QuickBase has removed technology as an obstacle to moving our business forward.
Michael Wacht, VP Operations
Helm Inc. provides branded merchandise, multichannel fulfillment, and marketing services to companies in the automotive and retail industries and beyond. In 2010, Helm set out to transform the way it does business by empowering employees to improve front-office processes and exceed customer expectations. By leveraging QuickBase as a low-code rapid application development platform, Helm enabled business users to solve immediate business problems while freeing the IT department to focus on areas where it adds the most value. Five years later, Helm has transformed its business completely — eliminating over 3,000 spreadsheets and hundreds of thousands of emails from its processes, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in operational costs, and driving rapid-fire innovation.
For 70 years, Helm, Inc. has been helping corporate clients extend their brands with customized solutions in branded merchandise, multichannel fulfillment, and marketing. It's a high-touch business that needs to be highly flexible in adapting to the needs of its Fortune 500 clients, including Ford Motor Company, FCA, Wolverine, Castrol, and BMW.
The company's success is due in large part to its ability to adapt and deliver services quickly and on demand. In just one year alone, Helm will process over 250,000 orders, ship 750,000 packages and print more than 55 million pages of collateral on demand.
Even as Helm maintained its reputation for fast service delivery, the company was looking for ways to improve efficiency. Helm lacked a central system for standardizing key business processes, so employees used ad hoc solutions like email, spreadsheets, mail and phone calls to deliver one-to-one services to 65 clients, each with its own requirements. Demand on IT was at an all-time high, so creating custom applications to replace manual processes was a daunting prospect.
In 2010 Helm changed the way it does business. Helm CEO Justin Gusick envisioned a company in which IT could focus more on core technologies and driving next-level insights while business users could improve processes and workflows with the help of an easy-to-use tool.
To execute on that vision, Helm created a team tasked with finding a solution that could enable this innovative approach to solution delivery. The team set out to find a low-code rapid application development platform that required little or no IT support but was robust enough to deliver solutions that met its exact needs. The platform had to be capable of delivering apps that were secure, robust, and flexible, yet easy enough for users to grasp right away.
"We were on a mission to find a technology solution to create applications that could be used anywhere, anytime, and without any end-user training," says Michael Wacht, Vice President of Operations.
After evaluating off-the-shelf products like Caspio and database.com from Salesforce, Helm ultimately chose QuickBase because it was configurable, intuitive and cloud-based, so employees could use it from any device, at any location, without network constraints.
The first app Helm built was designed to support the Merchandising team, which delivers custom catalogs to clients with anywhere from 500 to 3,000 product SKUs in them. The process of creating a catalog requires Helm to manage merchandise costs and margin, product selection, global sourcing, copyrighting, photography, and many other attributes. Managing this process with spreadsheets was overly complicated and time-consuming.
"When Helm created a new brand merchandising on-line catalog that featured 250 or more items, it would take us 90 hours to just to prepare a product line preview. Moreover, each product line preview might require several revisions per product across five different disciplines," Wacht says. "With more than 1,000 product status changes that required monitoring to get the project completed on time, managing the entire workflow was a challenge."
Building a solution on QuickBase required nothing more than an understanding of the underlying process. Built by Wacht, the Campaign Manager QuickBase app replaced the manual process with an easy-to-use online app that enables merchandising staff to manage every activity from a single place. The app has eliminated over 3,000 spreadsheets since its introduction and reduced the time required to create a product line preview from 90 hours to less than one.
The success of the Campaign Manager app gave Helm the confidence to build more apps on QuickBase. Using QuickBase as an application Platform-as-a-Service (aPaaS), today more than half of Helm's business processes run on QuickBase apps, including:
Job Number Assignment App
The key data attribute that ties all of Helm's QuickBase apps together is the job number, a 4-5 digit number that is generated and assigned from a dedicated app.
The mission was to empower business users while reducing the pressure on IT. With QuickBase, Helm empowers "citizen developers" to build, customize, and connect applications without any coding or database skills.
"It's not practical to go to IT with a scope document every time we need a solution. This is where QuickBase and the low-code rapid app development mentality has served us so well," says John Romano, VP of Fulfillment.
Helm empowers citizen developers by offering QuickBase licenses to almost every employee, while simultaneously offering training classes available to every user. Those who build sufficiently complex apps (for example, apps that share data with other apps) are called "Black Belts" and offer ongoing assistance to those with less experience.
The result is a workforce in which 95% of the 116 employees with QuickBase access use it every day. Because employees can now self-serve their own technology solutions, the IT team can focus on delivering on core technologies and driving new business insights.
"QuickBase is a natural fit in our evolving IT approach," says Paul Carmouche, IT Director of Helm. "QuickBase allows citizen developers to create database-driven apps to replace spreadsheet and paper processes without contributing to the IT backlog. But it has also let IT leverage its limited resources to do more good for the organization."
In the five years since Helm launched its first QuickBase app, the platform has become critical to Helm's ongoing business and the company has realized a significant return on investment, including:
"QuickBase has removed technology as an obstacle to moving our business forward. The net result is frictionless innovation, with app delivery that moves at the speed of business," says Wacht. "The only limitation we now have is our imagination."