Voice recognition: Enabling diversity in the warehouse
September 23, 2011 - MMH Editorial
For five years, I wrote about issues related to diversity for DiversityInc magazine. I had the opportunity to speak to senior level executives at some of the country’s largest corporations – companies as Comcast, Coca-Cola, Raytheon and Walmart – about their efforts to tap customers and talent in under-served communities.
Anyone who has walked through a warehouse or DC in recent years knows that diversity is an opportunity and a challenge for warehouse managers trying to maintain a stable workforce in their facilities. So I was intrigued when Steve Gerrard, vice president of marketing for Voxware, proposed a conversation about voice recognition technology as an enabler of diversity.
Just as a publication like DiversityInc defines diversity in terms that go beyond race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, so did Gerrard – which shows he’s keeping up on the issues. So, how does voice enable diversity?
“For starts, there’s the classic American immigration story,” Gerrard said, pointing out that many warehouses today employ associates from around the globe. “You end up with an ordinate share of transient labor or immigrant labor who are non-native English speaking: they may speak English at work, but they speak Spanish or Vietnamese or another language at home.”
Voice, especially speaker dependent systems that are trained by phrases spoken by a specific individual, helps assimilate the work force into the work flow. “If you speak broken English, the system can still understand you and you can work productively, regardless of your native language,” Gerrard said.
A second way to think of voice is to think of the human adoption cycle. “As I use a piece of technology, I use it slowly at first and then more quickly over time,” Gerrard said. “Instead of moving through each step of a transaction, voice allows the experienced worker to string multiple transactions together to speed things along.”
The third theme was job diversity. With voice, a worker can do picking in the morning and replenishment in the afternoon. “It gives you a lot more flexibility with the functional activity of your workers,” Gerrard said.