning that has positioned voice picking as a productivity and accuracy-boosting system.  These qualities have solidified voice’s reputation for robust ROI.  But just because a solution has voice recognition technology involved doesn’t mean it delivers these benefits. 

Gerrard Says:

Being able to repurpose existing hardware is a great objective and one that can sometimes be accomplished with a more robust voice solution.
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Approach to the project is critical.  Is the business gunning for voice, or is it focused on improving processes?

In a rush to get voice, some companies take a shortcut.  One such shortcut is a “talking terminal screen,” where a preexisting application utilizing a screen is voice-enabled.  Instead of installing a true voice system, a voice “front end” is bolted on.  It’s terminal emulation.  Workers now voice-in the commands to the same hardware unit and application they previously used to type into the screen. 

This approach fails to take full advantage of the ergonomics of voice.  Since the application was not originally intended for use with voice, it was not optimized to keep workers moving.  The capability of a “real” voice solution to streamline the picking process by overlapping steps is compromised.  Users have to speak as if they are typing on a screen.  This slows down the workers, and it could hurt accuracy.  In addition, many use cases supported by voice technology do not exist in screen-based applications.

Being able to repurpose existing hardware is a great objective – and one that can sometimes be accomplished with a more robust voice solution.  But instead of emphasizing short-term savings, companies need to use the voice deployment as a vehicle for optimizing their business processes, which they can do by taking advantage of the unique capabilities that voice picking makes possible. A terminal emulation solution may seem like a fast path to savings, but it’s false savings – because the real benefits offered by voice picking are not achievable.  Managers need to demand an application that is designed with voice in mind.  If they do, they can attain the savings they’re looking for.

How?  Top voice picking systems deliver on the promise of ROI by bringing new levels of productivity and accuracy to the warehouse.  A prompt-and-command sequence that flows easily keeps workers moving.  Coupled with recognition software that is trained to hear each worker’s individual speech pattern, this technology focuses more time on picking and less on reentering commands.  Workers are always moving, so productivity goes up.  And since the command sequence is easy to comprehend and intuitive to execute, order accuracy also increases.

These improvements eliminate the need for order auditing and thereby create labor cost savings.  The decreased number of mis-picks also saves costs and increases customer satisfaction.  But these benefits cannot be maximized apart from a software application that truly leverages the voice interface.  Just because a system involves voice technology doesn’t mean it will deliver the savings associated with voice – it needs to inspire the efficiency in processes that lead to greater accuracy and productivity.

The goal of a voice project should not be “let’s get voice.”  It should be “let’s optimize our warehouse processes.”


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