Thursday, February 2, 2012

‘Voice Picking Not Gaining Traction’, After 20 Years, Why?

By Dan Villanueva

It’s taken some by surprise that Logistics Management’s 2011 Warehouse & DC Operation’s Survey (Web Cast)reported a down-turn in the use of voice-directed picking by companies in the operations and fulfillment world. Only 3% of the companies surveyed in 2011 indicated the use of voice-directed picking, a down turn from the 5% in the 2010 LM Survey. Conversely, RF [barcode scan] Picking increased to 42% in 2011, compared to 37% in 2010. So why the shock? After 20 years of evolution, voice technology has only achieved 8% penetration of the applicable WMS market (Tern Systems, 2011 Voice in the Supply Chain).

Everyone knows this. That’s not the point. There’s other recent research that predicts an increase in voice picking in the next few years. That’s not the point.

The broader question is: Why has WMS voice, after 20 years only penetrated a fraction of the applicable WMS market? And, is there something to learn from much deeper market penetration of barcode scanning technology in warehouse operations?

Bill Kuipers, president of operations consultancy Spaide, Kuipers & Co. in Voice-Directed Picking Not Gaining Traction says his clients tell him these[server-based]voice systems are too complex and expensive in terms of required [server]integration, new hardware and the need for additional server-based middleware. He’s absolutely right. In addition, these expensive voice implementations also require a significant change in business processes, which adds yet another dimension of business risk to the proposition. Only certain types and size companies will use them, leaving the remaining 92% of the WMS market off-the-table for voice.

So as ESPN’s Chris Carter says, C’mon Man! Barring the adoption of a lower cost, simplified voice innovation, yesterday’s ‘pioneering’, complex server-dependent voice technologies, will remain the distant productivity ‘step-child’ compared to RF Scan Picking. For many warehouse professionals it’s like choosing between the complexity of brain surgery to an out-patient colonoscopy. How many warehouse professionals are willing ‘bet the farm’ or their jobs on such complex and risky voice implementations? Compared to these older voice technologies, RF Scan Picking is simply a lower-risk, higher return WMS productivity option for large and particularly small and medium size companies finally converting from paper. Unlike barcode scanning, these legacy voice architectures, are by design, incapable of capturing a substantial portion of the WMS market. It’s a technological reality, reflected by marketplace statistics.

The January 2011 DC Velocity article ‘Voice Made Easy’ reports there is a next generation fully mobile WMS voice alternative to the risk and expense of older pioneering voice technologies.

In 'Voice Made Easy' Kevin Thompson, senior system manager for distribution for Cabelas’ World’s Foremost Outfitters, found a completely mobile, ‘server-less’ voice solution that seamlessly integrates with their Manhattan WMS that supports 3 national distribution centers and 1100 warehouse workers. Thompson said “both productivity and accuracy have jumped since the voice technology was deployed”. But here’s the kicker, The DC Velocity article goes on to say that “ in Thompson’s eyes one of the key selling points of the new system has been the ease of integration and low costs."

By completely eliminating the IT server as center of voice services and WMS integration and placing all integration and voice on today’s powerful mobile devices, voice productivity can become an affordable, practical and high value productivity option for the remaining 92% of the WMS market.