Posted by Robert DeStefano
When warehouse managers start to explore voice enabling tasks, they often start with an inflated project scope. Often times, it’s past research or experiences in previous careers that set this notion. Other times, it’s because they have heard the horror stories from their peers – stories of voice application vendors who have entrenched themselves deep in the Warehouse Management System (WMS) in an attempt to make the two inseparable. And the project expands from there. Let’s take a look at the three components you may already have in place and how you can add voice to these existing systems to improve productivity.
Your Host System: The truth is, you can add voice to your warehouse operations without touching your WMS! Here’s the thing: traditional voice apps are designed with a requirement for some host interface software. It’s a relic from an earlier time, when mobile devices couldn’t handle all the voice processing. However, today’s devices can convert voice-entered data into the same data stream as data captured via barcode scan or keyed entry. Your WMS doesn’t know (nor care) which data was entered via voice. For more on this, check out my previous blog: Four Implementation Costs Traditional Voice App Providers Don’t Want You to Think About
Your Mobile App: So, it’s established that you can add voice and maintain your existing WMS. Now, for the mobile application: if you’ve already had rugged mobile devices deployed in your warehouse, you’ve probably been using a thin-client app such as Terminal Emulation, or a browser interface to your host system. If you’ve got that in place, there is no need to disrupt what’s been working! You can add voice to that existing application and save significant time and money by voice-enabling that existing application.
Your mobile computers: You might be looking to add voice as part of a refresh of your mobile computers, and if so, that’s going to ensure the added productivity benefits that today’s rugged mobile devices can offer. However, even if you’re aiming to get a few more years out of an existing mobile deployment, you’re in good share. I mentioned above how today’s devices can turn voice-entered data into the same data streams that feed your host system with barcoded or keyed entries. That’s possible because mobile devices released to the market over the past 7-8 years have the processing power to perform all the voice processing right on the device. So, if your current mobile computers are at least as recent as this, you can add voice today, without having to make an investment in new devices.
If you haven’t had a demo of Speakeasy, you haven’t seen how simple it can be to add voice to your existing systems. Request a trial here, and we’ll help you assess your current system readiness and get you started toward greater productivity with voice.
We talk about voice-enablement with enterprises throughout the supply chain a lot, and hear stories about their prior experiences with traditional voice applications. Their stories are maddening. Their stories are horrifying. Their stories are the kind that make anyone with P&L responsibility want to scream. Too often, these recounted experiences are stories of large up-front investments and then a bunch of unforeseen expenses post-deployment. The problem is the traditional voice application model, which adds costs in these four common areas:
- Voice-dedicated hardware: Traditional voice apps require a separate, proprietary computer (typically worn on the belt or shoulder of the worker), that house the speech-to-text and text-to-speech processor. However, if the barcode-scanning mobile-computers you’re currently deploying are fairly new (developed in the last 8-7 years), they already have the horsepower to handle voice processing, so you don’t need to buy proprietary voice hardware.
- Middleware or “System Interfaces”: In most warehouse applications, your workers are already interfacing with a host system – your WMS, ERP or other supply chain management system. And, in most of these cases, your workers are using Terminal Emulation on their mobile computers to interact with this host system. There is no need to wedge additional middleware between your host system and mobile device client in order to enable voice. Your interest is to recognize productivity gains by adding voice to your existing mobile application, so there is no need to buy middleware to enable voice.
- Host System Modifications: Recently, I wrote about the problems that can arise when your voice vendor wants to make changes to your host system. You’ve invested a significant amount of money in your host system, and you don’t need another vendor putting their hands in there (and charging you consulting services fees to do it). Adding voice to the mobile application should simply pass data back to the host system in the same way that barcode-scanned or key-entered data is communicated. Your host system shouldn’t even need to know which method of data capture was used for a given data field, so adding voice shouldn’t require changes to your host systems.
- Post-Deployment Host Modifications: Once your workers are voice-enabled and you’re realizing the productivity gains of voice-enablement, should you discover a process change that will further optimize your workflow, many traditional voice vendors will require that you contract them to contribute to the changes you want to make to your host system. They want to be included because they’ve already made changes to your host system to make their voice application work, so if you want to make any changes, they’ll need to ensure their application isn’t adversely affected. Deploying voice-enablement shouldn’t require host system modifications. You shouldn’t have to pay professional services fees to your voice vendor every time you want to make a change to your host system.
If you’ve encountered any of these issues when considering adding voice to your picking or other warehouse workflows, it’s time to look at Speakeasy. It’s 100 percent mobile device driven (no proprietary voice hardware or middleware required), and does not require any modifications to your host system (which also eliminates the associated post-deployment costs). You get the productivity benefits of full-featured voice-enablement, but without all these additional costs that often make traditional voice applications cost prohibitive. Plus, you can deploy in as little as 30 days, so the productivity gains and cost savings can start adding up quickly.
Coming to ProMat 2015 (March 23-26) in Chicago, IL? Come see Speakeasy in action at the Wavelink booth #4864.
Posted by Robert DeStefano
In this post (which is loaded with American football references), I’ve taken a few notes from the playbook of our good friends and strategic partners over at Zebra Technologies and added a bit of additional color commentary to build a kind of “can’t lose” game plan for optimizing your warehouse productivity and operations. Taking a look at the recent post from Mr. Mark Wheeler at Zebra Productivity Does Not Increase by Voice Alone, several key points are brought to the forefront:
- “Voice picking technology can be significantly increased with complementary solutions that aren’t necessarily voice-driven…” this is, indeed, correct. For optimal worker productivity, add voice where voice makes sense. Voice should be one part of a multi-modal warehouse picking solution, alongside barcode data capture and keyboard/touchscreen data input, for example. These methods of data interaction team up to build the strongest solution – each contributing its strengths to the overall performance of your mobility deployment.
- “Reporting tools can access [individual worker productivity] data and provide insights to the current process, identifying ways to streamline and improve it.” Tracking is a key to optimizing productivity. Sure, there is the need to track for ROI purposes, but optimization includes continually measuring the performance of each worker and finding ways to get even more productivity by making small adjustments to the workflow. This is an ongoing pursuit of perfect productivity – scoring the most output and tackling inefficiencies.
Here’s another big play: For your multi-modal warehouse picking, consider the benefit of implementing this solution without having to make changes to your host application (your WMS, etc.). That’s a game-winner! With Wavelink Speakeasy, all the voice-processing is handled on the mobile device, so there is no need to touch the host system to accommodate voice. For more about this, you can check out my recent blog post “Hey Voice Vendor: Hands off my host system!” By keeping your existing host applications intact, you’ll realize significant cost savings, and score some extra points by easing the implementation. Now, go in there and score that productivity touchdown!
It amazes me how complex some traditional voice applications are to implement. Looking at some of the workflow diagrams publically available from these vendors, I’m left scratching my head. Voice is an additional mode of data capture. It is the vocal equivalent of pressing a few keys on a device’s keypad or scanning a barcode. It takes place at the point of activity – where the worker is picking product in the warehouse, for example. It offers huge productivity gains for the business by making that mobile worker be able to complete tasks faster. So, why do some voice vendors make it so complex? It baffles me that a voice vendor would require access to make changes to your host system (your warehouse management or ERP system) in order to implement their voice application. Think about it: at some point, you made a significant investment in selecting the host system that best fit the needs of your business, and now, your voice vendor wants to make changes to it in order to make their system work. Once they’ve made these changes, they’re locked in. Every time you want to make a change to your host system software, you now need to include your voice vendor in those discussions (and expect to be billed for their services), to make sure any changes you make anywhere in your host system don’t break their voice application. That’s frustrating. To draw an analogy, if I want to have my electrician put a new light fixture in my house, I don’t want to have to pay my air conditioning contractor to be involved – just because the air conditioning system also happens to use electricity. Voice can be implement easily, and much more quickly, when voice is enabled at the point of activity. With Wavelink Speakeasy, all the voice processing is done on the mobile device. What does this mean? From the perspective of your host system, the fact that the data was entered via voice is irrelevant. As I mentioned earlier, voice is one method of data entry – part of a multi-modal approach to capturing data. All the voice-enabling technology can take place at the point of activity, just as it does for the other means of data entry. There is no need for your voice vendor to be touching your host system, nor charging you recurring fees every time you want to make any host system changes.
No matter how you say it, productivity gains are the objective of mission-critical mobility deployments all around the globe. From New York to Beijing, and Frankfurt to Seoul, enterprises all over are looking for ways to help workers be more productive. These gains can’t be realized only in pockets of the world economy, but must be accessible everywhere. How can companies accelerate the realization of the benefits of enterprise mobility?
- Speak the worker’s language: provide mobility solutions that are easy for workers to understand. This starts with presenting mobility software clients in their local language. (more…)
Last month I had the opportunity to tour a facility where Speakeasy has been in use for quite some time. It’s always an awesome experience to see and hear why people are happy with our products, and the reasons always vary. I’ve written before about how ROI is defined differently by different organizations, but this time I got the visual demonstration of how productivity is defined.
I listened to a general manager at the company give a history of the company’s search for enterprise mobility – dating to rugged mobile computers chosen ten years ago, and how they continued to seek ways to extract more productivity from mobility deployments in the years that followed. One of the really compelling things he said was how he studied the behaviors of his warehouse workers and noticed one very simple productivity inhibitor: while barcode scanning was delivering productivity gains and was easy and intuitive, workers would still look down at the mobile device screen to read instructions in their workflows, and every time they looked down the worker’s feet would stop moving.
How much time could a worker lose by stopping and looking down at a device screen? It may be a second or two…or three or four. The bottom line was – if there was a way to address that delay, it could significantly improve productivity. How could a second or two really make such a difference? We were watching the activity in a regional warehouse, where pickers scan roughly 400 items per hour, each (the general manager suggested this was actually a low estimate). Lose a second on each scan because the user has to stop to read the location/quantity information for the product and that’s 400 seconds (nearly 7 minutes) every hour. Over an 8-hour shift, that worker spends nearly a full hour (53:20, to be exact) looking at the device screen. Now, multiply that by the number of workers on the floor, and you have the number of man-hours spent looking at the device screen in a day. Multiply that by how many shifts in a year, and you have a significant productivity gain by adding voice.
Sure, one of the promises of voice-enablement is the ability to have hands-free and eyes-forward safety for workers and productivity gains for their business. However, consider that Speakeasy can be implemented in 30-days. Traditional voice application vendors require 12 weeks or more, and some actually require 12 months or more. Your ROI with Speakeasy could be realized before a traditional voice application might even be deployed!
Watching the speed with which workers in this warehouse were completing their tasks, and how they were able to navigate their carts and forklifts was impressive. Knowing that Wavelink was helping them get their job done more safely and more quickly was awesome. Understanding, as I watched the activity that was happening all around, how important this solution was to the success of this warehouse operation, was an amazing experience.
Posted by Kelly Ungs
In this brief, I am going to tell you three signs that you can easily spot that will tell you if you can optimize your warehouse or distribution center operations. I am going to make an assumption here that you are already using a terminal emulation or browser based materials management system. I don’t care which one, just that it is based on Telnet (TE) or a browser. Wavelink can easily and quickly enable voice for almost any of those in the market today. It can be a WMS, ERP, CRM, or any other system that drives your workers and allows them to feed work information into as they do their job.
- First, watch your workers. If they are frequently stopping to read their paper or the display on their mobile computer/scanning device, then you can likely reduce the amount of time it takes for them to do their job. The more they stop, the more you can easily improve it. The device display is still critical because it can contain so much information vital to competing the task or be used in configuring and troubleshooting, but if workers are often stopping to read we can help. Tasks assignment and reminders can be spoken to the worker allowing them to continue moving toward their goal as they listen.
- Next, does it take a long time to bring people on board in your operation? Is most of the time spent trying to explain what all the parts and exceptions are, and are those already in your IT systems you use to collect data as they work? If the answer is yes to either of those, then Speakeasy can likely help you improve productivity. It has the ability to break the task down to small explainable parts. Workers can ask the system to repeat commands, locations, and data sent to them by the host that is required to do their job. Workers who formerly went through three-day training sessions now are frequently productive workers in less than a half day of job training. The end time depends on your processes and automation but we almost always can reduce this time.
- Finally, are your workers more productive when they have both hands free to work? Headsets and ring scanners attached to mobile computers allow workers to dive in with both hands and optimizes worker productivity. As a benefit this reduces lost and broken devices as workers are not setting them down to do the work before recording and updating systems with their work in process or completed tasks.
We’re all familiar with distracted driving (or distracted walking, which can be just as dangerous. If you don’t believe me, see here and here for examples). We’ve all seen that teenager texting away while simultaneously blowing through a stop sign or the businessman anxiously typing out an email while his car drifts into the next lane. Maybe some of you have even been that person. We all know it’s dangerous to use our mobile devices while driving, and yet many of us continue to do it.
When Siri was released, it was hailed as a possible solution to the texting and driving problem. Now, smartphone users could dictate emails, text messages, tweets, and Facebook posts without looking away from the road! How wonderful!
And yet, it doesn’t seem to have worked out that way. I went back to an article in the New York Times about how Siri and other voice technology could actually be a safety risk for drivers. The article described a study by AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety that concluded speech-to-text systems created significant distraction that severely impairs reaction time and the ability to monitor and process what is happening on the road.
The more I read about the study, the more convinced I became that mobile phone use should really carry the stigma of drunk driving. But I also wondered if the same conclusion applied to the use of voice technology in the warehouse.
There are several key differences between using voice technology in your car and using it in the warehouse. For one thing, in your car, you’re asking Siri (or your voice technology of choice) to dictate longer messages, which the voice technology is attempting to transcribe word-for-word –which you then have to double check against what you actually wanted it to say. Compare that with the way voice is used in the warehouse, which tends be less complex spoken requests and commands. There is typically minimal screen interaction when voice is used in the warehouse and most screen interaction, such as scanning items, is done while the vehicle is not moving.
For another thing, you don’t actually have to use your mobile device in the car. If you just can’t wait until you get home to post that tweet, you should maybe consider your priorities. On the other hand, voice in the warehouse provides measureable productivity and efficiency benefits through hands-free device use. Customers have also reported that they’ve seen workplace accidents reduced following the implementation of voice technology. For me, it’s that which decides the issue of whether voice technology is really safe or not. After all, a reduction of accidents is really the best measure of safety.