A Voice in the Wilderness

One Web site that aims to help businesspeople understand technology claims RFID is going nowhere, and that voice technology is really the next big thing in the supply chain.
Published: February 29, 2008

I’m thinking about shutting down RFID Journal.com and launching a new Web site called Voice Journal.com. Why would I do that when more than 200,000 readers visit this site each month? Because SiliconRepublic.com says radio frequency identification is going nowhere, and that voice is where it’s at (see Supply chain finding its voice).

SiliconRepublic.com calls itself a site for businesspeople, “because if you’re in business and want to stay in business, you are duty-bound to keep up with technology.” This fount of wisdom guiding businesspeople through the challenging decisions of which technologies to deploy claims: “RFID has been hyped as the next big thing in supply-chain management, but the technology has several shortcomings that will prevent its rollout in all but the most ideal environments. Instead, voice-directed logistics is gaining momentum as the emerging trend that most companies are likely to follow.”

The story goes on to say: “Both these technologies have been around for some time. While voice-automated technology is beginning to make the breakthrough, the impact of RFID is still minimal.” It then quotes Ronan Clinton, managing director of Heavey RF, who claims to be a big fan of RFID but says, “it’s an expensive solution looking for a problem.” According to the story, Clinton argues that “it’s being rushed into environments where it can’t bring a return on investment or even solve a specific problem.”

Clinton prefers 2D bar codes over RFID because it’s a cheaper technology, but advocates voice-picking systems which cost “a few hundred thousand euros.” He sees “absolutely massive growth in voice-directed logistics.”

SiliconRepublic.com says: “One technological change in the supply chain that is paying dividends is voice automation.” Voice, it says, is going from big warehouses with a few hundred pickers to smaller warehouses with five to 10 pickers—the technology, it claims, is moving into other areas of the warehouse, such as replenishment, shipping, loading and receipting.

What makes voice-directed picking so much better than existing pick-to-light systems that it’s worth spending several hundred thousand euros on? No idea—the story doesn’t say.

Where does voice automation improve operations, beyond reducing picking and shipping errors? The story doesn’t answer that either.

How does voice reduce labor costs, beyond reducing the number of pickers? Once again, it doesn’t say.

And how do these systems solve the myriad problems RFID is tackling successfully today, such as improving promotions management? This, too, is unaddressed.

I’ve seen no huge rush to adopt voice technology other than for picking product from a warehouse. I did a Web search and saw a handful of articles about companies that have successfully deployed the technology; the number was probably equal to the RFID success stories we write in a month. Perhaps Clinton should cough up $189 and subscribe to RFID Journal.com so he can spend a couple of weeks reading all the case studies of successful deployments we’ve covered.

Come to think of it, since folks are constantly telling me how they are successfully using RFID to solve business problems and enhance productivity, I think I’ll stick with RFID Journal.com.