Posted by Brent Bluth
Picture warehouse worker Peter Piper picking a peck of pickled peppers.
Let’s say Peter works for Goya Foods, America’s largest Hispanic-owned food company that distributes more than 2,000 Latin American products worldwide.
Did Peter perfectly pick the proper SKU of Goya pickled peppers? Were they the green Jalapeño? The Aji Picante? Were they sliced or whole? Did he pick them quickly? And what the heck is a peck, anyway?
Here’s the dill… I mean deal.
Warehouse operations are under pressure from customers who demand orders faster, and from high-error costs and labor costs. More SKUs drive the need for increased inventory visibility, accuracy, and efficiency.
As Kathryn Nassberg and David Krebs of VDC Research explain, ensuring greater speed and accuracy in warehousing, especially where individual picking is concerned, can reduce the cost of errors and boost worker productivity.
“As long as the human element continues to play a central role in warehousing,” say Nassberg and Krebs, “any technology that optimizes workflows and improves accuracy will add tremendous value.”
Voice-based technology improves picking accuracy and worker productivity
Research conducted by VDC revealed that organizations employing voice-based technology have consistently cited gains of more than 20 percent in both picking accuracy and worker productivity.
Around 87 percent of organizations surveyed experienced at least a ten percent improvement in picking accuracy, and 89 percent of organizations experienced at least a ten percent increase in worker productivity.
The pressure for warehousing to boost productivity and cut costs will only continue to grow.
VDC Research says 40 percent of warehouse labor costs are related to order preparation.
“This heightens the need to reduce warehousing errors, and picking errors in particular, as organizations strive to optimize the perfect order. The cost of freight, labor, and lost customers are the three factors that have the greatest financial impact when errors are made.”
And as product marketing manager Rob DeStefano explains in “The Android Expectation” white paper that you can download below, the Android rugged mobile computing platform is reaching critical mass in the market. Industry experts recognize Android as a viable candidate for your next mobility hardware refresh. But such a refresh brings with it three areas of concern:
- Implications for your mobile apps
- Workers and the Android user experience
- Android and your Supply Chain Management (SCM) systems
Specifically addressing the first area of concern, the implications for your mobile apps, choosing an Android device—and modernizing your telnet or web application with Wavelink Velocity—means you can make the leap to Android without having to touch your host apps.
Velocity modernizes the mobility clients you’ve installed that are already working with your host.
And even if you choose to voice-enable your Velocity-based applications with the Wavelink Speakeasy solution, the same promise holds true.
Speakeasy runs completely on the mobile device, meaning that everything that takes the spoken phrases and turns them into text for fields within your application is handled within the mobile device.
As far as your host application is concerned, there’s no difference between data entered via voice and data scanned from a barcode, or keyed in by the user.
Speakeasy redefines voice enablement
As Rob DeStefano explains, Speakeasy isn’t a traditional voice application.
“It’s a whole lot easier—enabling voice on an app you’ve already have deployed. But it’s fully operational and fully functional. Don’t mistake easier for less than full function. It’s full-featured voice, without the complexity. It’s not the legacy voice application of old.”
And what about Peter Piper and that peck of pickled peppers at Goya Foods? The company implemented Manhattan Associates’ Warehouse Management System (WMS) and Speakeasy concurrently.
With support from a Wavelink engineer for implementation, Goya developed the pick flow, supporting screens, and error messages for Speakeasy. With just an hour or two of training, and with quick-reference guides in hand, pickers began pulling items.
With voice commands, pickers and forklift operators move from point to point more safely. The Prince George, Virginia plant, which is the testing site for the system that is being rolled out to other Goya sites, hasn’t logged a single accident since implementing Speakeasy.
Additionally, the Prince George site notes big boosts in picking accuracy. For any errors caught at bay doors, someone would manually have to go re-pick and pack those items. “We would have from 40 to 60 mis-picks a night,” said Luis Ramos, General Manager. “Now that has gone down considerably to be almost non-existent, which translates to efficiency.”
Learn more about Speakeasy and Velocity from Wavelink. Download the white paper.
Posted by Robert DeStefano
Perhaps the greatest concern when doing any sort of upgrade or tech refresh is summed up in this question: “What will this do to the systems I’ve already invested in and have optimized?”
Your supply chain management systems—whether your WMS, ERP, etc.—are serious investments, and the resources (dollars, man-hours, and more) spent perfecting them make you hesitant to touch them unless you absolutely must.
The problem with third-party vendors
It’s even worse when you must allow a third-party vendor to get in and touch those systems. You worry about what they’re touching, and then you worry about how much it will cost you in the long run.
A third party making changes to your system means multiple expenses (and risks).
The first concern is about what their initial changes will do. Next (and often a larger expense) is the cost to bring the vendor back in to retest its software every time you want to make a change to your system. Even if your changes are for a completely unrelated reason, you’re paying that vendor to come back and retest, just to be sure.
We’ve witnessed this type of business model from many vendors over the years. It can be painful.
Choose an Android device and modernize your telnet or web application with Velocity
Choosing an Android device—and modernizing your telnet or web application with Velocity—means you can make the leap to Android without having to touch your host apps. Velocity modernizes the mobility clients you already have installed and that are already working with your host.
Even if you choose to voice-enable your Velocity-based applications with the Wavelink Speakeasy solution, the same promise holds true.
Speakeasy runs completely on the mobile device, meaning that everything that takes the spoken phrases and turns them into text for fields within your application is handled within the mobile device. As far as your host application is concerned, there’s no difference between data entered via voice and data scanned from a barcode, or keyed in by the user.
You’ve made a significant investment in your host applications. There’s no need to compromise that investment to get the latest mobile tech for your workers.
The next generation platform
Palm OS, and PocketPC/WindowsCE/Windows Mobile—right through today’s leading operating systems. The touchscreen experience is bringing mobility into its next generation.
With the mass-market accessibility of smartphones, your workers are more ready than ever to willingly (and possibly, thankfully) adopt a new mobility platform. Best of all, when you choose Velocity as your platform for Android applications, you can make the transition easy while preserving the investments you’ve already made.
Posted by Robert DeStefano
As you consider the implications of introducing Android devices to your supply chain workers, you’ll see two camps emerge that represent the majority of your team.
One group has been using your telnet clients and is very familiar with how it works. The other group is generally your younger workers and new hires—many of whom have never seen a “green screen” app in their lives and have no idea how to use one.
How Android benefits younger/less experienced workers
The more obvious group who will benefit is the younger crowd who doesn’t have to learn how to use a telnet application. This will save countless hours on its own.
Remember, these workers (mostly late Gen X’ers through millennials) have grown up during rapid changes in technology and don’t fear diving into something new. For them, the only new thing will be the workflow.
They’ve grown up with Android over the last several years and will tend to embrace your modernized application because it works just like the smartphone they carry.
How Android benefits more experienced workers
As for the more experienced camp of users, they will also embrace your Velocity modernized app on an Android mobile device, but for very different reasons.
First off, while they’re very familiar and comfortable with their telnet client app, they’re not unfamiliar with the Android user experience. While change can be scary, delivering their familiar workflow in a modernized application is actually what this crowd has been hoping for.
They look at the smartphones in their pockets and have recognized opportunity. They want to be able to work faster.
While they know your current telnet-based workflow with their eyes closed, giving them the Android experience is a win for personal productivity. These are your more mature workers who realize that the current devices and apps may be limiting all they can accomplish before their shift ends.
In both cases, the user experience offered through a modernized app is an opportunity to increase productivity for all your workers. It’s an unusual opportunity wherein the question isn’t who will resist, but rather which group will embrace the experience faster.
But wait! There’s more…
Beyond the familiarity of the experience, as well as the productivity that Android can unlock, there is more you can do to influence the intuitiveness of your workflow directly.
The Velocity administrative console gives you control over how those modernized screens are presented to the user.
Color-coded visual cues
One common practice that companies are embracing is color-coded visual cues. Users of a text-based client like telnet would key in a “Y” for “yes” and key in an “N” for “no”.
Now, however, these two responses are tap-able responses on the application screen. To help address speed and even language challenges, color coding responses such as these (the “yes” box is green, the “no” box is red) can make it even easier for workers to accurately choose their response.
Others have taken to color-coding entire task navigation—making each type of task workflow a different color. In this scenario, all the screens in your Picking workflow may have a green background, while Receiving screens would be presented on a blue background.
Adding elements such as color-coding make at-a-glance navigation even faster for workers, which can accelerate the training of new workers, among other things.
One additional customization element that can improve worker productivity significantly is custom keyboards.
Many Android rugged devices, like their consumer-grade cousins, are designed with few physical buttons or keys. While standard keypads for QWERTY and numeric data entry are useful, you can create custom keyboards that present users with only the on-screen keys they would need for a specific data field. This reduces the potential for typographical errors that can impact data accuracy.
“Do I swipe or chip?” Are you getting tired of asking this question whenever you want to pay by card? Since last year, I’ve been observing signs that read “coming soon!” sticking out of the EMV chip slot on new payment terminals.
What’s the delay? According to a great new report furnished by the National Retail Federation, certification seems to be a bottleneck. Check out this scenario: In 2014, you planned for a major 2015 budget allocation to update point of sale (POS) payment modules so that you would be ready for the EMV (chip) standard go-live in October 2015. Then, in 2015, you deployed your new payment equipment so that they were in and ready before both the October deadline and the start of the holiday shopping season.
Now, hurry up and wait. The NRF survey data suggests 60% of respondents have been waiting since at least December 2015 (6 months or longer) for certification. For a credit card industry that is very much focused on increasing security, the level of resources they’ve made available for this new standard coming online has retailers frustrated.
In my research for this post, I noted EMV readiness in the various retailers I’ve frequented in the last ten days. Among grocers, the nationwide brand has had chip-ready terminals since late 2015, but chip payment only went live last week. My local grocer has also had chip-supporting hardware for several months, but still hasn’t been able to activate it. Two out of the three nationwide hardware chains have yet to turn on chip-enabled hardware in their stores – prompting wonder if there is any competitive advantage for the one chain that has been EMV-live for the last few months. Finally, the local store for a national auto parts retailer hasn’t yet implemented hardware (and I suspect this may be common among franchisees, many of whom are small businesses).
What’s next? Many retailers will begin locking down process implementations by the end of September – so that systems are tested and stable during the peak shopping season. As certifications are obtained, it appears there will be a second holiday season of confusion, and without full confidence that payment transactions are secure. All this time, retailers are facing frustration from consumers who want to use their “more secure” chip cards, and face significant fraud exposure.
New standards are not easily implemented. Here, as retailers appear to have invested in a timely manner, their frustration seems justified. With the additional fraud exposure and impact on customer satisfaction, it will take longer to recoup this investment than most had likely planned.
I spend a lot of time discussing the demands of supply chain businesses and the technology at work to help them be more productive. Last month, I had the honor of seeing a related article included in The Point of Sale News. Shortly after the article was in circulation, I began thinking about the efficiencies we appreciate from the consumer side of the retail experience. I reflected on several of these in a blog post last Winter, but one plays such a role for me, and many other shoppers, throughout the year: Self-Checkout.
Just as we like to get product shipped to us fast from online channels (and who doesn’t love getting a ground shipment in less than 5 days?) we like to shop and not stand in long lines for checkout. I love self-checkout because it’s fast. And if you’re reading this, you’re likely in the supply chain and know how to work a barcode scanner – making us a breed that is faster than most consumers at the self-checkout line.
It makes sense that self-checkout delivers a faster experience. Often, stores limit self-checkout lanes to small quantities of goods (the “10 items or less” lanes). If you’re buying a large cart of groceries, you’re probably not in the same kind of hurry as someone who rushes in to grab a few quick items. I spoke with the front-end manager of one of my local grocery stores to ask about the self-checkout experience, and captured a few cool notes.
- People who use self-checkout are generally more prepared for the transaction. Not just the payment experience, but overall, they’re more comfortable with technology – even to the point of placing items in their shopping cart barcode up for rapid scanning. Confession: I do this every time.
- Theft (shrinkage) is the biggest challenge to self-checkout (no surprise, here). However, theft prevention is a main reason why self-checkout works on the “10 items or less” line. It’s much easier to spot items in the cart (and count them). If you’ve ever been called out for having more than 10 items when using that line, that’s the reason. It’s not because the two additional items you are ringing up slow everyone down much (though courtesy never goes out of style). Someone is counting what’s in your cart and too many items makes it more difficult to get an accurate count.
- Space matters. In this particular store, four self-checkout units took the place of two traditional checkout lanes. This setup makes sense not just in the grocery store, but it works for many of the other retail stores I visit all the time, such as my hardware store.
Looking at these points from both the consumer and industry side, it’s really interesting to realize how such tech can be a real win-win for both the consumer and the retailer. Bottom line: businesses move product through the supply chain with an ongoing quest for faster movement of goods, increased productivity from their workers and overall operational efficiency. We, as consumers, are often looking for the same in that last piece of the supply chain. Self-checkout is certainly one of the cool technologies making the retail shopping experience a positive one!
Posted by Robert DeStefano
We’re really excited by the news that Speakeasy is coming to the Android platform! That’s right! Later this summer, mobile computers running the Android platform can add voice to Velocity-based applications. Voice adds yet another boost to worker productivity, complementing the touch-driven user experience Velocity offers.
Businesses throughout the supply chain have already been recognizing the benefits of voice enablement – from fast implementation to efficiency gains of 50% and more. As device manufacturers are bringing Android devices to market in a variety of form factors, companies now have a good selection of devices for workers driving forklifts, performing warehouse tasks, and all the way to the retail floor. Now, as organizations consider these devices, they can bring their apps to Android via Velocity, and also add the power of voice!
If you’re considering devices running Android for your next generation mobile deployment, or to simply expand your use of mobility, here are some considerations for making the leap. There is significant opportunity to help your workers be more productive with these new devices and the familiarity that this operating system offers them. From Android’s first rugged embodiment as a tablet, the expansion into more scanning-intensive form factors opens a number of new use cases. Who thought Andy would find his way onto the manufacturing floor, or into the aisles of your warehouse? With our announcement, Wavelink is excited to be here, ready when you are, to put the power of voice into your Android mobile deployment!
Posted by Robert DeStefano
The title statement is a customer satisfaction nightmare. An order visibility nightmare I just lived during a recent home renovation project. If you ever had to convey this message to a customer, or want to be sure you never have to do so, read on…
Picture the scene: a completely gutted master bathroom – right down to the subfloor and wall studs. The new plumbing had just been roughed in and it was determined that before the mud base could be poured into my soon-to-be beautiful tile shower, a drain extender needed to be installed. Details aren’t important, but here’s the bottom line: I needed a $30 piece of cast iron to be installed before the bathroom could proceed.
This project began on January 31st of this year. The exposed studs and plywood floor remained exposed until late April. Several weeks in between went by without progress, simply because this stock part, which was supposedly located in a distribution facility within 200 miles of my house, couldn’t be delivered. The supplier couldn’t tell me an ETA. No tracking information could be offered. Right up to the night before it arrived, all I could get from the supplier was the statement “We can only tell you that your part is on a truck”.
Supply chain visibility is more important than ever, and my experience is one every one of us can appreciate – both from our work in the industry, and as consumers. We never want to be without this visibility. Whether your customers are consumers or businesses, you never want to deliver the message I received in this experience. You want as close to real-time information as you can get – and that’s when mobility pays a big role. When your workers can instantly share order-picking info to your supply chain management systems, you know exactly where each order stands.
Wavelink offers a number of mobile applications that can deliver that instant visibility from data captured by your workers, and work with your existing supply chain management system. With that kind of operational visibility, you’ll be able to ensure your customers get appropriate delivery information, improve worker productivity, and ensure your customer service team members never have to speak the vague, frustrating words “We can only tell you that your part is on a truck”.
This column was originally posted in March 2015 and has been updated.
We talk about voice enablement with enterprises throughout the supply chain a lot, and here a lot of 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 houses the speech-to-text and text-to-speech processing. However, if the barcode scanning mobile computers you’re deploying are fairly current (introduced to market in 2008 or later)), they already have the audio capabilities and computing horsepower to handle the voice processing, so you don’t need to buy proprietary voice hardware.
Middleware or “System Interfaces”: In most warehouse applications, you’re workers are already interfacing to 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 in between your host system and mobile device client in order to enable voice. You’re 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 changing 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, so 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% 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.