Helm Inc. Drives Frictionless Innovation with Quick Base
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 Quick Base 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.
- Business processes managed by "tribal knowledge" and manual processes
- No central system for managing processes and workflows outside of core order management, warehouse management, and financial software systems
- Increased business demands on IT
- Quick Base as a low-code platform for rapid application development
- Empowered citizen developers who build and customize their own apps to meet their needs
- Standardization of several key processes
- Real-time access to information for fast reporting and action triggers
- Savings of $150,000 per year in administrative operational costs
- Elimination of more than 3,000 spreadsheets, along with errors that plagued the accuracy and reliability of the information
- $20,000 per year in license cost savings from replacing Salesforce
- Eliminated 100,000 emails per year with online collaboration
- Reduced IT backlog enables IT to focus on core value-driving projects
A History of 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.
Helm's First App Eliminates 3,000 Spreadsheets
After evaluating off-the-shelf products like Caspio and database.com from Salesforce, Helm ultimately chose Quick Base 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 Quick Base required nothing more than an understanding of the underlying process. Built by Wacht, the Campaign Manager Quick Base 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.
Quick Base as a Platform
The success of the Campaign Manager app gave Helm the confidence to build more apps on Quick Base. Using Quick Base as an application Platform-as-a-Service (aPaaS), today more than half of Helm's business processes run on Quick Base apps, including:
Job Number Assignment App
The key data attribute that ties all of Helm's Quick Base apps together is the job number, a 4-5 digit number that is generated and assigned from a dedicated app.
- Sales Tracker
Helm saved over $20,000 by building a sales tracker app that replaced its Salesforce.com instance and gave the company much greater flexibility to deliver a sales app that meets its exact needs.
- Contract Manager
Here Helm manages 65 client contracts, pricing by line item, and activity time standards for centralized quoting and billing.
- Production Manager
Helm replaced 14 paper-based forms and tens of thousands of emails to manage bulk distribution of between 200 and 15,000 items — includes real-time billing and invoicing.
- IT Requests
An app to handle 1,000 annual IT and helpdesk requests, that assists with project management, prioritization, and labor tracking for all local and remote IT staff.
- Print Service Requests
This app is used to manage 1,100 annual print requests, including real-time updates through each stage of the manufacturing process to 20 internal customers.
- Sales Admin
Each month, sales administrators log hundreds of activities in 15 to 60 minute increments. Each transaction rolls up to one of 35 client purchase orders to provide up-to-the-minute purchase order balances, and revenue reporting.
- Print-on-Demand Forecasting
This app uses 12 months of historical item usage data in Quick Base to forecast demand for 2,800 different print-on-demand items in 60-day increments.
Citizen Developers Deliver Their Own Solutions
The mission was to empower business users while reducing the pressure on IT. With Quick Base, 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 Quick Base 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 Quick Base 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 Quick Base 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.
"Quick Base is a natural fit in our evolving IT approach," says Paul Carmouche, IT Director of Helm. "Quick Base 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."
The Benefits of Rapid App Development
In the five years since Helm launched its first Quick Base app, the platform has become critical to Helm's ongoing business and the company has realized a significant return on investment, including:
- Cost savings
Streamlining processes has saved Helm over $150,000 in administrative labor costs, while replacing Salesforce with Quick Base saved an additional $20,000 per year. The company has also saved on inventory costs now that it can forecast demand for products more accurately.
- Reduced Warehouse Square Footage
The Print-on-Demand Forecasting app enabled Helm to increase inventory turns from 1 to 8 per year, reducing square footage by 75,000 square feet to accommodate new client inventory.
- Efficiency gains
Eliminating over 3,000 spreadsheets and over 100,000 emails from key business processes means Helm delivers to its customers a high-level of service faster and with fewer errors.
- Improved visibility
Building a connected ecosystem of apps on the same platform means those apps can share data easily, leading to improved reporting and better decision-making.
- Reduced IT backlog and faster app delivery
Because business users self-serve new applications with minimal assistance from "Black Belts," IT is free to focus on major projects.
"Quick Base 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."