Expert Insight

By Scott J. Yetter

Voxware, Inc.

Date: December 9, 2010

Supply Chain Comment: Who's In Charge Here? Making Voice Technology Work For You

Enterprise Management Services Are A Sign Of The Further Maturity Of Voice Solutions

American political pundits occasionally comment on the proclivity of elected officials to forget for whom they work.  From Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to present day issues, entrenched incumbents are often pictured as out of touch with the real needs of their constituents.  Who works for whom?


Believe it or not, technology-based warehousing solutions such as voice picking can exhibit the same tendency. There are plenty of documented cases of fast ROI and dramatic KPI improvements when voice systems are originally installed. But many customers, when confronted by the cost of changing or otherwise evolving those systems, are starting to say, “Who works for whom?”


This column concludes our series on the “Big 3” issues that Operations and IT executives raise when voice solutions are being evaluated.  Today we focus on the broad area of Enterprise Management Services – that is, those things which make a voice solution either easy and cost effective or difficult and expensive to grow with over the long term. 


Voice Picking Products of Today and Yesterday

Voice picking products have developed along familiar high-tech lines.  The first systems were highly proprietary and offered virtually no choices in deployment models:  customers had to install a server, which had to be configured with specific components, somewhere in the warehouse. They had to purchase proprietary units, specially designed and built by boutique manufacturers (who were also the voice vendors).  And they had to pay to get a custom application coded and hard-wired to their WMS.


While initial benefits were immediate and dramatic, over the long term customers realized that they had become hostages of their voice vendor.  Some were “hardware hostages,” only able to buy units manufactured by the voice vendor.  Others were “custom coding hostages,” forced into expensive programming projects in order to get changes made to the way the voice system operates.


As business requirements change and the technology infrastructure of the warehouse continues to evolve, enterprises need operational systems that are flexible, agile, and less costly to update. Today savvy executives are looking beyond initial ROI to the implications of how difficult a voice system might be to live with over the long haul. This brings us back to the topic of Enterprise Management Services.

Voice Systems and Enterprise Management Services

Voice systems come in different varieties.  Some are expensive to operate and upgrade.  Others are cheap, but often do not really deliver the desired ROI.  And some have achieved the right balance of flexible yet cost effective robustness.  Those in the last category usually have good Enterprise Management Services.


What are some examples of Enterprise Management Services?

  • Location Transparency.  Large companies with multiple warehouses need to consolidate servers and leverage their network.  This means begin able to operate multiple warehouses from a single copy of the voice picking system deployed at a central IT hub.  Yet even today most voice deployments still require a server in the warehouse – and for companies with multiple facilities that means multiple servers outside the IT data center. 

    Even in cases where the voice system can operate over a WAN, too often it continues to have a single-DC architecture – so enterprises must purchase multiple licenses for the necessary operating system, database, and other infrastructure components.  This is an area where substantial savings could be realized, quite apart from the ROI inherent to voice picking itself.
  • Loosely Coupled Interfaces.  Voice systems don’t operate in a vacuum. They must interact with other systems – particularly the WMS. Many voice vendors tout their “direct connect” WMS interfaces, emphasizing tight integration and good performance, but customers have come to realize that this approach only exacerbates resistance to change – because now two vendors have to be coordinated (and often paid) to get the voice system modified to support new requirements. 

    This problem can be reduced by “loosely-coupled interfaces,” a technique in which two systems exchange data using messages which are mapped between them, often defined using a graphical tool.  This allows each system to evolve independently of the other, and reduces an enterprise’s otherwise high cost of change.
  • Freedom of Choice in Hardware and Software Platforms. We’ve mentioned this point before, but it cannot be emphasized enough.  One way enterprises contain costs is through the flexibility of choice.  Too often, voice vendors do not offer a choice in infrastructure software such as Operating Systems or databases, which means enterprises may have to acquire licenses for products that don’t fit into their standard technology stack, which translates into higher cost.

    The more obvious area of cost containment is to have choice between mobility devices.  Enterprises are learning to look deeper than vendors’ claims to “support” devices from multiple manufacturers: they are starting to ask the tough but relevant questions, such as whether the same voice software operates on these different platforms, whether there are any services or licensing costs associated with making a hardware change, and therefore
    just how portable their voice picking solution is.


Enterprise Management Services are a sign of the further maturity of voice solutions. In every case, they are software-based capabilities that are either present or lacking in a vendor’s offering.  And, although they may be considered as “technical details,” they go a long way toward reducing the cost of maintaining a voice solution, and answering the question, “Who works for whom?”

Final Thoughts

Although this is the conclusion to the series that focuses on the “Big 3” issues relating to voice software, Part One and Part Two are available and can also be found on the expert insight page of Supply Chain Digest.

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:

Today savvy executives are looking beyond initial ROI to the implications of how difficult a voice system might be to live with over the long haul.

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