9 Considerations When Installing Voice Technology in Fulfillment

When it comes to applying voice technology, and in particular voice picking, there are many benefits that a warehouse will certainly realize. Typically, companies experience additional picked units per hour; increased work pace in voice picking; picking and data entry accuracy; on-line data entry and data prep reduction; etc.

Implementing and maintaining voice technology comes with its own set of challenges. It’s important to understand these challenges upfront to lessen the pain and frustration in the implementation process, and on an on-going basis.

Here are 9 considerations to improve your planning

  1. Radio Frequency and WiFi Coverage. A superior WiFi signal that covers the entire warehouse and all storage and office areas is a must. The vendor or their contractor can provide this survey. The key points are to be sure that you get adequate signal in all areas of the warehouse. Secondly, you may be starting out with voice picking, however, there are companies that are adding mobile devices and tablet devices for voice, keyed data entry and bar code scanning etc. Plan for the long-term applications.
  2. Difficulty understanding employee voice. Depending on the amount of background noise (e.g. blast freezer or manufacturing), it can be difficult for the system to understand the responses by the associate. Additionally, the system needs to be programmed to the voice and dialects of the employees. Be sure you know how well the potential systems will adapt to these conditions.
  3. Relabel warehouse and products. The warehouse locations will need to be relabeled with check digits. Voice solutions prompt a worker to read back a set of check digits for the specific location. With no check digits, there’s no way to ensure the correct product is being selected, from the correct location. The time and money spent in prep needs to be considered when implementing voice technology.
  4. Application design. Will the new application handle all exceptions or will there be types of transactions that allow, or require, the picker to go off the voice system? Work through with the vendor all the transactions and conditions you require. Are there any sequences which require going off system, such as kits on the fly or other value add service that provide challenges?
  5. Adopt new systems standard. Voice technology establishes a new system process and standard. We have seen installations where some employees don’t adapt well to the new system initially. To get the savings and other benefits, everyone has to use the system. This may sound like a no-brainer but some companies struggle with it.
  6. Training. The voice system may be difficult for some people to learn, be comfortable with and return to higher productivity. Develop training materials and processes. How long will each person need? Be sure to provide plenty of on-hand use in the training. How will productivity be affected as the warehouse installs and adapts productivity? Build training time into production scheduling. Develop a project plan for the implementation.
  7. IT support. Once the warehouse is on voice, any system and technology issues will need to be managed by personnel in IT. Issues may not always transpire during normal business hours so it important to have access to help desk or technical personnel.
  8. Backup plan. If your voice system has outage, it may create serious operational downtime. Develop a backup plan and procedures for the various types of outage that potentially can happen.
  9. Achieving ROI. Many times companies get a 12 month or less payback. Vendors may have an ROI calculator that will be helpful to understanding your potential savings. Typically, CFO’s expect an ROI in 18 months or less. How will you achieve an ROI?

Voice technology, and in particular voice picking, is an important investment for your fulfillment center to improve productivity and reduce costs. These 9 considerations will help your business achieve an effective system and process.

At F. Curtis Barry & Co., we help multichannel retailers reduce costs, improve efficiency and increase productivity. Read more about our services here.

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