Wavelink Blog

Tag: voice-enabled wireless applications

For best results, don’t look down

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.

Three easy ways to tell if Speakeasy can help you optimize worker productivity in your warehouse

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 Speakeasy in Actionare 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.
  3. 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.

Don’t take my word for it, watch the customer Goya Foods and Coleman Cable testimonial videos on www.wavelink.com/voice.

Voice in the Warehouse: Safety Risk or Benefit?

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.

A worker uses Wavelink Speakeasy in the warehouse

A worker uses Wavelink Speakeasy 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.

Wavelink on the Road – What Have We Learned About Voice?

A warm welcome to the first day of April! While this post will contain no April Fool’s Day jokes, it will wrap up some of the key findings and observations that we, the Wavelink team, have found during our busy first quarter of 2014.

As you should know, we have been out and about spreading the word about Wavelink, at our numerous 2014 activities. Being at so many different places over the past few months, I’ve noticed a few key trends, and I think they are indicative of industry demand, rather than us advocating them. But, more so than any other trend, the “voice” trend is going s-t-r-o-n-g.

Two years ago, when we explained what it meant to “voice-enable” applications versus buying a voice “system”, few could articulate the difference. After speaking with hundreds upon hundreds of folks – whether it be at NRF in NYC, to one of our Speakeasy Roadshows, or MODEX a couple weeks ago in Atlanta – people understand the difference between what it means to voice enable, versus buying a legacy solution. Primarily, they’ve researched legacy voice solutions, and understand the dozens of barriers inherent with them: costly, lengthy implementations, etc., etc.

Now, when we explain the concept of taking their existing telnet or web applications, and simply voice-enabling them, you can see the lightbulb go off. After all these years of knowing what they don’t want, people have a firm grip on what their organization needs. It’s a great time to be in the industry and part of the “voice movement”. As a conclusion, here are some photo’s we took along the way from various shows. Enjoy!

MODEX 2014

As I write this it’s the end of the week and we have another MODEX under our belts. This year’s show was enormous and well attended by customers, integrators, consulting companies, and students of the industry.

It proved to be a worthwhile show, attendees showing up in droves with active projects, ideas and concepts, and a fire to keep pushing forward. Vendors were there in large numbers covering every aspect of supply chain and distribution from low tech fans and pallet managers to high tech warehouse and distribution data management systems – all with bringing their users improvements in productivity and high return on investment.

Speakeasy in action with Motorola devices on a forklift

Speakeasy in action with Motorola devices on a forklift

Technology advancements continue at a stunning rate from every aspect of materials movement and management. Of course, the cloud had a huge presence at the show as the industry begins to open up and trust moving their business information and transactions over the internet, this is a big step for this industry.

It was a fantastic show for Wavelink. Speech Enablement was the hit of the show, and the high functionality, quick payback, low disruption messages are finally sinking in. We received more requests for on-site productivity audits, proofs of concept, and speech pilots than I can remember from any single event.

Velocity was also a smoking hot topic. It appears manufacturing and distribution companies are moving toward web platforms and are discovering that app performance and disconnections are slowing down their workers. Velocity specifically fixes those problems, AND offers the ability so speech enable web apps making the perfect combo.

MODEX is an every other year show, swapping years with ProMat, its sister show. Wavelink will follow up with all the activity MODEX generated, but we are already looking forward ProMat in Chicago next year!

Chances are Good you Already have a Voice-ready App in Production but Didn’t know it! – Part 2

This is the second blog in a two part series on the benefits, and the quick and easy install, of Wavelink Speakeasy.

After all of the updates have been made to your system, it is time to demonstrate Speakeasy in your environment.

We recommend bringing up two workers initially; first someone who is a capable worker at the enabled function should be introduced to the system. Since we are using your software, they won’t need a lot of training, and will be familiar with the terminology, methodologies, and work steps used in the system. These first workers typically show a 25-35% improvement after the first couple days of using the system.

The second worker should be someone who is a marginal worker, someone who can barely make work standards. Once enabled and onto the production floor, we have found these workers to gain a 60-75% increase in productivity while reducing errors to <1%, and improving safety. Since their eyes are off the display of their device and are on where they are going or the items they are working with, their incidents of crashes and accidents drop off dramatically.

Wavelink has discovered that reduced training time of new workers is a huge side benefit, often reducing training times for new employees from days or weeks down to hours or even a single day.

Most customers that install Speakeasy roll out quickly, and add in other voice functions soon after their initial installation. Since changes and updates can be made in minutes moving to other facilities can follow the same 30 day or less process as the original facility and be receiving their return on investment before competitive systems can even get a test client out for basic validation.

The differentiators our customers and partners see in Speakeasy systems from traditional solutions include:

  1. All of the voice function is on the mobile computer device, and the speech function is speaker independent. That means no new servers or WLAN infrastructure is required to support Speakeasy voice.
  2. Customers can use their choice of mobile computer devices, not proprietary hardware required by the speech vendor, reducing their acquisition cost and ongoing maintenance costs and fees.
  3. Speakeasy allows for multimodal data entry, which means workers can input using voice, scanning, key presses, or even screen taps, however you choose. Any single method or combination you specify can be supported by Speakeasy. Adding or deleting a method is easier than you can imagine.
  4. There is no corporate system integration or middleware required. Speakeasy eliminates the complexity of system implementation. In fact if you monitor the traffic between your mobile computer and host systems, there will be NO CHANGE when you add Speakeasy to your corporate data systems.
  5. You more than likely already have productivity measurement systems in place to monitor and manage your mobile workers. NO CHANGES are required to continue to use those systems. Why would you pay someone for ANOTHER new monitoring system when either you have one in place, or your WMS or ERP provider offer one specifically for their system.
  6. Since Speakeasy is confined to the mobile device, it won’t run up huge data bills on public networks. Your web app can easily adapt to Speakeasy and allow your field mobility workers speech applications using the same application you have employed today.

In closing, one of the biggest problems Wavelink has to overcome is that Speakeasy voice systems sound too good to be true. I challenge anyone who wants to make their workforce more productive, more accurate, and safer to contact their Wavelink rep today!

Chances are Good you Already have a Voice-ready App in Production but Didn’t know it! – Part 1

This is the first in a two part series on the benefits, and the quick and easy install, of Wavelink Speakeasy. 

Everyone involved in warehousing or distribution center operations knows there is a clear, sharp focus on increasing productivity and accuracy. The market is full of companies that offer optimizing solutions, but most want you to throw away most of what you have and start over. The Wavelink solution, Speakeasy, is a lot of fun to bring to the market because it is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, allowing you to capitalize on the system you have spent so much time optimizing and training your employees to use.

It may come as a surprise to you, but chances are good that if you are in warehousing, distribution, or even manufacturing that your system is already a voice solution. If your systems offer a terminal emulation (telnet) or web interface Wavelink can show you that you already own a voice solution. It will lead to increased productivity, improved accuracy, and a safer work environment to save you in many ways.

Wavelink’s promotion of Speakeasy says that you can have a speech solution in place in 30-days or less. For most in the industry that sounds too good to be true because traditional systems require a lot of analysis, coding, integration with host based systems, testing and validation, and then training for users and systems support staffers.

With traditional voice systems, IT typically has to be deeply involved to install the required servers, verify the WLAN can carry the extra new traffic the voice systems create, and then resolve all of the extra new issues with feeds to corporate IT systems. Things like the productivity measurement systems you use today will likely go out the door to be replaced by something new from your voice provider.

If a spec is slightly off mark or a process changes between the time of spec and implementation the process grows longer and most of these steps need to be repeated. Some traditional voice implementations can drag on for years before customers can either add more functions or move to additional facilities even though they run the same corporate IT systems.

The Wavelink Speakeasy voice implementation method starts the same way, but the end is very different and in a very good way.

Speakeasy in ActionThe initial engagement is a study of your current programs and methods used in your operations. An analyst will perform an interview over a day or two to learn about the methods you use, and how your workers work in your systems. They will seek to learn the standard methods, and identify the exceptions of what happens when things go wrong or off the standard track.

Your application screens, workflow, and error messages will be captured with Wavelink tools. Each step of your process is captured to help integrate voice into your application to optimize the voice enablement.

Depending on the complexity of your systems, this interview and the analysis can take a week to 2 weeks. The result is a WebEx type meeting where the captured processes are walked through. The processes are verified, solutions are proposed and demonstrated, and the voice enablement of your current system is displayed before your eyes and ears. You have freedom to modify anything being discussed with a goal of locking down your application flow.

The changes you discuss are reviewed and a follow up meeting is set with a goal for one more WebEx discussion, and then the initial validation in your facilities on your systems in 2-3 weeks.

Once the updates are made to your satisfaction and the dates are set, it is time to demonstrate the system in your environment. Since we use your system, there is no huge cutover to a new system, we can test and validate with one worker in your current production environment. All of the work is done on the device, so your systems won’t even know a worker is using voice.

Visit us on Friday, February 28th for the second part in this series – How employees are brought on board and all the additional benefits, including reduced training, Speakeasy brings in 30-days or less. 

Voice: Because Talk is Cheap and Time is Money

Speakeasy in Action

It’s obvious that companies only implement technology when it will benefit the business in some way.  Most often, it is the hope that technology yields some financial benefit – perhaps in the form of increased productivity and efficiency.  However, every technology vendor also recognizes this and therefore makes their sales pitch around the promise of some great savings.  But talk is cheap – so how best to separate the promises made in words, and those that are based on factual evidence?Speakeasy in Action

Selling technology has been tied to an ROI for decades, and today, nearly every company has an ROI calculator with which they can show how your investment in their product will put your business in the green.  What’s more credible?  Consider reference companies that already use the solution and explain the return on investment in their own terms.  Just as the reasons a business will choose to invest in technology may vary, so do the primary components of their own ROI calculations. (more…)

What Eric Schmidt Can Learn from Warehouse Employees – Get Used to Talking to A Device

Google GlassesSince the introduction of Siri on the iPhone4 in 2011, voice recognition technology has become more mainstream than ever. However, that doesn’t mean that people have become any more accustomed to speaking to their technology. The process can be somewhat unsettling and even technologists themselves think so. According to Reuters, Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently stated that talking to Google Glass was “the weirdest thing.” In fact, Saturday Night Live recently poked fun at Google Glass and how awkward it can be to talk to a device on your face.

Voice recognition can be a bit strange at first but warehouse workers have been doing it for years.  Voice in the warehouse can dramatically improve safety by allowing workers to work in a hands and eyes-free environment. It also delivers 99 percent accuracy and at least a 10 percent improvement in productivity to warehouse applications such as data-entry, picking and processing. Though voice applications in today’s warehouse resemble an operator headset, it would make sense for future devices to resemble (or actually be) Google Glass.

Though at a $1,500 price point, Google’s first-to-market product isn’t exactly price friendly to many businesses. That said one of the first voice recognition products for the consumer market, Dragon Dictate, originally retailed for $9,000!

Speakeasy in Action

Speakeasy in Action

While prices for wearable’s like Google Glass are sure to drop as the technology becomes more mainstream, will talking to a device ever feel completely normal? In the late 20th century, being tethered to a phone all day every day never seemed plausible either, but with the rise of smartphones, that is our new reality. Only time will tell as to whether or not voice recognition devices will become the new norm. In the meantime, just ask any warehouse employee – they’ll tell you it’s all in a day’s work.

Keeping the Supply Chain Agile

In the most recent edition of Inbound Logistics, writer Marty Weil takes a closer look at how mobile communication tools are keeping supply chains on the go connected. “Mobile solutions are at work in every part of the supply chain. They are a key part of many warehouse environments, especially in directed picking applications. In transportation, mobile technology has been particularly significant for expedited parcel carriers that use it to improve customer service and continually optimize operations. Private fleets and motor carriers also use mobile devices for tracking shipments and collecting driver performance data.”021_6789_01

In our line of business we see a lot of enterprises who need to manage their operations in real time without impacting their bottom line from an efficiency and cost perspective. Through mobile technology solutions like Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Mobile Productivity Platforms (MPP) it really is easy to take advantage of technology that starts streamlining your supply chain operations immediately. As part of the article, Marty spoke with Wavelink customer Goya Foods, who are using Wavelink’s MDM solution, Avalanche and Wavelink’s MPP voice-directed solution, Speakeasy along with ruggedized mobile devices to improve efficiency in and outside the four-walls. Through mobile solutions they keep the goods moving without worrying about making adjustments on the fly.

For supply chain agility, Marty recommends that enterprises look towards four goals as outlined by consulting firm PwC –

1. Integrating the supply chain with other business functions. Companies that acknowledge the supply chain as a strategic asset achieve 70 percent higher performance. Taking steps to connect supply chain operations to functions such as marketing and sales can help strengthen the entire business.

2. Facilitating supplier partnerships and collaboration. Potential supply chain disruptions make it more critical than ever for companies to share data
and strengthen relationships with key suppliers.

3. Enabling companies to adjust quickly to changes. The better the information companies have at hand, the more responsive their supply chains can be. Without mobile devices, supply chain information can be slow to reach managers.

4. Measuring and managing supply chain data. Companies can use mobile tools to collect supply chain data that informs strategic decisions.

Through the use of mobile solutions supply chain operations can be agile, resulting in increased productivity, visibility and efficiency in moving product, saving money and meeting the growing demands of the customer. To read Marty’s article in its entirety click here. Want to take a closer look at how MDM and MPP tools like Wavelink Avalanche and Wavelink Speakeasy can add agility to your supply chain operations? Contact the Wavelink Sales Team.