Tag: voice picking
Posted by Robert DeStefano
Making an investment in technology isn’t about developing or buying a product, but a problem that the technology solves. Here at Wavelink, our investment in voice enablement has been focused on solving the problems our customers face: What problems with their current workflows can be addressed with voice? What problems with traditional voice applications can be solved with a fresh approach via voice enablement?
The answer varies by business, and you can see some of the more common challenges driving voice adoption in the accompanying infographic. It is always interesting to hear a personal story from a decision maker explaining why they chose Speakeasy. Just as impressive are the metrics by which they measure the ROI on their voice enablement implementation – which can range from dollars and cents, to the less obvious employee morale, etc. All these show why voice adoption is projected to grow significantly over the next several years.
The goals all yield some commonality in the problems solved: Improvements – whether measured by accuracy, safety, training, and others, all tie back to making sure the optimal amount of product moves to the next stage in the supply chain. That’s productivity!
Speaking of productivity, are you planning to attend Oracle OpenWorld next month? Wavelink will be there to talk mobile productivity. Stop by and get a demo of Speakeasy in booth #3537.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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.
The 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.
Posted by Robert DeStefano
It’s always fun to look back at what the past year has meant to our industry, and (in a tip of the hat to William Shakespeare) if “what’s past is prologue”, then what is to come in the next year? Indeed, 2013 has seen a few significant themes take shape. Mobile device management has become significantly commoditized – as customers have begun to look past the common device-oriented features to larger, unified mobility solutions. A handful of new, mission-critical mobile devices have come to market – in some unique and interesting forms. Legacy voice vendors have struggled to get away from their Cold-war era technologies. Consumer smartphones and tablets have entered the enterprise through every door, window and loading dock available.
Yes, 2013 has met our expectations of continued evolution in enterprise mobility! 2014 has even more fun in store (and in the warehouse):
- The limits of the consumer device will become clear. Enterprises will see a more precise delineation between where BYOD or consumer smartphones/tablets can be used, and where rugged mobile computers will continue to be deployed.
- Voice-enablement will expand beyond stock picking. With full voice functionality, faster deployment, and at a lower cost, even companies that have deployed legacy voice for warehouse picking will be giving Speakeasy a fresh look for expending multi-modal data capture across supply chain tasks.
- There will be a reduction in point-product mobility providers. As more enterprises began doing in 2013, even more will seek out mobility solution providers that can offer more than just a single product. Unified mobility solutions – those that are designed together and, when deployed together, offer even greater value to the business, will be at the top of enterprise mobility wish-lists.
As these and other events unfold for IT in rugged environments, Wavelink is here to help you navigate. What are your enterprise mobility predictions for 2014? Please post your predictions in the comments section below.
We talk a lot about voice applications around these parts, and as you know, we recently announced that Speakeasy achieved Motorola Solutions Validation. This summer, we spent some time with our friends at Motorola in the Motorola Innovation Center. Below is a video that explains why this partnership is so valuable, and explains some of the benefits with working with us. Enjoy!