Sébastien Sliski discusses how modern technology such as voice picking can increase efficiency and improve productivity

Organisations have long been looking to optimise their supply chain processes and this includes reviewing existing picking processes enabling them to fulfil the increasingly more complex orders within one single warehouse. Voice has arguably been one of the most permanent and trusted solutions found within warehouses all over the globe. However, there is a growing perception that it is becoming out-dated in a world where automation, artificial intelligence and robotics are increasingly becoming more popular ideals. In order for the solution to keep up with the rate of change and the fast-paced nature of supply chain operations, the use of the cloud must be embraced to ensure that voice-picking software can work seamlessly alongside newer technology and more complex picking processes.

The last few years have seen a seismic shift in consumer demand that continues to drive change throughout the entire supply chain. That coupled with Industry 4.0 and the introduction and implementation of more digitised supply chains, is changing the way businesses are working with their legacy Warehouse Management Systems (WMS). The companies most likely to succeed in turning this into a key competitive differentiator will be those that use digitisation to truly introduce greater flexibility, agility and speed into their operations.

Optimising WMS legacy systems
While some market ‘disruptors’ have built systems and processes that exploit the current and near-future market opportunity, many businesses are still reviewing their current operational reality. These, in the most part, largely promote working in silos, with robust but heavyweight legacy systems and processes. Ultimately, and historically, these infrastructures were designed for a different kind of competitive market and many of the processes are no longer seen as fit for purpose. However, the cost and time implications of a ‘rip and replace’ approach to optimising a WMS are often too great; what we are now seeing is businesses seeking operational gains through the bolt-on of additional technology such as voice picking solutions or RFID.

With increasing customer demands, organisations have to be innovative; finding more efficient and cost-effective ways of fulfilling orders. Warehouse operations are far more complex than the conventional WMS solutions that have previously been used for handling and, as such, traditional voice picking solutions or the sole addition of RFID may be hard pushed to keep up with more demanding warehouse environments.

A pick and mix of solutions
A single warehouse can now be responsible for multiple operations, fulfilling a wider variety of orders and delivery types. Within retail, for example, from next day, same day or click-andcollect, the warehouse is becoming more and more complex. A wider variety of orders aren’t the only thing that is creating complexities within the order preparation operation; it’s also the vast array of suppliers and the need to effectively manage the smooth inbound flow.

It’s been the reality for a while that one retailer can have an online store, a hypermarket, a supermarket and several convenience stores. The main take-away from these variations is that they aren’t ordering the same products and, moreover, they aren’t ordering the same quantities. With more and more retailers working hard to provide an omni-channel experience for an ever-demanding consumer, what we’re now seeing is a single warehouse undertaking multiple fulfilment responsibilities.

To embrace this new way of working and bring more innovation into warehouses across the board, the addition of a warehouse process execution solution will create the foundations needed to build ‘best of class’ operations. The right solution will enable businesses to rapidly deploy new technology, increase visibility of events affecting operations and empower teams across the company. It also affords the flexibility required to adopt a suite of solutions and these can include voice (with mobile screens for back up), Pick-to-Light, Put-to-Light, RFID, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence and more.

Creating advanced functionalities within legacy WMS solutions with a pick and mix of three or four process driven solutions allows businesses to truly unlock agility within their supply chain. If a more efficient technology became available tomorrow, the business would then have the capability to introduce it without overhauling their entire WMS.

Undoubtedly, there is space for more agile solutions that are sustainable and, more importantly, scalable. Technology itself is very rarely agile; it’s the processes and systems in place that will allow for the required flexibility within the supply chain. If the right investment is made in the beginning and agile processes are created, introducing new and innovative technology should be easy. It is all well and good wanting to use the latest technology but what’s great for today isn’t always going to be good for tomorrow.

When it comes to staying competitive, organisations need to examine where small efficiencies can be made to allow them to successfully fulfil a customer’s order. The best way for them to do this is to recognise that their choice in an order picking solution needn’t be driven (or constrained) by their chosen technology. Moreover, investment in cloud-based systems will allow for next generation order picking solutions to be built, enhancing traditional voice-picking methods and enabling companies across all industries to implement the best solutions for their business.

Sébastien Sliski is General Manager Supply Chain Solutions at Zetes, an international corporation specialising in the provision of identification and mobility solutions. By using the latest technologies, Zetes enables its customers improve the speed and quality of their process execution and increase data accuracy, which in turn helps them to remain at the forefront of their industries.