What Gives? Explaining Voice Picking's Low Market Penetration

Posted December 1, 2011 by Steve Gerrard

Recently, Modern Materials Handling did their annual survey of Warehouse and DC Operations Trends. The poll surveyed 600 decision makers in various industries. Surprisingly, 64% of respondents are still using paper-based picking, while only 3% use voice picking with scanners and 6% use voice picking alone. What gives?

Somerfield execs on benefits of going from paper to voice Proprietary voice systems had a reputation for being complex and expensive - and deservedly so.  When voice picking first reached everyone’s ears, executives heard about long installations, costly IT projects, and inflexibility after startup.  Voice was for those who could afford it, and smaller warehouses would just have to make do with old paper and scanning methods.

But times have changed.  At Voxware, we’ve dedicated our research and development to breaking the barriers that keep voice picking confined to a narrow scope of warehouses.  This research has led to new products that solve the problems that proprietary voice causes.  New dynamic voice picking should encourage a spike in voice picking market share, thanks to some new capabilites:

Implementation is quicker and easier. There are some horror stories out there about voice installations that just would not end.  The extended projects are a drain on time and money, and quickly cause TCO to balloon.  What causes these nightmares?  Often, it’s the inability of a voice solution to integrate quickly with an existing WMS.  Custom coding interfaces the WMS and voice solution at a deep level, intertwining their back-ends to the point that one cannot change without changing the other.  It’s an antiquated way of doing things, because that sort of deep integration just isn’t necessary anymore.

New voice technology has adaptable WMS interfacing that isn’t coding-based.  It provides the customer with the ability to connect new voice picking software to their WMS faster and not worry about changes down the road.  It’s much more user-friendly and less reliant on the voice vendor.

Costs have decreased, both up-front and long-term.  Proprietary voice was only for big warehouses because it required that the business absorb significant losses at the beginning of the voice project.  Mid- to small-size companies could never get over the initial hump.  The productivity and accuracy benefits of voice were not apparent until after a lengthy training program and adjustment period.  Yet once again, new technology is changing that.

Configurable solutions require much less coding, thereby eliminating the longest and most expensive element of proprietary voice.  In addition, voice picking technology now has a shortened training period and numerous built-in aids to smooth the transition for the workers using voice.  A “manager-on-the-shoulder” functionality gives workers the aid they need when they don’t know what to do next.  Instead of asking a supervisor for help and occupying more labor resources, the picker can ask the system something like “what do I say?” and receive help while staying on task.

Voice isn’t just a fun project for the big and powerful anymore.  It’s a polished cost-cutting weapon that can boost operations in any warehouse.  As soon as logistics executives realize that configurable voice has eliminated the problems of yesterday's voice solution, the voice share of the market should skyrocket.  


Steve Gerrard is the Vice President of Marketing & Strategic Planning at Voxware.


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