Talking up confidence; can voice technology help turn fortunes for logistics?

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The 2019 UK Logistics Confidence Index† released this month has, by its own admission slipped into ‘negative territory’, falling below the 50 mark for the first time in its seven year history. 

While 55%† of the 100+ respondents claimed they still expected to increase profits over the next 12 months, the sector seems more pessimistic than optimistic about where the market is going.  

Brexit uncertainty has undoubtedly compounded things, by necessitating even more contingency planning than would normally have happened. The shortage of drivers and skills continues to be the biggest headache, with only one third of the survey’s respondents expecting to increase headcount in the next year; another all-time low in the Index’s history.

One has to conclude, therefore, that many logistics firms hope to achieve more with less. As with 2018’s survey, the main focus for most operators as regards new technology is upgrading or replacing existing resource planning, warehouse or fleet management solutions.

You can see by the results that the bulk of respondents (43.2%) expect technology, automation and robotics will replace 10%-29% of their workforce within the next decade. But there’s clearly a gap in understanding what the latest software and applications can bring in the here and now, and training people up to use them is also an issue. 

This is where I think voice-directed warehousing could help reverse fortunes, by reducing training times, achieving higher accuracy, efficiency and productivity. And, according to a report by Study*, the global voice-directed warehousing solutions market is expected to gain a total incremental opportunity of US$ 1,703.3M during the forecast period of 2018 to 2026.

The WERC Annual DC Measures Survey claims voice directed picking is the fastest growing warehouse technology, rising from 6% in 2008 to 26% in 2018, a 20% increase in usage. 

And if you’re having to achieve more with less staff it’s easy to understand why it’s being widely adopted. Honeywell figures claim its voice-directed productivity software allows fast-paced distribution centres to improve productivity by up to 35%, and accuracy by up to 50%. 

Lightweight wearables are also a great hands-free option to reduce costs and increase efficiency, but where voice-directed has a significant edge is that not only is it hands-free it is also eyes-free. This frees staff from being reliant on paper and screens so they can focus entirely on their tasks, thereby increasing productivity, accuracy and safety. With eyes always focused on the job, they can quickly find products in the correct location and halve errors. Training too is more expedient in that it only takes a few hours to train new voice picking users so they’re ready to hit performance targets within a week.

Firms need to improve business efficiency (31%1) and 59%1of supply chain professionals believe they will have greater access to new technology in the next five years. But while these respondents expect to benefit at some point from innovations like driverless vehicles, they’re more focused now on opportunities in the back office. This is where they see tech like data analytics and machine learning as having most positive impact in their sector.

And I for one agree. Despite what we read in the media it will take some time for these really new innovations to be fully developed and integrated into operations, and the demand is not currently there. But voice-directed is here now and it’s demonstrating how business efficiencies can really be improved. Maybe it’s time for firms to use it to ‘talk up’ their confidence.


† The UK Logistics Confidence Index 2019 by Barclays and BDO LLP

1   The Supply Chain of the Future by Weightmans 


Richard Gilliard

Renovotec is the UK’s largest independent rugged hardware and maintenance, software and services company. Managing Director Richard Gilliard has helped lead the organisation for over 25 years, supporting customers across many sectors including warehousing and distribution, transport and logistics, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, seaports and field mobility. Richard's drive is to enable firms through…

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