Voice assistant technology in logistics an opportunity for optimization
According to Microsoft, three-quarters of all U.S. households are expected to own a voice-enabled smart speaker in 2022. But what is the full potential of VA tech for industry? Can this type of innovative human-machine interaction help companies increase their productivity? DHL Consulting recently completed exploratory research to discover if Voice Assistance has an important role to play in business generally — and the logistics industry specifically.
The Rise and Rise of Voice Assistants
Voice Assistant (VA) technology is known by a variety of different names: Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant and Cortana, for example. But, whatever you (literally) call yours, it has one important, defining characteristic. VA tech is becoming increasingly popular with consumers.
According to Microsoft, three-quarters of all U.S. households are expected to own a voice-enabled smart speaker in 2022. This can be asked to carry out functions such as turning on the lights and the heating, playing music and performing internet searches.
Indeed, a survey from ComScore revealed that half of all smartphone users engage with voice search technology on a daily basis. No wonder investment in this type of tech is on the rise, topping $3.25bn in the U.S. alone in 2020 — while sales of smart speaker-enabled Voice Assistants are poised to grow by a staggering 158% in a five-year period.
But what is the full potential of VA tech for industry? Can this type of innovative human-machine interaction help companies increase their productivity? DHL Consulting recently completed exploratory research to discover if Voice Assistance has an important role to play in business generally — and the logistics industry specifically.
Defining ‘Voice Assistance’
First, an important distinction needs to be made between Digital Assistants and Voice Assistants. Digital Assistants are advanced computer programs that can answer simple questions and perform basic tasks. They also have the ability to learn, adapt and predict behavior based on past interactions.
It’s possible to interact with a Digital Assistant in different ways. For instance, users can have mainly text-based communications with them, via a Chatbot. Meanwhile, communication with Multi-channel Digital Assistants can include email or text.
However, when a user talks to a Digital Assistant (‘Hey Siri/Google/Alexa – what’s the weather doing?’) and it talks back, that’s where the Voice Assistant technology kicks in. It’s a voice-activated innovation that gives users a way to interact with their smartphone assistants, smart speakers or other hardware.
The Voice Assistant works by re-encoding voice command information into a computer command which it sends to the back-end system. The back-end system then carries out the operation and, once it’s complete, alerts the Voice Assistant to tell the user: ‘The operation you requested is complete.’ Essentially, VA tech is the connection between the end user and the back-end intelligence systems.
Voice Assistance in Business
Voice Assistants use AI to recognize and respond to voice commands. Across all activities, companies expect to increase revenue by more than 65% by adopting AI solutions in their business units. In particular, the most impacted functions are Marketing & Sales (79%), Strategy & Corporate Finance(73%), Supply Chain Management (72%), and Manufacturing (71%).
At the moment, however, Voice Assistants are mainly deployed in limited areas, such as voice-to-text dictation, general administrative support (eg, responding to emails and scheduling meetings), customer service, and IT help desk management. Yet there are two main benefits of using VA tech in a business location.
First, Voice Assistants offer a standardization of service around the clock, improving the customer experience and delivering time and cost savings by, for example, enhancing multi-tasking in work environments, reducing human error, and increasing the speed and quality of employee onboarding.
Second, VA tech can increase agility on the shop floor by simplifying human-to-system interactions and enabling staff to work hands-free. After all, it’s easier to talk to your device rather than typing a command into it, especially if you’re working on the move.
Voice Assistants in Logistics
This technology has the power to benefit the logistics industry in various different ways. For example:
- Improving Agility
Warehouse workers can improve their agility with wearable technology such as Voice Assistant-enabled vests. Telling a Voice Assistant to print, say, a shipping label while they walk to printer can save them precious time.
- Improving Onboarding
VA tech can be used to interactively show new employees the layout of a warehouse. For instance, it can help them find the section a shipment is stored in, and the shelf it’s sitting on, without having to use a keypad.
- Giving Guidance on Executing Tasks
It can give warehouse staff step-by-step guidance on executing structured tasks and processes. For example, the VA can show workers which box to collect from which shelf, and then prompt them to print a shipping label, thereby reducing time-usage on day-to-day activities.
- Better Visibility
Managers can use Voice Assistants to quickly and seamlessly gather information about a shipment, such as its location, ETA, and possible delays.
- Re-routing Shipments
VA tech can also make the re-routing of shipments much easier. Managers would no longer need to manually log in to the database of trucks, trains, ships, airplanes and warehouses, find the shipment they want to re-route and consider how to re-route it. Instead, they simply ask the VA: ‘Please reroute shipment XYZ to warehouse B.’
Contrasts of Voice Assistants: Points to Consider
Voice Assistants are a cool new way – and possibly a more seamless way – to increase productivity by offering human-machine interaction. As we have established, this is accomplished by easily connecting the end-user with complex external and internal back-end systems.
But that is also why businesses should not over-estimate the capabilities of VA.
First, they should realize that it’s really the back-end system that provides the true intelligence layer and actually carries out the operation. Users can have a highly developed, great sounding Voice Assistant; but if the back-end system lacks capability then the operation they ask for will not be carried out.
Second, improvements still need to be made to VA regarding language recognition, and there may be a problem integrating the technology with legacy systems that are not fully digital or compatible. And, of course, data security and privacy concerns still linger.
Third, deployment of VA technology requires effort across an organization, and its results can be hard to measure. This is why key stakeholders must be thoroughly on board with the process to ensure optimal results.
With AI and machine learning (ML) tech improving all the time, the future looks promising for VA. At the moment, DPDHL is testing interest among its customers by jointly deploying Voice Assistant solutions, and receiving positive preliminary feedback.
In an ideal scenario, the Voice Assistant and back-end system would be so seamlessly integrated that supply chain managers could be alerted to problems ahead of time. While it’s true that this level of service can’t be implemented yet, it may be where Voice Assistance is heading.
Which is why early adopters in the logistics industry could use it to add true value to their operations and get ahead of the competition. They just have to understand the best way to leverage it for maximum effect.
Get in Touch With Us
Matthias Vollmert – Partner and Future of Operations Lead, DHL Consulting
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Elena Hoogen – Project Manager, DHL Consulting
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Carlo Alberto Calchera – Consultant, DHL Consulting
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