About a year and a half ago, I completed a report on the ROI and best practices associated with Voice Recognition solutions for the warehouse. The price for voice systems has been dropping in recent years, as more companies use nonproprietary, mobile computers from companies like Motorola. These computers provide the local computing power for the voice headset, and they enable either voice or scanning driven processes depending on the task. More recently, even lower-priced hardware solutions have started to emerge – e.g., PDAs and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) mobile phones.
In the course of conducting my research, I came across Coca-Cola Enterprises‘ (CCE) implementation of a voice solution from Datria Systems. Datria’s solution for CCE uses VoIP phones, but the driving force to use VoIP was not the lower cost of the cell phones. The Coca-Cola Enterprises manager I spoke with said that the company was moving to VoIP enterprise wide, so they wanted to leverage this planned investment (if the company was not standardizing on VoIP, the ROI of traditional solutions would have been better). Also, by using VoIP in the warehouse, they could extend the capabilities to Call Centers, Mobile Field Operations, and other areas, which they accomplished by leveraging the Wi-Fi access points used by front-office phone users.
I have come to learn that CCE was following what IT calls a Unified Communications (UC) strategy. What’s driving UC is that employees use multiple communication devices (e.g., PC, laptop, office phone, VOIP phone, cell phone, pager, etc.), but the use of multiple communication media results in lost time and duplicate messaging. A white paper from Cisco argues that today’s communication processes are not optimized to support business processes. Companies have done a good job of using software to make business processes more efficient, but a bad job of optimizing human communication to support those processes.
The vision of UC is to build business logic on top of a unified communication platform that allows more efficient and unified communication across the entire enterprise. How does this play out for companies with distribution-centric supply chains? Imagine a worker in a warehouse that is using voice for picking having the ability to press a button and announce to the entire warehouse, via his headset, that a chemical leak was occurring! Or imagine a food company that does direct store deliveries being able to use UC for picking in the warehouse, GPS tracking and communicating with drivers, and perhaps even enabling some of the field services at the store!
How real is UC and how will it impact the Supply Chain Execution industry? To answer this question, I talked to my ARC colleague Harry Forbes who covers industrial networking for us. Here is what Harry told me:
- “Right now, Unified Communications is evolving; there is not a complete roadmap. In five years, it will be main stream. It will be an expected part of the way Tier 1 companies do business.”
- “This is partially a CIO Total Cost of Ownership strategy, and it is partially about new enterprise business efficiencies.”
- “Supply Chain Execution vendors that do not have a strategy for delivering value to enterprises adopting UC could end up losing market share. In effect, this is a Cisco coexistence strategy.”
Is the CIO at your company pushing UC? Do you see any value in UC for the logistics and supply chain function? We’d love to know what you are seeing, hearing, and thinking on this topic.