Comment: Putting a voice at the heart of your distribution center

Miroslav Kafedzhiev, vice president and general manager, Middle East, Turkey & Africa, Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions (SPS) on how voice technology can help retailers improve their logistics and meet customers' evolving expectations.
Miroslav Kafedzhiev, vice president and general manager, Middle East, Turkey & Africa, Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions (SPS).
Miroslav Kafedzhiev, vice president and general manager, Middle East, Turkey & Africa, Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions (SPS).

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In today’s digital distribution landscape, the consumer calls the shots. With the rapid rise of e-commerce, and thousands of retail channels at their fingertips, customers expect a smooth transaction process followed by efficient, fast delivery.

Meeting the expectations of customers presents a significant challenge for the regional supply chain industry, particularly warehouse and distribution center (DC) businesses. Firms are under pressure to grow their business and support higher volumes of goods, all while taking steps to improve customer service and reduce costs.

For DC businesses, volume has always been integral to growth. Processing higher volumes with the same or lower level of resource is the goal. Preventing operational bottlenecks and tightly managing inventory is critical to growing volumes. 

Improving customer service is also a top priority. Order accuracy is critical and is often a core performance metric. Order errors generate customer complaints, refund requests, redundant shipping charges, and ultimately inhibit profitable growth. Errors can be introduced at multiple points at the DC-level and reducing error rates typically requires process changes across multiple workflows.

In addition to growth and customer service, reducing operational costs is an ongoing priority. Yet, finding ways to reduce cost without negatively affecting the customer experience can be challenging. Businesses can find ways to cut costs and support top-line growth, while also improving customer service, by redesigning processes and deploying effective technology solutions.

Today, digital technologies are having a big impact on the quest for efficiencies. Data-driven automation solutions once considered too complex and expensive are fast becoming mainstream as businesses turn to technologies to help better manage operations and improve customer experience.

Tackling distribution centers challenges through voice technology

Just as today’s online shopping landscape is transforming the customer experience, it also offers powers solutions for operators that add efficiency and provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Of the many innovative new technologies available, voice is fast becoming the solution of choice for operators.

According to Persistence Market Research’s latest report, the global voice warehouse solutions market is forecast to grow at CAGR of 14.4 percent between 2017 and 2025. Last year (2017), the global market was valued at about $900 million and is anticipated to reach in excess of $2.5 billion by the end of 2025, according to TheBusinessStatistics.com.

Voice-enabled technologies like Honeywell’s Vocollect™ voice solution provides streamlined best-in-class business processes to help organizations synchronize the flow of products through the DC and drive growth.

In fact, voice technology has been proven to increase picking accuracy by up to 99 percent, as well as boost worker productivity by as much as 35 percent. This is in addition to a 25 percent reduction in typical training time.

So how does this technology work?

Voice technology directs workers through their DC-related tasks by issuing step-by-step instructions. The worker receives instructions through a headset and a belt-worn device, which translates text instructions input from the warehouse management system (WMS) into voice. The worker is required to confirm each step, such as location via check digit or quantity of goods picked. With accurate warehouse management enabled by voice technology, there is very little risk of error.

The fact that the worker’s eyes and hands are continually free also helps increase productivity levels. No time is wasted putting down pen and paper or scanner, and workers can be travelling to their next pick location while receiving aural instructions through their headset at the same time. Many voice-enabled DCs have successfully eradicated their auditing processes, such are the levels of accuracy of this technology. This, in turn, leads to greater cost savings and faster turn-around of orders.

Distribution centers with a consistently high velocity of transactions generally realize the greatest benefits of the technology, and especially during periods of high transaction rates. Some DCs also see significant gains from voice-centric DC design when workflows have relatively low overlap –  in other words, when receiving, put-away, picking, replenishment and loading are performed at different times throughout the day.

Making ‘voice’ technology the first-choice:

In addition to significantly increased accuracy and productivity, improved service levels, shorter training times, and the flexibility to move workers from one task to the next, voice technology also affords a host of other benefits:

•             Higher levels of DC safety – with eyes-free and hands-free, there is less scope for accidents

•             Greater worker satisfaction, resulting in better staff retention and a more stable workforce. This in turn reduces recruitment and new employee onboarding costs, not to mention less disruption

•             Greater traceability of goods

•             Greater visibility of employee efficiency, which enables warehouse managers to assist where required, identify issues such as aisle organization, and to move staff to different task/orders according to priority. Again, helping ensure customers receive their order on time.

Based on the myriad benefits voice brings, it is easy to see why it is fast-becoming the go-to technology for DCs seeking competitive advantage in the marketplace. It allows those working in DCs to plan better, run multiple operations, and drive collaborative decision-making, and improve customer satisfaction through better response times. Such deployments prepare businesses to tackle DC challenges head on, stay ahead of the competition and come out on top in a growing and competitive regional market.