Today's business environment is more challenging and complex than ever before. U.S. businesses are faced with globalization, outsourcing and mounting operating costs. To make matters more complicated, the economy is in a downturn, the labor pool is experiencing a worker shortage, and there is an influx of workers whose primary language is not English. Warehouses and distribution centers, in particular, are assessing their warehouse management technology and searching for cohesive methods to improve worker productivity, increase accuracy rates and reduce warehouse injuries, while striving to satisfy an ever-more demanding customer base.
In today's evolving marketplace, wireless voice technology can help companies that deal with the manual handling of products better manage their warehouse and distribution operations. Voice technology is helping to increase efficiencies and improve bottom-lines, while improving working conditions and retaining workers. The technology operates through the use of wearable computers and headsets, which allows a running dialogue with the worker as tasks are performed.
Open, SOA-based software
Voice technology is more affordable now than ever before, largely because of the shift from proprietary-based hardware and software, to open, service-oriented, standards-based voice solutions. The big idea behind standards-based software is that customers are not limited by the proprietary nature of any particular solution, including hardware and software. In the warehouse, standards-based software means maximum independence and flexibility. With service-oriented architecture (SOA)-based voice software, the same voice services can be assembled in different ways to voice-enable different processes in the distribution center. This gives the company independence from a specific vendor's voice application, enabling the warehouse to mix mobile voice devices and interchange platforms as business needs dictate – without waiting for the voice vendor to reprogram the system to accommodate these changes.
In addition, since standards-based software adheres to publicly documented, widely-accepted standards, upgrades can be accomplished much faster and cheaper because the pool of developers who can work with the technology is greatly expanded.
The open-standards approach also makes it possible for customers to take control of their voice solution by implementing and evolving it themselves as their business processes dictate. Open, SOA-based voice software acts as a gateway to reducing the long-term total cost of ownership (TCO) of voice because it is simpler to implement and adapt to changing business requirements. The key piece of open, SOA-based voice is that these changes can be made independently of the voice vendor – which means no expensive programming, customization or implementation costs.
Why voice is safer, better
Voice technology is taking safety to the next level. Voice-based technology relies on wearable computers (instead of hand-held devices) which allow workers to perform their tasks hands-free and heads-up. These wearable computers communicate wirelessly over a facility's WiFi network, enabling workers to receive work instructions in their native language, and have two-way, real-time communications with the host system. Workers are better able to focus on the manual handling of products, which allows them to concentrate on the work at hand without the distractions of paper pick lists or RF scanners.
The resulting ergonomic and intuitive productivity gains achieved from voice afford companies are improved accuracy rates of up to 99.99 percent, increases in workforce productivity of 12-20 percent, safer working conditions and increased worker morale. In fact, after implementing voice software, one company reported it virtually eliminated accidents on the floor while reducing workers' compensation claims by more than 70 percent. Even more impressive, these costs were reduced even thought the total workforce increased by approximately 25 percent.
Another benefit of voice technology is that workers embrace it, and employers enjoy an almost absolute worker acceptance rate for new voice deployments. Voice has taken a somewhat isolated job and made it more interactive. Workers appreciate the interactive element as it helps them perform their jobs better and in a more efficient manner. The technology also provides performance updates throughout the day – helping to keep workers abreast of how they are faring against their daily goals and targets. On the flip side, performance updates have made it possible for warehouse managers to put worker incentive plans into place. These are generally set up in accordance with worker pick rates and can result in more money or compensation for the worker.
Warehouses that implement standards-based voice technology experience quick ROI, low total cost of ownership and operational efficiencies throughout the enterprise. Voice technology should be a key consideration for all warehouses and distribution centers looking to remain competitive in today's challenging business landscape. Open, standards-based voice technology is helping increase efficiencies and bottom-lines and is improving accuracy rates and reducing injuries. Standards-based voice technology is truly a smart choice for any company dealing with labor intensive, material handling processes.