Chain of Thought

Rumors of Maturity's Demise Greatly Exaggerated

I'm pitched a lot of hype in my job as a content generator for an industry information outlet. That's what used to be called a magazine writer. But despite the obits many online media experts wrote in expectation of print's imminent demise, real magazines are still in your real inbox.

That's why I try to filter out as much of the hype about anything's demise before it reaches your desktop—virtual or actual. So when I get a report that takes pains to tone down any whiff of hype, I pay attention to it. One such report reached my desktop yesterday.

It came from Voice Information Associates, announcing the availability of the “2012 Voice Technology in the Supply Chain (VSC)” market report. It projects a CAGR of 22.6% for the VSC market between 2011 and 2016. This rate is attributed to a short ROI due to productivity and accuracy improvements. However, the report's authors add this caveat:

“Voice Technology in the Supply Chain is at a very early stage. The penetration of voice in distribution centers that would readily benefit from voice technology is approximately 8%....Does it make sense to use voice picking in the entire warehouse? Possibly not. Voice picking may not make sense for a warehouse area with low volume or pallet picks which can be done equally effectively using traditional RF devices. Voice picking is also most effective for repetitive tasks. If the warehouse operators perform a large number of different transactions, voice picking may not be very effective. A careful cost-benefit analysis is needed to determine what areas of the warehouse can benefit from voice picking.”

I thought that was a refreshing bit of anti-hype. I also liked the rationale these authors gave for being so careful with projections: hype purveyors always get burned. This report cites examples of technology birth announcements and obits that were written long ago:

• TV will replace radio. (1950)

• TV will replace teachers/schools. (1950)

• Paging will rapidly be wiped out by cellular. (1981)

• Video phones will become ubiquitous. (1982)

• Cellular will reach a total worldwide population of 1 million by 1995. (1981)

• The PC market will be saturated when 10 million units are shipped. (1983)

• The voice mail market will be saturated by 1991 and decline after that. (1990)

“The point of all of this is to indicate that the possibility exists that the market projections provided in this report are quite low and that the Voice Technology in Warehouse Management market could become significantly larger than the projections contained in this report,” the authors state.

They also point out that this technology will co-exist with and be supported by mature technologies that are still hard at work in the market—not only the tried and true input methods of keyboard, stylus, GPS, bar code scanning, and RFID, but even inexpensive dedicated devices that can support a variety of input and output modalities thanks to standard connectors and networks. In other words, i-Phones.

Maybe this desire by technology marketers to tone down their rhetoric is becoming a trend. I remember talking to several vendors exhibiting at the MODEX show last month more about retrofits and upgrades than about technology replacements. For example Chris Arnold, Vice President of Solutions Development at Intelligrated told me how they're leveraging existing technologies at their customers' sites.

Take barcoding, for example. Rather than selling these clients on new hardware, they're showing them how to make use of the bar codes on incoming products that were applied elsewhere in the supply chain, thus eliminating material and labor costs.

“We're using more of the UCC 128 and other bar codes to do all of our hookups and all of our distribution within the facility,” Arnold told me. “We're using those bar codes on the inbound receiving dock, for the zone routing on the conveyance system, for the putting process and for outbound tracking as we go to shipping.”

For a magazine writer/content-generator like me, advancing into his latter-50s, it's comforting to hear about industry's growing respect for the tried and true. Or am I just falling for my own hype?

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