Voice technology has been in use for well over 10 years in many North American distribution centers, yet it has still penetrated only 10 percent or so of the market. That is changing, Gerrard says, because the solutions available today have been engineered by manufacturers who realized that the industry is always in flux. "We do things tomorrow differently than today, so what's new is truly adaptive solutions that can grow and evolve with the enterprise and the way the operation is actually done."
Customers demand adaptability in the WMS interface and in the voice processes, and they want portability - key buying criteria that Gerrard says did not exist even three years ago in voice technology.
As the industry has matured, some of the early adopters are facing a uncomfortable reality. Generally, those people who committed to voice in past received payback very quickly, usually in six months to a year. So they just continued to reap benefits as they moved forward. But as they approach "hardware refresh" time, they are encountering some change issues they had not anticipated, especially the cost involved. "It is an issue that has arisen, and in some cases they are struggling to deal with it," Gerard says. In fact, the capital expense for some is so great that they are experiencing "sticker shock" as they consider whether to do business with their original vendor.
Reprogramming and redeveloping, not to mention getting new licenses, can be quite costly. Gerrard cites an Aberdeen study that indicates many companies are considering moving their business to new vendors.
"They're convinced about the benefits of voice, they don't intend to do their operations any other way, but they look at long-term maturity of the technology stack they are on and the question is whether there's a way to manage costs better going forward."
The irony is that companies that didn't invest in voice technology at all often can make the move to do so now much cheaper than pioneers can. "The voice market is following trends of all high-tech markets: costs are coming down in part because major manufacturers are involved who weren't five to 10 years ago, and that's good for consumers."
Multimodal technology is clearly a major development in the field, Gerrard says. He notes that more than half of companies that want to look at new hardware say they intend to move to a multimodal device - a combination of voice, scanning and any other methods of data capture available.
"That's being driven by major manufacturers who are making those kinds of devices, getting into the game big time."
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