Voice automation has come a long way, to the point where it's playing a crucial role in helping distribution centers meet demands for shorter order-to-delivery cycles, says Bob Bova, president and CEO of AccuSpeech Mobile.
SCB: How can workflow automation be beneficial to today's distribution center managers?
Bova: Companies have specific workflows in lots of different areas, whether it's picking, receiving, shipping, or cross-docking. Most have worked hard to optimize those workflows according to their business type. With the advent of the omnichannel, it’s become very dynamic. Being able to automate workflow so you can do things faster, better and more effectively, is very compelling. That’s how almost every company can take advantage of automating their workflows.
SCB: That’s been an aspiration of warehouse managers for many years. What is it about today's technology that makes it possible to improve in a way it couldn't before?
Bova: The big difference is voice automation. Now you can take a user-independent voice engine and put it on a tablet, PC or barcode scanner, whether it's the old CE system, or Android, or a browser. All that capability is now available with voice automation of your workflow. What used to take minutes on the shop floor now takes seconds. Extend that over multiple applications with lots of users, and all of a sudden there’s a huge benefit for customers.
SCB: How does this all tie in with RPA, or Robotic Process Automation?
Bova: RPA is the basic component for voice automation in workflows. When a user is going along and there’s an exception, they have to bring up an exception screen. With RPA, you eliminate that, because it all happens in the background.
SCB: What processes in the warehouse are best suited for voice automation?
Bova: Almost everything: shipping, receiving, all kinds of pickings. Everything that requires scanning or some kind of software interaction with the user can take advantage of it. And all kinds of applications. There are customers that have automated workflows on thousands of handhelds throughout their distribution system.
SCB: Voice recognition is now in homes. Are there no more issues to overcome with regard to understanding different voices and accents?
Bova: With all due respect to Siri and Alexa, industrial-base voice recognition is entirely different. It's very user independent. It's extremely strong, and supports 35 to 50 languages. Recognition levels are now in the 99-percentile. And it’s completely mobile — you don't need to be in a server.
SCB: Order-to-delivery cycles are getting shorter all the time, so dynamic workflows become the order of the day. How is voice automation enabling that?
Bova: The most important factor we've seen is the ability to be agile. The folks who are running these applications are adding new products and customers, along with last-mile delivery. They're expanding everything they do. So having an agile development environment to automate those workflows, and make changes overnight, is essential. It makes a big difference when you have a technology that’s device-based. It gives you the power to add a lot of value for your customers.
SCB: The use of voice automation implies the continued use of humans in the warehouse. Will that be the way the technology goes forward for awhile?
Bova: Despite the amazing things that robots can do, there’s still a very high need for the human component. With artificial intelligence, robots eventually will be able to think. But problems are being solved right now, in an environment that’s changing all the time. You count on your critical workers to give you the input you need to make those changes so that everything works better. I think that having people in your environment who can help you evolve is never going to go away.
SCB: What do see as the future of this technology?
Bova: I think the really exciting thing is going to be with wearables. Being able to speak to sophisticated software applications is going to be unbelievably powerful in the future. You'll be able to do anything in a warehouse — picking, receiving, cycle count, whatever. And you'll be able to talk to all those applications. For robots, I think the sizes and capabilities will change. There's no reason why you can't voice the name of the robot and speak to it. That's going to be a really exciting step forward.
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