Companies that decide to automate warehouse operations by upgrading from a paper-based order-picking process to a technology-driven process often face a choice: is it better to deploy RF-scanning technology or voice-directed software? Far from being mutually exclusive, the two technologies are actually strong complements that, when deployed together, can help companies fully optimize their logistics operations.

Since many WMS systems come pre-loaded with RF scanning capabilities, implementing the handheld device-based system is a straightforward way for companies to start automating everything from goods-in to picking to verifications. RF scanning is particularly well suited to tasks that involve lengthy codes with many digits and characters.  After deploying RF, warehouses regularly see improvements in accuracy and efficiency.

While RF scanning is a natural first step to full automation, stopping here means leaving many supply chain improvements unrealized. For as many benefits as RF scanning brings, it also creates new challenges. The handheld devices that power RF scanning make it difficult for item selectors to work hands free, which is especially problematic during heavy case-picking shifts. One beverage distributor found that the devices were easily and frequently crushed under the weight of beverage cases. Additionally, companies that deploy only RF may not experience as significant gains in productivity and accuracy. In an era when customers are willing to stop shopping with a brand after a single late or incorrect order, failing to fully address accuracy and efficiency challenges in the warehouse means risking damage to the customer lifetime value.

In other words, RF scanning is only the start which is why many warehouses deploy voice and RF concurrently. Not only are voice headsets hands free—which helps increase warehouse safety and device replacement costs—but voice also contributes to even greater warehouse process improvements, including an on-average 26% increase in picking speed.

When it comes time to implement voice, warehouses should look for providers that can offer the flexibility of adaptable workflows and a cloud-based solution. To get the most out of a deployment, be sure to look for real time analytics tools that pull from voice as well as RF-scanning systems, the WMS, and the TMS. Above all, be sure to select a voice provider that’s not just a technology vendor but a true business partner that can help companies adapt and change to meet changing customer expectations.