How Helm Inc. Eliminated Thousands of Spreadsheets to Transform their Business
Helm Inc., a marketing services company for the automotive, consumer packaged goods and retail industries was looking for a way to transform their business.The company had a reputation for fast delivery service but wanted to be more efficient. It was time to centralize their system and no longer rely on stitching together emails, spreadsheets, mail and phone calls to fulfill their business needs. Company leaders also wanted to find a solution that would take pressure off their IT department that was being bogged down.
In 2010, Helm leaders selected Quickbase as the platform to build a suite of applications aimed to standardize their systems in order to provide customers with a better experience. Since then, 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 rather everything was kept in emails or spreadsheets
- Increased demands placed on IT with limited resources
- Developed a suite of applications on Quickbase aimed at eliminating spreadsheets, reducing error, and increasing efficiency
- Empowered citizen developers to build and customize their own applications to meet their needs
- Real-time access to information for fast reporting and action triggers
- Annual savings of $150,000 in administrative operational costs and $20,000 in license cost savings from replacing Salesforce
- Eliminated over 3,000 spreadsheets and reduced project time from 90 hours to less than one
- IT backlog significantly decreased allowing IT to focus on core value-driving project
- Built a connected ecosystem of applications on the same platform to share data easily, leading to improved reporting and better decision-making
Looking for a Solution
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.
Despite its reputation for fast service delivery, in 2010, company leaders were looking for ways to improve efficiency. At the time, 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.
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. He tasked a team with finding 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.
"I really wanted to find an application that we could extend to our users anywhere, anytime, 24 hours a day, make sure it was secure, but more than anything to make sure it was user friendly,” said Michael Wacht, Vice President of Operations.
Centralizing and Improving the System
After evaluating off-the-shelf products like Caspio and database.com from Salesforce, Helm chose Quickbase because it was configurable, intuitive and cloud-based, so employees could use it securely 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.
"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 application replaced the manual process with an easy-to-use online application that enables merchandising staff to manage every activity from a single place. The application 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.
Quickbase as a Platform
The success of the Campaign Manager application gave Helm the confidence to build more. Using Quickbase as an application Platform-as-a-Service 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.
- 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
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 Quickbase to forecast demand for 2,800 different print-on-demand items in 60-day increments.
Citizen Developers Deliver Their Own Solutions
The mission was also 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," said John Romano, Vice President of Fulfillment.
Helm empowers citizen developers by offering Quickbase licenses to almost every employee, while simultaneously offering training classes available to every user. 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 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."
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