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Exclusive Interview – Warehouse & Logistics News speaks to Andreas Finken of topVOX

topVOX has been a respected partner to companies in logistics for several years, specialising in the development and long-term operation of innovative IT solutions that integrate easily and flexibly into existing IT structures. topVOX develops innovative complete solutions for mobile data entry (MDE) and Pick by Voice for all core processes in intralogistics. Major distributors, stock turnover centres and central warehouses, as well as renowned logistics service providers, all use topVOX products.

topVOX’s wide-ranging portfolio of speech-controlled picking systems offers the logical step towards the implementation of these technologies to optimise picking productivity. These come as a plug and play system, with standardised interfaces to the common WMS/ERP systems. topVOX opens the door for operations of all sizes, including small web-based retailers, to use Voice technology to make picking processes more effective and productive. Andreas Finken, President of topVOX US, spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.

Warehouse & Logistics News – Andreas, do you personally work with individual customers to help them find the right solution for their business?

With topSPEECH-Lydia® the first pick by voice system developed in Europe entered the market about ten years ago. In the meantime, topSPEECH-Lydia® has become the most successful voice suite in Europe. topVOX has been selling this solution worldwide since 2006. My job at topVOX naturally entails offering our customers the best possible solution for effective labour utilisation in intralogistics. For that reason I am always in direct contact with our customers and prospective customers.

WLN – When did you set up topVOX? Do you have a local office here in the UK? How do you handle the needs of individual UK customers in the logistics field for voice solutions? Do you have a dedicated team working in the UK?

We founded topVOX in 2006, in order to be locally accessible for our customers and prospective customers in the UK. A team of experts is available for our clients, which only attends to the special requirements of the British market. Many colleagues worldwide are working on the further development of our voice suite, however. In the UK, for example, there is a team that especially concerns itself with our SAP-compatible product version of topSPEECH-Lydia®.

WLN – Who are your target customers?

The circle of our target customers has significantly expanded through the technical advancement of our voice suite. Starting from the first customers who used our system in intralogistics, we now get requests from industry, manufacturing and the maintenance sectors. We owe this development to a significant benefit of our voice suite: speaker-independent recognition (SIR). Thanks to SIR we can easily implement more comprehensive dialogues, as needed in personnel management in production, for example. The employees do not have to train with the vocabulary, but can instead immediately use the system.

WLN – What specific voice solutions do you offer in the logistics field?

In terms of software, topSPEECH-Lydia® by topVOX is the most prominent Voice Picking system in Europe. The outstanding advantage of topSPEECH-Lydia® is that it features both speaker-dependent as well as speaker-independent recognition, thus allowing optimised and reliable speech control in all working environments and conditions. Another significant advantage of topSPEECH-Lydia® is the system’s hardware- and software-independency, allowing it to be used in combination with common standard devices and operating systems.  topSPEECH-Lydia® can be run based on the well-established operating systems Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.1 and Windows CE 6.0, for example.

A valued benefit from topSPEECH-Lydia® for our customers is the natural speech output. Our experience has conclusively shown that warehouse staff clearly find the voice more sympathetic than synthetic speech output, and satisfied employees are more productive. Furthermore, the telephony feature is invaluable. The employee now has the option to call his or her supervisor in the existing application. The same is naturally also true in the opposite direction.

WLN – Does topSPEECH-Lydia® interface with other WMS systems?

Yes, it does. topVOX offers interfaces to all common WMS for topSPEECH-Lydia® guaranteeing easy integration with this powerful Voice Picking system. topSPEECH-Lydia® is also the only speech-based system capable of working 100% online in cooperation with SAP. Our customers clearly prefer the voice solution without its own business logic. The advantage is that changes or adjustments in the customer’s process flow can be performed in the main system and the voice application then adopts them. Our SAP and AXAPTA integration have proven themselves here, making adjustments to the interfaces and the voice application on the mobile voice computer unneeded.

WLN – I gather you have another Pick by Voice product called Pick and Go, which connects up with an unmanned forklift terminal. Can you tell us about that?

The combination of Pick by Voice and an unmanned forklift terminal makes a major contribution to optimising the picking process. As with every Pick by Voice application, the user receives all order information by headset via voice output, which he/she then confirms via voice input. At the same time, the system sends a forklift to the appropriate bin locations. When the operator arrives at the bin location, the forklift will already be waiting in front of the right shelf. The picker picks the quantity ordered and confirms. When the item is processed, the picker receives the next bin location and follows the forklift, which automatically goes to the next bin location, and so on. The forklift automatically takes the full pallets to the shipping department, while a new forklift delivers the next pallet. No time is wasted on leaving the work area, which results in a true goods to man operation at a minimum of the cost. One of the major advantages of Pick and Go is clearly improved ergonomics. No more getting on and off the forklift truck. The forklift is not only at the right place, it also raises the forks to the right position and height so all items can be ergonomically picked. With Pick and Go the trucks will have a longer lifespan and reduce property damage.

WLN – Do you supply the unmanned forklifts for use in Pick and Go as well? Who makes them for you?

topSPEECH-Lydia® has been so successful on the market because our system is hardware independent. As a customer you can choose whether you want to use hardware from Motorola, LXE (Honeywell) or Intermec. We have also transferred this principle to Pick and Go. We are not fixed on a specific manufacturer of unmanned forklifts. The customer again selects the right equipment for his needs.

WLN – Pick and Go sounds fascinating! What kind of operations are using it?

Pick and Go shows its strengths everywhere it’s a matter of efficient and safe workflow in intralogistics. Possible applications include picking as well as warehousing and stock transfer. Currently we are working on integrating additional processes into our system which play a role in interactions between employees and unmanned forklifts.

WLN – How many live customers do you have so far for topSPEECH-Lydia®?

With its reliability and robustness, topSPEECH-Lydia® has convinced tens of thousands of users all over Europe that it’s right for their needs.

WLN – What about customers here in the UK?

Our customers in the UK come from the classic sectors that particularly benefit from the use of Voice Picking, i.e. commerce, industry and production. With topSPEECH-Lydia®, we ensure that our customers’ employees do their jobs more efficiently and more accurately.

WLN – What devices do you supply?

To complement topSPEECH-Lydia®, we offer two devices, the VOXter® and VOXter®-Scan. The VOXter® is a robust mobile computer device designed for use with voice picking systems. Special emphasis is placed on ergonomic and simple operation, allowing easy integration with the natural workflow. Another advantage is the selection of common hard- and software components for the VOXter®, making it a cost-effective and reliable partner for warehouse work. In addition, we offer our customers freedom of choice, as mentioned, in their use of hardware. If there already is earlier experience with equipment from Motorola, LXE (Honeywell) and Intermec, many customers want to continue to use the PDAs from these manufacturers.

WLN – What is VOXter®-Scan?

VOXter®-Scan is an especially rugged scanner device guaranteed to give an optimal performance in harsh warehouse environments. As an alternative, any other commonly available Bluetooth scanner can also be used. The hardware offered by topVOX can be complemented with a back of hand scanner, making barcode scanning available as an additional way of data recording. A particular benefit for VOXter®-Scan is the automatic triggering of bar code scanning by a sensor. The employee needs not trigger a scan by pressing a button, but rather needs only to position the scanner in front of the barcode. Everything else takes place automatically.

WLN – Do you offer any other devices?

We also feature a selection of commonly available PDAs produced by the manufacturers LXE, Intermec and Motorola, which are all perfectly suited for work with our speech-based software for topSPEECH-Lydia®.

WLN – To what extent are topVOX solutions ‘Plug and Play’? How quick are they to set up?

With our latest Plug & Play solution, we are meeting the often expressed customer wish for a Pick by Voice system that is easy to integrate without much cost and effort for the customer. What also pays off is that the software and hardware for topSPEECH-Lydia® are completely up to the to market standards. What makes the Plug & Play package so interesting is that the customer can be productive with the voice application in a very short time.

WLN – What specific items come “in the box” with your solutions? Do you, for example, provide all the headsets? Are these Bluetooth-enabled? Do you supply the supporting network equipment?

With the Plug & Play solution we offer our customers an attractive software and hardware package. This includes a powerful speech recognition system based on the speaker-independent recognizer. The advantage for customers is that their staff can immediately work with topSPEECH-Lydia® without speech training, and in more than 30 languages. The corresponding standard interface for the WMS system used is included – right out of the box.

On the hardware side we offer the complete equipment for successful use of Voice. Along with the PDA the headset plays an important role, of course. For this we offer special solutions for use in particularly noisy environments. If it’s a loud work environment, our NoiseMaster shows off its strengths. Many customers have repeatedly asked for a reliable Bluethooth headset. The advantage of this headset is its easy handling, since no wires requiring servicing have to be connected to the PDA. With our BlueMaster we now have a fully up-to-date quality headset that works with standard Bluetooth and is quite impressive due to its long battery life. In order to optimize the service time for the BlueMaster, we have equipped it with a removable battery. All headsets are therefore always ready for use.

WLN – How many users do you get with one licence? As companies expand, do your solutions expand to keep pace?

Our customers receive a voice system from us whose performance is tailored specifically to their needs. As a rule, the successes from the use of the voice suite are so enormous that the customer transfers voice-guided personnel management to other work processes, which at first were not in the plan at all. If a client is expanding and opening new branches, the voice system must also grow along with it. In order to respond to these developments our licensing system is flexibly designed so that customers are optimally equipped without too much effort and investment.

WLN – What training do you offer people to help them get the best from topVOX?

As new people come on board, is it easy to train them to use this technology? Our standard services also include the “Train the Trainer” program. In consultation with our customers, we train key users among their staff who instruct new employees in the use of the system easily on demand. topSPEECH-Lydia® is so easy to understand in its handling that new employees can work with the system in just a few minutes. If new colleagues have absolutely no experience with voice systems the CoPilot is commonly used, with which the key user supervises the new employees. The key user accompanies the colleague via the PDA until he is sure he has mastered the voice dialog.

WLN – Are all these solutions available in the UK now?

topVOX is a globally positioned company. We offer our voice suite and services internationally. There has even been a project implemented in New Zealand. That said, the entire package of services is available in the UK.

WLN – What are the steps from initial enquiry to delivery of a solution? How long does it take?

Our record time is three weeks – from request to going live. This is not the norm, however, since the time that passes between making contact and productive implementation is basically determined by our customers. When we receive an order, things on our side run very quickly. We have integrated all significant standard processes into our system, so that we still need to adapt the application logic to only a few individual cases. What is naturally important for rapid execution is that the customer can provide resources for system implementation in a timely manner.

WLN – Can you subscribe to topVOX solutions on a “pay as you go” basis or do you have to buy them outright? Do you offer financial support packages?

The use of topSPEECH-Lydia® means for our customers that they initially invest in order to achieve more efficient processes, which in turn reduces their costs. The investment pays for itself, usually within the first year. We sell our voice system under these conditions and it belongs to the customer 100%. Since topSPEECH-Lydia® is used by numerous customers who benefit greatly from seasonal business, we have created an opportunity in which additional voice systems can be rented for temporary staff on a time basis. In this way we make it possible for these customers to be able to flexibly expand and reduce their staff without too much additional investment.

WLN – Where do you develop your topVOX products for the UK?

topSPEECH-Lydia® is an international standard product and this is reflected in the development of the system. The focus of the system development for topVOX is naturally in Europe. Our team in the UK, for example, developed the SAP-compatible voice suite from topVOX.

WLN – How does the UK market for Voice products compare with the rest of Europe? Who are your major logistics sector customers in Europe? What about in the UK?

We of course adapt ourselves to the customer’s structure and the customer’s requirements in the various countries’ markets. Since it’s primarily about optimizing processes for our customers, the differences in this sector are not so serious. The global market has provided for uniform processes. However, there are differences in mentality and that is why we believe it is important that our customers have local contacts. The basis for the success of topSPEECH-Lydia® lies in the logistics sector. Through the implementation of voice picking our customers have activated a significant potential for optimization. Thus it is understandable that we also have many customers in this industry. The largest customers are from Europe, and through the international corporate structure they are then also represented simultaneously in several European countries. In the UK, for example, Netto has successfully opted for topSPEECH-Lydia®.

WLN – What kinds of increases in picking efficiency and quality can you achieve with your Voice systems?

topVOX solutions incorporate voice recognition into logistic processes to free the employees from needless work: hands-free from paper tickets or barcode devices, eyes-free from reading or orientation work. Over the years, the implementation of voice in the warehouse has proven to optimize the workflow and increase both productivity and accuracy… resulting in interesting cost reductions!

WLN – Can you tell us about the topVOX installations so far in the UK?

In the first step our customers brought topSPEECH-Lydia® to the UK while equipping new facilities in the UK with the already successfully used voice system. Our UK-based company then came into being straightaway in the second step in order to guarantee customers the best service and support close to their locations. In the meantime, topSPEECH-Lydia® is now in use at many customers in the UK and we are currently looking forward to additional expansion.

WLN – Do you publish customer case studies about your Voice solutions? Do you have ‘show sites’ where potential customers can see your Voice systems in action?

Our clients are enthusiastic about topSPEECH-Lydia® and the results they obtain through our voice suite. For this reason the motivation is especially great to report on these successes in case studies. The same applies to the opportunity to have reference visits. Since they are more vivid than at the show sites, one can see our system live in operation at the customer. Potential new customers also benefit from the reports by our customers on site.

WLN – What do you think is driving the growth in Voice picking in the UK?

First off, the growth of the voice market is influenced by economic trends, and therefore we expect a corresponding development of our UK market presence. Furthermore, batch sizes in picking are currently getting smaller through the growing online trade. topSPEECH-Lydia® offers a suitable solution for this with its multi-order pick. The employee picks up to nine orders at the same time on his way through the warehouse.

WLN – To what extent has Voice picking been adopted in the UK logistics sector? How much higher can this adoption
level get?

In our opinion, voice picking is established as the technology for the logistics sector. The proportion of voice picking will certainly grow in the next few years in the double-digit percentage range. Furthermore, what should not be overlooked is that voice-guided staff management is not only limited to the field of picking. In intralogistics there are many other processes which can be reproduced with voice technology, ranging from goods receiving, warehousing and stock transfer to inventory and goods shipping. The voice-based warehouse is no longer a vision – but many customers still have yet to fully exploit the potential for optimisation.

WLN – What effect has the recent recession in Europe and the UK had on your business? How has the market changed?

The absolute advantage of voice systems is that our customers achieve greater quality and efficiency in their processes. The quality aspect is of great importance to our customers in a time of booming business activity when it comes to differentiating themselves from competitors on the market. The end user decides in favour of the best quality in products and services. In times of recession, the focus is on efficiency. The team of employees accomplish more due to the voice system. The fixed costs thus remain the same but the order throughput increases. Consequently, the last recession did not impact topVOX. With our voice suite the customers reach the major goals they have set, regardless of the economic situation.

WLN – Finally, where do you see topVOX going from here?

topVOX represents the most successful European pick by voice system. Our customers are so enthusiastic about topSPEECH-Lydia® that they ask on their own about voice solutions for other work applications. We are already represented in other sectors of production and quality control. We will expand these areas in the future for the benefit of our customers.

topVOX UK contact:   Mr. Peter Breens

tel: +44 – 116 212 6744

(mobile) 44 785 905 7554

www.top-vox.com