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In its infancy a decade ago when implementing a voice picking application meant ripping out your existing infrastructure and replacing it with all new proprietary hardware, software, WMS integration modules, there were some specific do’s and don’ts to consider. Today, with the advent of new technology approaches, the game has changed. Here are some things to understand in this New Era of Voice Enabling for Picking and Beyond.
Here is a list of six “old school” challenges updated from a device driven, voice enabled perspective for your existing processes and applications.
In the old days of voice-enabling for picking, a strong Wi-Fi signal would have been required to cover large areas of the distribution center or warehouse.
There is never a bad time or reason to upgrade the strength of your internal network in the warehouse, however, with in the New Era with device-based voice solutions, if you can support your scanners currently, you should be fine. There have been rare cases where an organization with a very low signal network allowed personal usage of the network (downloading video’s, Facebook, checking personal email accounts for example) which caused contention for the constrained network signal, yet for most organizations, if you use your network solely for transmitting warehouse data, and it is working well today, then you will be able to use this existing infrastructure without upgrades, to support device-based voice-enabled applications.
In the old days, voice systems had problems deciphering responses due to background noise.
In the New Era, the quality of user independent voice engines is phenomenal. In fact, modern software recognition engines are easily tunable to listen for accents, dialects and even blended languages, and automatically screen out background noise. The legacy server systems that required hours of training and testing just to save user files to the server for decent recognition are a thing of the past. With the newer device-based technology and the high quality commercially available recognition engines available for use today, voice clarity in even the most demanding warehouse situations, is remarkably accurate.
In the old days, implementing a voice picking system required changing the names of products and locations. Legacy server-based voice picking required strict rules for usage…their way or the highway.
In the New Era, with device-based technology, modification is not required, and you can continue to use the same process, names and locations for your currently used and optimized applications. In-fact you can improve and further optimize your existing processes. With the modern device-based technology, you have the option of additional automation through voice control. This includes macros developed to eliminate keystrokes, or error messages spoken to eliminate costly mistakes. This empowers full optimization of a voice enabled device and improves all aspects of the currently used warehouse applications. Also, there is no back-end integration software or modules that need to be used. The costs and resources associated with ripping out and replacing fully functional applications is eliminated with a device-based voice solution.
In the old paradigm you might need to consider situations where the system could not handle all scenarios and allow for cases where your pickers would be required switch to manual mode, interrupting the workflow and limiting the power of voice enablement.
In the New Era, by voice enabling your existing work flows and applications, there are NO restraints as to how and what you use voice to automate and enable. The power of utilizing the devices allows for multiple application support, IF-THEN statement flexibility in every data input field as well as being completely multi modal ALL THE TIME. Each workflow can be optimized for every scenario, and quickly updated and changed if the need arises.
In the old early days of voice enablement, user training was complex and time consuming and it required all new employees to be trained before they could be productive with the voice system.
In the New Era of device-based voice enablement with a user independent speech engine, there is no need for hours of training on a server to setup the voice system. Instead, users can simply begin using the new system. It is a heck of a lot easier to introduce new technology when it runs a familiar application that the employees have used every day! Users understand that voice is an enhancement to the existing system they already know, and not a whole new application, new process with new behaviors, and because it is seamless, user adoption soars.
One productivity tip: have laminated cards for quick reference for the first 60 days, you won’t believe how much that helps. Also, don’t be afraid to insist on common terminology for every user. It makes it much easier for your team to discuss usability amongst themselves while management can effectively measure productivity improvements and error reduction when everyone uses the same terminology.
In the old days, voice technology requires constant support and maintenance. With a server-based voice implementation, there is a constant fear of a single point of failure and no picking being done – AT ALL. Additionally, EVERYTHING is new…. the application, the proprietary hardware, the experience. It’s a huge undertaking that can take months and months of getting used to and any changes can take months and be very expensive.
In the New Era of device-based voice enablement, existing applications are easily voice enabled. There is NO single point of failure, therefore, no outage risk. The only new piece is the voice input, everything else is the same. In addition, when learning the toolset to voice enable any application, most customers now are their own first and second level of support. This provides great feedback for continuous improvement and an easy way to make changes immediately to the process.
Voice enabled picking has come a long way in a decade. Adding device-based voice enablement to enhance productivity for warehouse picking applications has never been easier, and the benefits of enhanced productivity and reduced errors are truly within reach. Indeed many DCs are now moving from voice-enabled picking to adding device-based voice enablement to many other applications, inside and outside the four walls.
Photo Courtesy of Zebra Technologies – Total Wearable Solutions for the Warehouse – WT6000, RS4000, HS3100.