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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.

January 26, 2012

The Voice Pioneers Reach a New Era

First Implementers are at a Crossroads -- Keep Original Proprietary Voice Systems or Change To More Flexible Systems at What Cost?

Businesses that first implemented voice in the warehouse reaped huge benefits for being on the leading edge of a new technology. These forward-thinking companies have been on top for awhile now, enjoying the ROI that voice delivers. You might call them the “Voice Pioneers.”

Many are now in the process of upgrading their voice hardware. The price tag on this change is causing some sticker shock, particularly when software changes are required in addition. These trailblazers are facing new challenges – specifically, how can they keep long term costs down?

In the first study of its kind, Aberdeen Group has surveyed the community of companies using voice picking. The results make for interesting reading.

First of all, Voice Pioneers overwhelmingly endorsed voice picking and would not go back to the methods they used previously. But they also complained about the cost of change in three areas:

Gerrard Says:

Voice Pioneers overwhelmingly endorsed voice picking and would not go back to the methods they used previously.
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  • Proprietary headsets and other accessories
  • Proprietary devices
  • Proprietary voice applications

You might notice the repeated usage of the word “proprietary.”  Voice Pioneers love the operational benefits of voice picking, but the survey reveals that they are now looking for ways to mitigate the effects of a high cost voice infrastructure.

It’s a classic pioneer problem.  Having first-mover advantage brings great benefits to the business.  But the price pioneers pay is buying into underdeveloped technology. Initial voice systems had to be highly proprietary, since both the hardware and software were new and voice solutions were not productized.  Custom solutions were built from the ground-up for every customer.  Voice vendors emphasized delivering the right customization for each operation, and long term change was a secondary concern.

Proprietary systems are always inflexible, and the high cost of change is unsustainable.  Aberdeen Group found that many of these companies are looking towards the refresh as an opportunity to rework their voice solution to make it more TCO-friendly.  But how?

Voice Pioneers must first address the drawbacks of a closed software architecture.  Early voice didn’t allow for portability between hardware, as solutions were tied to a certain device or had a limited number of “supported” devices.  This restricted hardware choice greatly, and changing between devices needed a great deal of new programming – a costly and time consuming process. 

Proprietary applications also proved to be expensive to change.  Since the solutions were custom-coded, they required new coding for any modifications.  Managers were always trying to stay ahead of the competition with innovative processes, but the price of change tied their hands – and cost-saving ideas were never executed.

Embracing more flexible voice picking software allows the pioneers to avoid losing the competitive advantage they achieved when they switched to voice.  What characteristics should these companies look for?  Aberdeen Group reports that software which is open and configurable has the right qualities to deftly navigate all types of change without incurring high costs. 

Open, standards-based voice picking software has ushered in a new benchmark for hardware portability.  Instead of “supporting” a few devices, portable software can be moved to any certified hardware device without prohibitive costs. 

A software feature that goes a long way towards managing TCO is configurability.  If software can be configured, it allows for inexpensive change to the workflow and the WMS interface.  Instead of worrying about coding costs, logistics managers can implement modifications to business processes when needs change or a new cost-cutting idea comes up. 

Closing Thoughts

The Voice Pioneers are at a crossroads.  They took a gamble on proprietary voice, and the payoff was worth the price.  Now that better software is available, the question is whether pioneering companies will maintain their edge by taking advantage of it – or whether companies that delayed deploying voice will pass them by.  Refresh time is an opportunity to cut long term costs and transform voice from a great idea to a sustainably great idea.


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