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Datria Fast Forwards Warehouse Speech Opportunities

Solution is the first to use IP phones rather than wearable computers.
By Nancy Jamison - Posted Nov 1, 2007
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Traditional warehouse and distribution centers are ideal places for speech technology to solve business needs. Worker tasks, such as picking and packing, receiving, restocking, and put-away, are labor-intensive, prone to error and time-consuming. Warehouse labor required expensive handheld devices or packing lists, and manual input of data. Not only is this distracting to workers, but it also slows their pace, causes more errors, and in some cases, could jeopardize their safety.

However, a handful of companies have succeeded by implementing speech-driven solutions. By outfitting workers with a speech-enabled solution that uses voice data entry (VDE) and retrieval, warehouse operators delivered superb productivity gains and outstanding return on investment and improved the safety of their workers.

Speech solutions work because they allow employees to keep their eyes on their work, without interruption. Nonetheless, despite its compelling business case, and compared to other speech-enabled applications, speech has remained a point solution in the enterprise, and often a custom solution at that.

Datria’s Voice Pick ‘n’ Pack
But this past August, Datria, known for its speech-enabled enterprise mobility solutions, entered the speech-enabled warehouse market with Voice Pick ‘n’ Pack. Boasting advances within the technology, Pick ‘n’ Pack has the potential to rapidly expand the market and integrations with other applications in the enterprise.

Datria’s solution is the first VDE application that makes use of network-based speech recognition, employing inexpensive IP phones rather than wearable computers. Because of the increased adoption of VoIP, along with advancements in network-based, speaker-independent speech recognition and noise-cancellation technology, Datria has turned a previous VDE point solution into a networkwide speech solution.

Voice Pick ‘n’ Pack’s benefits include lower capital expenditures and total cost of ownership because it makes use of industry standards, service-oriented architecture (SOA), and Web services; the speech application resides on the network rather than on each worker’s device. The use of IP phones instead of specialized hardware lowers the cost of provisioning employees with devices and eliminates processing limitations. Employee training costs also are reduced because the application is speaker-independent; there is no need for users to train the system to their voice.

Datria’s first customer is a large drink bottler that employs thousands of workers in its distribution centers and out in the field in North America and Europe. The customer already had a Cisco network and SAP applications in place.

Using a Cisco wireless IP phone and an off-the-shelf noise-cancelling headset, a warehouse worker simply presses a speed-dial button to log into the Datria application and begin working. The customer’s warehouse management system then instructs the worker in real time on what order items are needed and where to find them inside the warehouse. The worker apprises the system of work progress through speech recognition and check-digit strategies until the order is complete. The platform-agnostic solution uses the customer’s existing investment in Cisco routers (enhanced with VoiceXML gateway capabilities) and a Cisco IP telephone system. Nuance Communications provides the underlying speech recognition technology.

A valuable aspect of Datria’s solution is that it conforms to the beverage firm’s strategic investment in SAP’s enterprise SOA. Datria is a certified Powered by SAP NetWeaver solution, establishing an enterprisewide SOA resource that uses speech to automate other enterprise processes for merchandise drivers, the field service force for beverage machines, and bottling plant maintenance workers.

In all, Datria’s customer expects speech-based warehousing to reduce its planned capital investment by one-third. To date, the solution has been deployed in 16 warehouses, with more being added each month.

Even with a clear-cut business case, speech-enabled warehousing has remained a niche market with huge growth potential. Undoubtedly, Datria will accelerate this growth with its new Voice Pick ‘n’ Pack solution. Its ability to work with VoIP and IP phones, and its use of network-based speech already leveraged elsewhere in the corporation, will make it far easier for a company to take advantage of new capabilities. 


Nancy Jamison is the principal analyst at Jamison Consulting. She can be reached at nsj@jamisons.com.

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