Lost amid all the hype around RFID are the strides taking place in the voice recognition and response technology that supports distribution operations. "RFID is stealing all of the thunder," says Greg Jones, director of industrial engineering at Dallas based Haggar Clothing Co., "but … voice technology offers lots of opportunity and is now robust enough to extend beyond hands-free data collection."
The evidence bears him out. Voice applications, once used mainly for data collection, have gone way beyond that, promising to revolutionize workforce management and optimization. And when used in conjunction with radio-frequency identification and scanning technology in hybrid operations, the technology holds enormous potential to help companies achieve significant gains in accuracy and productivity while enhancing management's capabilities to interact with operators in real time.
Jeff McCaffrey, logistics and distribution business analyst for CooperVision in Rochester, N.Y., can attest to that. "Voice technology has enabled us to have more visibility to our resources than we had in the past," he says. "The ability to dynamically manage the 'pace' of our workforce and reallocate tasks has improved our operations, virtually doubling our pick rates, among other improvements."
It's not hard to see why the shift from display-based task management to interactive human command and response in an operator's native language instantly improves job performance and satisfaction (as well as reducing training time for operators). Behavioral research supports the notion that providing immediate feedback and positive reinforcement promotes learning. With voice technology, the application can identify when an error is made by an operator and privately suggest corrective measures in the operator's language of choice without calling attention to the error. The result is the extension of the supervisor's span of management and improved operator performance and job satisfaction.
We believe the management and operator performance improvement capabilities of voice technology are more compelling than traditional accuracy and data-collection ROI measurements. To begin with, voice technology offers significant benefits over more inflexible automated picking equipment alternatives. We also believe that WMS application vendors will embed voice technology to optimize all task management and create a more verbal and dynamic interaction with the operators, thereby extending the reach of floor supervisory control.
But before you implement voice technology, it's important to lay the right groundwork. To that end, we suggest the following:
Regardless of your current operations, voice technology offers an opportunity to improve the quality of operator performance with improved communication, training, management and skills optimization.