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Instant Gratification...Not

Sept. 1, 2007
True story: Young boy comes home from his first day of school and gives his parents a great review of the experience, except for one thing: They failed

True story: Young boy comes home from his first day of school and gives his parents a great review of the experience, except for one thing: They failed to teach him how to read! For the past year, everyone’s told him he’ll learn to read when he goes to school. So, what’s up?*

This boy’s reaction is not entirely dissimilar to expectations some develop when talking about productivity improvements or error reductions or any of the other benefits AIDC technology can provide. We need to realize that we won’t see all of these on the first day or in the first week or even in the first month.

The fact is, change (along with its benefits) takes time. Why? Because implementing change takes time: time to install the system and get it up and running, time to test it, time to train employees, time to let the benefits begin to roll through the operation.

What’s more, if you’re implementing something like RFID, it takes time to understand how to use all the data you’re now getting (not unlike the initial “flood” of data that came from early barcode implementations).

We need time to make these changes instinctive and automatic, from both a human and a systems, perspective.

If, for example, you’re instituting a barcode receiving program, employees have to un-learn the old way of doing things. While it’s relatively simple to train employees to use a scanner and mobile computer, it’s not quite so easy to get them to do it instinctively. And that induces a lag time that reduces the benefits in the very short term.

Anyone who has ever gone from habitually driving a standard transmission to an automatic will understand why this is; you instinctively go for the clutch pedal when coming to a stop. Only usually you hit the extra-wide brake pedal. (For those who’ve never driven a standard transmission, imagine that the locations of the “Enter” and “Shift” keys on your keyboard have been switched.)

Bert Moore is a 20-year veteran of the AIDC industry. He is director of IDAT Consulting & Education, Alpharetta, Ga.

Even though your training and conscious mind tell you to do one thing, your habits tell you to do something else. And your old habits will continue to win out until you establish new ones.

Now, it’s true that in some applications, such as voice-enabled picking or put-away, you could see some immediate improvements. But you won’t see all of them right away. There will still be a lag in doing what you’re supposed to do versus what you’re used to doing. The learning curve for this type of application will probably be very short, but it will still be there.

The other side of this is getting management and IT habituated to leveraging the system’s benefits. In some cases, there may still be some integration required to port the system’s output into legacy software for maximum benefit. Sometimes, it’s a matter of simply remembering, “Oh, yes, we can do that now.” And sometimes there are opportunities that were not immediately obvious that can be exploited.

This is not intended to paint a bleak picture of implementing AIDC. Rather, it’s designed to temper expectations to give the system time to settle in and prove its full benefits.

History has shown that many AIDC implementations have been deemed “failures,” simply because they did not live up to unrealistic expectations and an overly optimistic time line, even though they ended up producing solid returns and tangible benefits.

So, if you’re looking at an AIDC system (or any productivity enhancement), and the vendor says you can expect a 12-month ROI, add a small “fudge factor” to your calculations. No one ever got in trouble for producing results sooner than expected.

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