In traditional approaches to supply chain management, retailers and manufacturers dedicate exorbitant amounts of time and manpower to inspecting each part or product. But human error can still compromise quality and performance integrity during the inspection process, with potentially expensive consequences when one takes into account returns, damage to brand and the cost to redo or fix product.
This troubling gap in supply chain inspections invokes two common adages we often hear in the business world: “time is money” and “to err is human.” So how can the supply chain industry optimize precious resources and contain the additional costs generated by inevitable mistakes? Equipping inspectors and quality control professionals with a digital platform with voice recognition technology can save businesses up to 50% in inspection time and significantly reduce margins of error, according to recent field data collected by QIMAone.
With the speech recognition market projected to grow at a CAGR of over 17% through 2025, the power of voice technology is echoing loud and clear across industries with a multitude of use cases. Adding to its appeal is the fact that speech recognition technology has a longstanding strong track record in supporting enterprises that far precedes the nascent technologies being eyed for supply chain management, such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things and blockchain.
The first example of modern voice recognition technology was the “Audrey” system designed by Bell Laboratories in the 1950s, which recognized digits one through nine when spoken by a single programmed voice. Next, at the 1962 World Fair, IBM’s landmark “Shoebox” touted the ability to recognize and differentiate 16 words.
Fast forward to today, and voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa have become members of millions of households and workplaces. Speech recognition tools have sprouted up in some industries, particularly healthcare, retail, financial services and education. While still growing in the supply chain space, voice tech has proven itself to be far more than a passing technology trend.
Enhance Accuracy and Versatility
Most digital inspection platforms available in today’s marketplace use IoT-connected rulers and other automation measures for quality performance. But these tools require businesses to simultaneously invest in dedicated devices for all factories and provide intensive training to all employees or suppliers that are involved in the process. With supply chains often involving hundreds of parties, this can easily become a costly endeavor. Moreover, the precision between devices is inconsistent, with up to a 10% delta between two measurements. In the long-term, this wide margin of error holds grave implications for quality control and process efficiency.
But when an inspection platform is powered by voice recognition, minimal training is required and brands experience a degree of accuracy that matches human transcribers. Notably, most consumers and businesses are already familiar with the functions of speech recognition technology, meaning the learning curve is low from the very start. By infusing the inspection process with accurate speech recognition capabilities, the inspectors, armed with just a tablet or other mobile device, can simply speak up and upload their data directly and immediately to a cloud-based system.
For full versatility, global brands that engage a cross-border and cross-cultural workforce can explore digital systems that function multilingually. By allowing users to speak comfortably in their native language and eliminating communication barriers, the pace, accuracy and convenience of inspections are greatly enhanced. The versatility of voice technology is especially useful as business increasingly adopt nomadic supply chain frameworks that find them diversifying their supply chains and sourcing from suppliers in new geographies.
Another key attribute is to have voice recognition capabilities that work offline or with limited internet connection. With so many factories and inspection sites lacking internet connectivity, mainstream voice assistants that require an internet connection, such as Siri and Google Assistant, are basically obsolete.
Go Lean and Transform Measurements
Apart from enhancing accuracy and versatility, voice technology offers numerous benefits that transform supply chain processing and streamline various aspects of inspections.
With the recording of measurements being the most time-consuming task for an inspector, voice recognition transforms the process and makes it significantly leaner and more accurate. Normally, two people are required to take measurements with one using the ruler and the other taking notes. But with voice recognition, just one inspector is needed. Without having to worry about taking a break to jot down notes as they inspect, voice tech also enables inspectors to be more hands-on with the product. Furthermore, documentation becomes more efficient and precise, with voice recording eliminating the need to later decipher scrawled or erroneous notes.
In the end, the benefits of voice tech translate to a reduction in human error, saved time and stronger overall performance in the inspection process.
Of the many benefits a digitized supply chain provides, one of the most promising is that end-to-end visibility can potentially overhaul and reinvent the supplier relations framework. In fact, businesses with a high degree of supply chain digitization are 50% less likely than their less digital savvy counterparts to suffer from poor supplier communication and serious product quality issues, according to a recent survey of global businesses conducted by QIMAone.
Thanks to real-time visibility into the factory floor and accurate measurements, partners and employees are able to make decisions based on real-time data. Furthermore, every relationship that a business has with a supplier is no longer formed on a standard client-vendor contract; rather it is built on continuous improvement and driven by aligned goals.
Speech recognition technology is key to building this new supplier relations framework anchored by the “three Ts” of trust, transparency and teamwork. It literally and figuratively amplifies the voices of suppliers, partners and employees in the supply chain inspection process. When done right, all parties are heard, and everyone wins.
Sébastien Breteau is founder and CEO of QIMA, a quality control and compliance service.