Voice-Directed Work in the Supply Chain: What IT Execs Need to Know

A primer for anyone ready to implement voice-directed work


To complete the transaction, the employee's voice is recognized by the voice recognition software running on the wearable computer, which translates the spoken response into data and sends that data back to the WMS. From there, the WMS issues the next appropriate command and the process repeats itself.

What's the Bottom Line?

By replacing labor-intensive, error-prone systems with more efficient voice-directed work, companies experience increased productivity, increased accuracy, improved worker safety and lower turnover.

Voice increases productivity by making workers more efficient. In DCs utilizing paper labels, hand-held scanning devices and systems requiring the employee to deactivate a lighting mechanism, their attention is frequently being diverted and productivity inevitably drops. Because voice is a hands-free/eyes-free operation, workers can devote total attention to the task at hand, therefore greatly reducing unproductive time and mistakes. In addition, since they are conversing actively with the system, side conversations are virtually eliminated.

Depending on the unique DC environment, typical productivity gains range from 11 to 50 percent or more. These gains can quickly translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual savings. Language barriers, turnover, seasonal fluctuations and the cost of training are a few labor-related issues that often compromise productivity. Because voice accommodates different languages and training time takes just a few hours, companies save significantly on labor costs.

Voice enforces order accuracy through the use of random check digits. The check digits are placed directly at the product's location and must be read when the worker is at that location. Because the voice system won't allow the worker to continue unless he or she reads the appropriate digits, accuracy is guaranteed nearly 100 percent of the time.

Because the employees' hands are free and their eyes are not distracted by having to hold the RF scanner or to look at a piece of paper, they can focus on the critical activities going on around them, which enhances safety. Since the employees' heads are up, they are much more aware of potential dangers.

Voice also results in lower turnover because it allows workers to perform at higher levels with reduced effort. This means they take more pride and ownership in their work. A longer-tenured DC workforce reduces the cost and time waste of turnover and excessive re-training.

When IT executives begin to investigate voice, a number of questions naturally arise. Here are some of the common ones:

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