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Moving Toward the Talking Tag

When combined with a voice-directed work system, an RFID implementation can yield an immediate ROI.
By Tom Kerr, Elise Yoder and Larry Sweeney
The Many Uses for Talking Tags
Many scenarios arise in which voice can bring out the full potential of RFID.

• Back-of-store, out-of-stock items: An out-of-stock product received at a store passes through an RFID reader. A team member, alerted by voice when the product is received, is directed to expedite it onto the retail shelf. The team member may also use a wearable RFID reader to locate and verify the proper product.
• Discontinued, recalled or expired items: RFID systems can be designed to access a wealth of information regarding each tagged product, including whether it has been discontinued, recalled or expired. Thus, a team member trying to select an item that should not be sold, can be immediately notified by voice that the product is obsolete, and given instructions on what to do with it.
• Returned merchandise: Returned merchandise requires a lot of "touch time." By combining voice and RFID, the return process can become more automated. Item-specific information contained in, or linked to, the RFID tag can help determine its fitness for resale to specific customers or markets. Such information can then be used to direct team members as to where they should put returned items back on the shelf—even if the put-away site is different than the original selection location.
• Promotional items: In the case of retail promotions, companies want to make sure their products are on the retail floor, not in the DC or the back of the store. Here again, the arrival of promotional items is detected using RFID, and team members are alerted by voice and directed to expedite them through the DC or stockroom onto the retail shelf.

While DC managers and supply chain directors wait for the cost of RFID to come down—which may take some time—plenty of opportunity exists to move forward with plans to implement voice-directed work applications. Voice can be deployed relatively easily, and the payback on investment is typically realized within 12 months. The immediate accuracy gains—as much as 99.99 percent or higher—more than justify the investment. And as the ROI picture for RFID becomes clearer, these systems can be added for increased benefit without negating any of the original voice investment.

The authors work at Vocollect, where Tom Kerr serves as director of applied research, Elise Yoder as product marketing manager and company cofounder Larry Sweeney as vice president of product management. Vocollect Voice, the company's portfolio of products and expertise for enabling voice-directed work, is designed to provide direct communication between team members and information systems, to help workers achieve greater productivity, accuracy and safety.

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