The warehousing industry is rife with opportunities for speech technologies, according to industry insiders. "If you look at the market as a whole, adoption [of voice-based picking applications] seems to be in the twenty-five percent to thirty-five percent range," says Keith Phillips, president and CEO of Voxware, a provider of voice-based warehousing solutions. "There are a lot of organizations that still have to adopt voice."
According to Phillips, there are about 700,000 warehouses in the United States. "In the context of that number, voice is still a small part," he says.
However, he and others have seen more interest in the technology in the past couple of years. Voxware, for example, saw high-double-digit growth in total bookings during the first half of 2014 compared to the first half of the previous year.
And Honeywell's Vocollect Voice Solutions have grown to the point that they now enable nearly 1 million mobile workers to process more than $5 billion worth of products every day in challenging industrial environments.
Much of the industry's growth in the past two years has been spurred by vendors' efforts to expand their solutions and offer product suites designed to improve warehouse efficiency.
Lucas Systems, for example, in mid-March introduced Mobile Work Execution solutions, a product line that supplements its Jennifer voice-directed mobile application with the Web-based Engage Management Dashboard, providing real-time visibility, reporting, and process management. At the same time, the company introduced its Lucas Enterprise Application Integration components, which provide interfaces to leading systems for warehouse and logistics management, enterprise resource planning, and other back-office functions. Lucas also made its Lucas Work Execution Server available for work optimization and orchestration.
Honeywell has added to its Vocollect A700 product line, incorporating the VoiceArtisan integrated development environment and VoiceCatalyst software, which provides flexible connectivity to devices, servers, and information beyond the capabilities of traditional voice solutions. The A700 product line enables developers to design, code, deploy, and maintain customer-defined solutions and to address unique business requirements beyond existing out-of-the-box software functionality.
Voxware includes as part of its Voice Management Suite its voice-based picking solution as well as VoxPilot, an analytics tool to identify picking lags and improve picking speed.
While speech technologies are core to Voxware's business, "today it's all about providing business intelligence and visibility into the entire supply chain, allowing managers to change operations in real time," Phillips explains. "Managers can view in real time all the activities throughout their warehouses and make adjustments throughout the day to work assignments."
Voxware isn't alone. Lucas Systems reports that more than half of all new customers are using its Jennifer Voice Plus solution for warehouse applications beyond voice picking. Customers are using voice for end-to-end material-handling tasks, including receiving, truck loading, product returns, cycle counting, quality control and auditing, and product inspection.
The use of voice outside of picking is "one of the leading trends in warehouse automation over the past decade," says Jennifer Lachenman, vice president of product strategy and business alliances at Lucas Systems.
As the industry changes, Phillips and others see voice technologies moving outside the food supply chain, which has historically been the largest adopter of voice picking because of the need for speed and accuracy in the supply chain.
"The most dramatic shift has clearly been in the retail space," Phillips says. "Consumers are almost bullying retailers with the demand for rapid delivery. They order, and then they expect their product to be delivered in twenty-four hours. It's forcing retailers to automate their warehouses."
Adoption has also started moving down market as well. While early adopters of voice picking solutions were mostly large companies, a lot of new business is coming from small and midsized companies. A big part of the reason for this move is the introduction of cloud-based solutions, which, according to Phillips, has lowered the cost of entry for many buyers.
Voxware has seen significant growth in its software-as-a-service bookings in the past year. Cloud-based solutions represent about 70 percent of new business signed by Voxware, according to Phillips. Solutions that used to cost $8,000 to $10,000 per user now cost about $3,500 per user, thanks mostly to cloud delivery.
"The cloud is such an easy option for small and midsized businesses because it eliminates IT costs and infrastructure costs," Phillips maintains.