Briefings: Vocollect’s new take on voice technology in the warehouse

Vocollect says a fundamental shift is underway in distribution processes as we move from paper to RF to the voice-enabled warehouse.

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This is my first post since we re-launched Modern last month. Writing a column, at least a column like this, is a little like sharing news with a good friend. When I read something or hear something that catches my imagination, I pick up the phone and call my brothers or one of my close friends. The start of the conversation usually goes something like: “Hey, I was just talking to a guy and did you know …….. “ 

That’s the way I approach Briefings. I chat up someone I haven’t spoken to recently about what’s new in the market. Or I come across an article in the news that makes me think about materials handling a little differently. Then I reach for my keyboard. I approach each post like I’m shooting the breeze with my brothers. “Hey, reader. Did you know……” Long story short, it feels good to be back!

Last week, I had one of those conversations with Joe Pajer, chief operating officer and president of the supply chain solutions business for Vocollect, the voice recognition technology company. In keeping with my theme, Pajer would like us to think about voice a little differently. He was talking about something Vocollect calls the voice-enabled warehouse, “the next generation in distribution center and warehouse material-handling management.”

Vocollect’s contends that a fundamental shift is underway in how we think about processes in the warehouse. They have identified a continuum of distribution processes that moved from paper-centric to RF-centric (think barcode scanning) and are now ripe for becoming voice-centric. In other words, voice can be the starting point for engineering warehouse processes and systems, rather than an after-thought.

“In the past, voice was a technology that you put in the warehouse to do picking after you’ve done everything else,” Pajer says. “We believe that the technology is at a point where you can look at your work-flow processes from a voice-view first.”

In the voice-enabled warehouse envisioned by Vocollect there would be fewer alphanumeric keyboards and barcode scanning would be plan B, put in use where voice doesn’t work. The argument for voice is simple: Hands free and eye free allows workers to be more productive, and speech is more natural than scanning or reading a screen.

Now, the fact that a voice recognition company is suggesting that we use more voice technology in the warehouse might not come as much of a surprise. That after all is their business. But Pajer has a point: voice really has come into its own in the last five or so years. It’s also an area with a lot of activity right now – in addition to Vocollect and Voxware, the other traditional player in the voice space, from data capture companies like Motorola, LXE, Intermec and TopSystems are bringing voice solutions to market as are systems integrators like Numina Group, Intelligrated and Dematic. Companies like Lucas and Datria are coming up with new and innovative ways to approach the technology.

It really is an exciting time to watch the industry. “We’re not saying every DC can go door-to-door with voice,” says Pajer. “But we do believe that voice is more natural and efficient for warehouse associates. And, by starting with voice, you can leverage your investment in voice across more applications.” 

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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