Expert Insight

By Scott J. Yetter

Voxware, Inc.

Date: June 23, 2011

Supply Chain Comment: Voice Picking: A Hardware or Software Decision?

Hardware and Software Are Both Important Considerations When Choosing A Voice Picking Solution

Because early voice picking solutions were sold by vendors of proprietary voice hardware, many came to regard voice picking as a hardware decision. Indeed, the cost of some dedicated voice units was extremely high, and to this day some vendors sell voice solutions via their hardware-focused business units.

But the market for voice picking solutions has clearly evolved, and the cost experience of early users has begun to accrue. Hardware cost has plummeted, and enterprises have learned that the major long term cost issues of voice picking are now software-related.

Choosing a voice picking solution will always be both a hardware and a software decision, because both are needed to make the system work. But of the two, software has a far more profound effect on the organization’s flexibility and hence cost.

An Industry Grows Up

Back in the early days of voice picking, proprietary device manufacturers were the only providers of voice solutions. Great emphasis was placed on hardware engineering relating to noise cancellation and user ergonomics. The hardware device (and its accessories) had the spotlight.

Of course, proprietary hardware limits customer choice and always has more expensive accessory costs – but with no major manufacturers in the business, users had few choices anyway. Today the major manufacturers all offer voice-capable devices at attractive price points, and there are many successful voice picking deployments utilizing them.

Key Need: Enterprise Flexibility

Modern logistics operations need to be nimble. Product handling requirements change. Business processes can be improved with modification. New features become available in the WMS used by the enterprise. Enterprises that can more readily change their operation have a competitive advantage over those that cannot.

By itself, hardware cannot alter its behavior to take advantage of these opportunities – and that’s where software enters the picture. Yet time and again, desired improvements are stymied because the underlying software is too inflexible or too expensive to change.

Here are some real-life examples of situations where software can make or break a business initiative:

  • Hardware Refresh: You can realize huge savings by refreshing to a new hardware device, but your voice system is not portable, so it either doesn’t support the new device at all, or cannot support it without being reprogrammed.
  • Business Process Change: By implementing a change to the picking procedure, you can make a big reduction in the time it takes to fulfill orders and slash your labor costs, but your voice system and WMS must be opened up and modified first – an exercise that is so disruptive and expensive that it could eradicate the cost savings.
  • Super Worker Empowerment: You have some great associates who could take their performance to a new level, but because every worker has to use the same voice dialogs, and newer workers need the extra help provided by elementary prompts, your super-workers are limited – like being stuck behind a slow moving car on the freeway.

I’m sure you could come up with more examples. With the right software, each of these situations can be turned to an advantage by a logistics operation, and money could be saved, whereas the wrong software keeps those savings locked up and unrealized.

Portable software enables you to move a voice solution from one device to another without paying for reprogramming services – and gives you the widest choice of certified devices. Configurable software can be quickly and inexpensively modified to accommodate new business processes. Continuous recognition software enables your experienced workers to combine multiple phrases into a single response and thus work even faster than is possible with a basic voice system.

Bottom line: if you want flexibility and freedom of choice, then make sure that you look very closely at the software included with your voice picking system, because it will have a much more long-lasting impact on overall cost as well as on your ability to do the things you want.

What About User Ergonomics?

Does this mean that the hardware device doesn’t matter? Of course not! Certainly, user comfort and device utility are important when a voice picking system is being deployed. But you should not let hardware considerations override your need to get the very best software that you can – unless you like inflexibility and higher long term costs.

Most of the certified voice-ready devices on today’s market are lightweight and comfortable for users to wear, regardless of minor differences in form factor. For most applications, users wear the device on a belt or in a pouch, making differences negligible. And while accessories are very important, they can be made with standard connectors so that some choice and opportunity for savings exists.

Final Thoughts

So, is voice picking a hardware or software decision? I guess it depends on who you ask. We at Voxware believe that while both are important considerations, one will have a greater long-term effect on your ability to maximize competitiveness while minimizing cost.

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:

Choosing a voice picking solution will always be both a hardware and a software decision, because both are needed to make the system work.

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