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How Voice Technology can be a Game Changer in Distribution Centers of All Sizes


by Miroslav Kafedzhiev Vice President and General, META, Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions

The rapid growth of e-commerce and increased consumer expectations for fast, accurate delivery has created tremendous pressure on retailers, distribution centers and logistics companies to optimize their operations in the Middle East. Overall, the region’s e-commerce market is expected to be worth $48 billion by 2022, growing by 16.4 percent, according to a report by BMI Research.

As online shopping, same-day deliveries and free returns by mail become the new norm, distribution centers will continue to face unprecedented levels of pressure, as consumer expectations rise.

To address these challenges and stay competitive, retailers are considering several strategies, such as opening smaller, more nimble distribution centers closer to their consumers. In addition, distribution centers need to find new ways to improve productivity and enable workers to operate as efficiently as possible. Enabling connectivity in the distribution center can uncover opportunities to greatly improve fulfillment operations, and in the process, dramatically increase revenue.

A connected distribution center can continuously monitor activities occurring in all fulfillment systems and processes and notify operators when issues arise, targets are not met or errors are made, so that they can make the necessary real-time adjustments and allocate resources more efficiently. Most importantly, building a workforce that is more productive, more accurate and more flexible to changing demands can have a significant and positive impact on operations, boost performance and reduce costs. This is critical as distribution centers are struggling today with finding, training and retaining qualified employees, so supporting them with the right tools can improve employee satisfaction and ultimately productivity.

This is where guided work solutions, such as voice systems, can be critical to success. Voice-directed solutions can be a game changer in boosting productivity by minimizing paperwork that is often prevalent in smaller or less complex distribution centers. Quite simply, when processes are paper-based, workers continuously need to interrupt their tasks to look at handheld checklists that can hamper productivity.

Voice technology can play a key role in boosting efficiency and productivity in distribution centers by allowing workers to perform their tasks hands-free and eyes-free. At the same time, it provides the added benefit of improved worker satisfaction in their jobs, by giving them the tools to be most effective without forcing a lot of technology on them.

 

Today, large distribution centers in the region are already reaping the benefits of this technology. Connected solutions do not only work for large distribution centers, but can be used by small to medium-sized distribution centers in a cost-efficient manner. Today, there are more options for deploying such voice systems so that smaller distribution centers can have the same powerful voice technology that their larger counterparts have. If they take advantage of systems that bring together the power of voice with the flexibility of modern mobile operating systems, they can be better equipped to improve their operations and drive their business forward.

Small and medium enterprises can now deploy voice solutions efficiently that are integrated with their existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms. For example, Coastal Pet Products, a leading US manufacturer and shipper of pet accessories, moved away from paper-based picking processes in favor of voice, and found that in addition to productivity improvements, the technology minimized the risk of errors and helped them achieve a 99.8 percent accuracy level.

Accuracy is critical to meeting consumer expectations, especially during peak shopping seasons. The fact that nearly half (47 percent) of online shoppers globally report frustration with delivery is not surprising considering that, according to a Honeywell/YouGov survey, picking errors cost distribution centers around the globe $400,000 a year on average. Voice technology, combined with software and cloud-based platforms can help distribution centers to rapidly move inventory and reassign warehouse staff to different functions to minimize disruption and improve efficiency. Distribution centers can also benefit from voice technology when it comes to quickly training new – and often inexperienced – workers to bring them up to speed on their processes.

With voice technology, tasks such as picking can be performed with virtually no training, as workers receive simple, real-time instructions from the back-end warehouse management system (WMS) via specialized headsets.

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