As I move around the market, I hear about a huge variety of innovative projects that are being undertaken. Some of them are, I think, quite inspiring and a long way from the "green screen" stuff of years gone by. Recently I spoke with "Joe Bloggs" (all names changed to protect identities and no trade secrets being given away). I am not giving away the crown jewels and have permission to print this. One that recently piqued my interest was MultiValue and Voice Picking.
ELKIE: Joe, please tell the readers a bit about yourself.
JOE: I have over 30 years experience in IT in the MultiValue area and other associated technologies. I began as a Programmer and progressed to IT Manager and Technical Director. I am now an independent Consultant working with a number of firms.
ELKIE: You mentioned to me a recent project which seemed pretty fun - Voice Picking. Can you tell me a bit more ?
JOE: A distribution company with an MV warehousing system decided that they wanted to improve customer service levels and the efficiency of warehouse space. Voice Picking was identified as a vehicle towards that.
ELKIE: Do you know what other things were considered to improve customer service levels ?
JOE: Yes, the company is in the process of selecting software which will improve the efficiency of their purchase ordering. Not only calculating what to order when, but also to highlight products with non-standard usage patterns so that they can be monitored. The idea of this is to get the usage patterns recognised by the software so that they become “normal” items and are re-ordered automatically by the system.
There is obviously a lot of interfacing to handle as the purchase orders need to be taken back into the ERP, but the flexibility of the MV system allow data to be shared relatively easily. We have recently completed a project which means that invoices to the company’s two largest customers are automatically sent electronically. The next phase of this project is to receive orders, validate them and update the ERP system automatically.
This logic will also be used to accept orders over the company’s website, meaning that both XML and JSON messages will be handled by the same engine.
ELKIE: What technologies were selected to effect the solution ?
JOE: Various technologies were considered. In the end, a supplier was selected with proprietary hardware connecting to an Oracle database. Most of the voice-picking systems in the marketplace seem to rely on scanning barcodes.
This is fine where low quantities of each item are picked per order, but is of absolutely no use when picking 10, 20 or 100 items. As there are a number of different accents heard in the warehouse, a major consideration was both the clarity of the picking instruction and how well the system understands the response. The selected system constantly learns.
Another consideration was the ability to have a product code pronounced differently from how it appears so that “warehouse slang” can be used in the picking instruction.
ELKIE: Why was this avenue chosen over others ?
JOE: This sounds a strange selection, but the overriding factor was ease of use for warehouse staff.
The headsets/units require recharging, nothing else.
The Oracle database sits in a Linux Virtual Machine on one of the Windows servers and is totally self-managing so Linux knowledge is not required at the company, although I can support Linux if required.
VPN and telephone support is provided by the system supplier.
ELKIE: How long has the project taken so far ?
JOE: The project kicked off in April 2018
ELKIE: Has the project now completed ?
JOE: The project is complete and has been live now for some time. Integration between the two databases was probably the simplest task as the interface is very simple to access.
ELKIE: How simple is simple ? What sort of ease was it done with ?
JOE: Data is written out as a semi-colon delimited text string. This is taken into the picking system, processed and then a different string is written out with the results of the pick.
That data is processed by the ERP into an advice note / packing slip.
When packed, the advice note is either scanned, or entered into a simple screen in the warehouse which generated a carrier reference / label. This process also releases the shipment for overnight invoicing.
ELKIE: What were some of the greatest hurdles you had to overcome ?
JOE: I wouldn’t exactly describe them as hurdles but when you change the way your warehouse operates, you need to consider how the rest of the business operates. Suddenly going paperless requires changes in other areas.
Luckily, the guys at this company are on the ball and all sorts of new efficiencies grew out of the original plans enabling the sales department to manage orders better if they are not being sent directly to the warehouse and warehouse staff being given more relevant information (Picking staff are actually told which resource they will require to pick the delivery (basket, trolley, pallet etc. ))
ELKIE: Why did the client decide to do this innovation ?
JOE: Simple, Customer service. The company had 2 goals:
1. Elimination of errors
2. Speeding up of deliveries. They used to consider themselves a 2-day supplier, now, they consider themselves next-day.
ELKIE: What sort of long term business impact do yuo think it will have ?
JOE: With better accuracy of picking and more efficient use of space, you can see the difference already. The warehouse staff are better motivated, peak times are now handled where there used to be a lag onto the next day.
A new sales analysis package has been implemented, integrated to the MV system, giving the expanded sales team more timely and better presented information. There is a buzz at the company now.
ELKIE: So you think this project was well worth it ?
JOE: Well, this is part of a strategy to DOUBLE the company’s turnover in five years. If they were to consider scrapping what they had built and putting in a new system, it would have put them back at least three years with no benefit for the company.
Now, they are adding processes and facilities to what already was a close match. We are building in more user-friendly ways for management to look into their business and to pick out ways of adding value to the company, which the management team have probably never even thought about.
ELKIE: Do you have any thoughts on MV ?
JOE: I think the worries of old MV green screen days are over … MV is still awesome and connectivity great so it can be used with modern practices and be a great contender in todays IT world. It just needs Senior people to harnass the power and see the possibilities and then get the right people to carry out their desires and visualisations.