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Advancing voice technology in the supply chain industry

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The advent of computers and the Internet has enabled significant advances in the use of voice at the workplace. Voice solutions help accomplish various tasks in fields as diverse as medicine, engineering and even space.

The adoption of voice technology by the supply chain markets represents yet another progression in Voice-Directed Work and had had a significant impact on the ability of many businesses to achieve a higher level of productivity, efficiency and accuracy.

Despite worldwide adoption of voice solutions with more than one million workers using them daily, Voice-Directed Work in the supply chain industry is still not fully understood, limiting the deployment of voice with many businesses continuing to rely on paper-based manual work processes. 

This article seeks to provide a better understanding of how voice solutions work and the benefits they offer to the supply chain industry. 

The basics of voice technologies

In a voice-enabled warehouse, distribution workers wearing rugged headsets and mobile computers that can be used in a number of environments including freezers, receive verbal directions on tasks to complete select workflows. The workers respond to the voice system, which is trained to each user’s individual voice, enabling the system to determine if they have completed the correct task. This results in increased productivity and accuracy.

First deployed in warehouse and distribution centres (DCs) to perform picking, voice continues to be the most common point of entry for many voice customers. Voice is well-suited to picking because it allows workers’ hands to be free for picking, rather than occupied with paper, handheld scanners or labels. Workers can better focus on picking since they are listening instead of reading papers or screens, which increases their productivity. Voice also significantly reduces the chances of human error, which is common in manual paper-based picking. 

Voice has also been deployed in receiving, put-away, replenishment, shipping, cycle-counting, inventory management and many other workflows. Some businesses have completely automated their DCs and now operate seamlessly with voice.

Increased productivity

Voice users report productivity improvements well above 20% over existing paper/label or handheld scanning systems. Greater productivity means more products can pass through a facility in a given amount of time. In some cases, the greater throughput capabilities have enabled companies to forego plans to increase the size of their buildings or increase their staff.

Accuracy

The ability of voice systems to deliver picking accuracy in excess of 99.99% means that there are fewer returns and credits to process, which results in a much higher level of customer satisfaction when the ’perfect order’ is achieved.

Employee ease of adoption and satisfaction

Voice is easily adopted by workers who can become productive within an hour and proficient within days compared to the weeks it often takes to learn other technology solutions. Particularly helpful when bringing in new or temporary staff, voice reduces training time and costs dramatically, in many cases by more than 50%.

Additionally, workers value the fact that their employer has invested in providing the best technology for their work - one that offers a premier worker experience and is also the perfect choice for businesses in regions facing an aging workforce where employees are retiring later.

Company-wide flexibility

Voice is integrated with WMS and ERP systems, along with many other tools used by mobile workers. It streamlines processes and flow of information not only within one facility, but potentially across a company’s national or global network of facilities. It allows for benchmarking and comparison between operations or locations. Language flexibility is another feature of a voice-based solution, which supports any language, dialect or accent.

Information available in real-time

Voice operates in real-time, which means there’s a constant flow of data generated by the system. When run in conjunction with a WMS, all tasks can be tracked at any time to better manage the productivity of the workforce.

Automated data also assists in meeting increased government regulations, which require the traceability of food, beverage and pharmaceutical products throughout the supply chain. At the same time, businesses can better respond to customer demands due to real-time visibility of the history and status of ordered products. In addition, voice increases business productivity enabling customers to receive their orders sooner.

Return on Investment (ROI)

In an age of tightening budgets, businesses must be able to quickly see their investments produce results. The ROI for voice can be easily calculated and it is very common for many voice systems deployed in Australia and New Zealand to pay for themselves within a few months, with almost every company achieving payback in less than a year. Companies also find that voice makes their current work more productive, enabling them to avoid hiring additional labour.

Time to overcome the myths

Voice-Directed Work is still in a nascent stage in terms of adoption with only one in five supply chain managers even being aware of voice, according to a recent survey. 

Voice has been refined through many years of research, development and practical use in supply chain facilities around the world. Voice solutions available today are highly productive and accurate, and can be found in all distribution environments, from grocery to pharmaceuticals to apparel manufacturers, regardless of the spoken language and dialect.

As awareness of voice technologies continues to grow within the supply chain, many more businesses will benefit from the integration of voice. This is supported by the results of an independent survey, which found that once distribution leaders are familiar with the current benefits of voice, they overwhelmingly agree that it is an appropriate technology for distribution operations.

Authored by Paul Phillips, Regional Manager, Australia and New Zealand, Vocollect by Honeywell .

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