NO CODE 2018: Strategies for No-Code Adoption in Retail

All right. What an exciting time in the life of Caspio.


The platform is continually evolving, and as a result, we’re able to build great applications. Everywhere from the introduction of formula fields and tables to triggered actions, these enhancements have allowed us to move to a more no-code environment.


In this presentation, I want to show you some examples of applications that have changed my company, as well as some tips for adoption, expansion, and scale.


But before I do, I want to take you back to 2014 when we first began using Caspio.

One Brand, Two Distinct Segments

In 2012, we spun off from Sears Holdings. As a result of that, we were still dependent on much of their IT infrastructure, including their point of sale system, logistics, and several other applications and systems.


Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores operate 800 stores and 14 regional distribution centers. We have two distinct business segments that are separate from Sears Holdings in their purpose.


One is our Sears Outlet segment. In Sears Outlet, we sell reconditioned, refurbished and slightly dented products. For this segment, there’s the complex process of taking the appliance from reconditioning all the way to resale.


Then we also have our Hometown segment, which is our rural market stores. These are operated by franchisees throughout small-town America.


So, two distinct segments, completely different from Sears Holdings’ model of large mall stores and such. And again, we also operate a combination of company and franchisee locations.


As a result of the split, it created a gap in applications. We were reliant on Sears Holdings, and it was 2012 when that hourglass turned. We knew at some point that someday, we would need to become fully independent from an IT perspective. So, from 2012, it was like the gun held to your head to get these things moved off the Sears Holdings platform.

Paper-Based Auditing Processes

So, my background. I come from an internal department within Sears, the loss prevention department in operations. I’m responsible or was responsible for investigations, auditing all backend operational processes from the corporate office.


Initially, I was in a field position.


For about a year or two after we split from Sears Holdings, my department operated on Excel and paper logs. This was a very mundane and monotonous process. Imagine, every time we went in to audit a store, we wrote up a paper.


I would spend my entire Saturday afternoons writing up the findings of my results from traveling for the week. And in my role as a field operations and loss prevention manager, my manager approached me and asked for me to come up with a better way of tracking our cases and our audits.

The Search for an Access Alternative

So, in 2014, I built four applications in Caspio. Now, there’s a little bit of a story with that.


Before building the applications, I had built a case and audit management platform in Access. Everyone remembers those days. And remember, I was a field operations manager, so I was traveling for a living, covering 14 states.


I was in a coffee shop in Montana when I decided to do some maintenance to the backend of my Access database served over a network connection when the backend crashed. Everyone’s probably been there. Not recovered.


I had to make a call to my manager, and it was not a good call. Thankfully, I think that was the last time I’ve had to make that kind of call since we’ve been on Caspio.


So, I made the call and I had a couple of things I had to tell my manager. One, the system that a dozen folks relied on was not available. Two, we may have lost some of our data since the last time I backed it up. And three, I had no ETA on when it was going to be fixed.


This was coupled with the fact that I was in my regular role of working as a field operations manager. In the coffee shop there in Montana, I started searching desperately on the internet looking for a solution, a permanent solution to solve our issues.

Caspio’s Low-Code Platform: The Secret Weapon

So, about a week later, I discovered Caspio. I signed up for a free trial account, and the rest is pretty much history there.


Today our applications have grown to over 40 plus applications across the company. We are managing over 3,000 users across the company, and we have secure access through a single sign-on connection.


I’ll talk about adoption, expansion, and scale, and how single sign-on and cross-app authentication are great tools to have.


So, where I am today.


Today I spend about half of my time involved in the requirements and the future planning of applications. The other half of my time, I spend building applications in Caspio.


I’ve trained our business intelligence team within Sears Hometown and Outlet to utilize Caspio in their day-to-day functions: everywhere from importing and exporting data to creating data visualization tools to report on company data.


Today, I’m the primary point of contact and IT liaison for solving business problems within the company. Early on, I heard this term kept bubbling up from meetings in the executive office and my boss kept saying, “Why is your name being mentioned so much?”


But this idea of solution provider, this term “solution provider” kept coming up out of those meetings. They associated that to me as I use Caspio as my secret weapon.


Today, I’m in a new role as an application developer and administrator within the IT department. That’s within the last year. And Caspio has changed my career trajectory towards the field of IT.

Managing Inventory Values and Corrections

I want to take you through just some examples of how Caspio has grown across my organization.


So, these are some of the 40 plus applications that have supported our business processes. You can see there are several departments across the company where we are utilizing Caspio.


We use Caspio for everything, from retail operations, accounting and audit to inventory management, e-commerce and logistics. We use it for our service and repair function, our loss prevention and risk management –that’s our largest stack there, that’s the department I came out of – and emergency management. We’re utilizing Caspio across the company to solve business problems.


An application that I wanted to highlight is our inventory correction and approval processing application. This is an example of a multi-tiered workflow where we have inventory corrections.


Imagine a store does their inventory and the count isn’t right. So, we must submit a financial inventory correction. This requires a complex set of approvals, multiple approvals depending on the dollar amount, depending on the different conditions of the correction.


Caspio’s calculated and formula fields make creating a workflow seamless. So, that’s one example.


We’re also utilizing external communication to our vendor who processes our inventory corrections for Sears Holdings. That’s done through the automation of import and exported tasks.

Seamless, Secure UX With Single Sign-On

The second application that I’d like to highlight is our service order system.


Our Outlet segment is a complex model where our stores have to prepare merchandise for shipment through multiple steps. This application is used by our distribution center to document the repair and the redistribution of our repaired items.


This next slide we’re looking at is a Caspio portal. In the white area of the screen, we have our central platform. All our stores and employees use this to access our applications in Caspio via a single sign-on connection.


So, on one single sign-on, they come through this Caspio portal. Each tile is an application they are assigned to and that they have access to. This allows for seamless user experience and connection to all our applications.


Now, how are we doing this?


In the middle of the screen and the white area of the screen, we have a frame where I’m using a gallery DataPage set to a four-grid width. With some modifications to the style, I’m serving up each tile icon via one single HTML block.


Now, in the backend, the data page is receiving parameters that are passed from the user authentication table. Each app has a field in the authentication table with its app ID that displays the individual application tiles.


Of course, every individual application is protected via a view filtered to that app ID. That allows our users to cross-app segue into the applications that they are assigned to, all via a single sign-on connection.


The outer frame is a bootstrap template. You can find that online. SB Admin is the one I love, but this serves as a central platform for all our users to access applications as well. I can create system alerts and manage the technical support side.

Easier Reporting Through an Online Database

I want to take you through some screenshots of applications that are in use today.


On the left is an application that our field district managers utilize to track audits. On the right is a store closure application. This is an example of our stores that closed as a result of the hurricane last year in Houston. It allows our field district managers to report live to executive management the status of any store.


Our next slide has some examples of our e-commerce fulfillment application. This allows us to process our stores’ e-commerce orders, from the time that order comes through, all the way through the fulfillment of the product, the packaging and everything that goes along with that. That’s part of our Sears Outlet application.


This next slide is an example of many basic reports that we have set up that demonstrate the use of calculated fields. In this report, we have calculated fields in the far-right column under the Order Status column. We have over 20 custom status messages that are looking at multiple tables within Caspio via SQL statements and they’re returning those messages. That allows our stores to determine the status of orders at any time.


On our next screenshot are examples of barcodes and labels that are in use today. Our barcode on the right is an example of our bill of lading that is generated when we ship an item out through our national delivery application. And on the upper left, we have an example of our parts database where our store or distribution centers track their parts.


On the last slide is an example of a companywide-used Volunteerism Application. Our company gives employees the opportunity to volunteer one day out of the year, fully paid and on company time. This demonstrates how an application can compete with just a general web development site and allows the embedding of Caspio within the site. So, you can see the perfect styling and display of our website.

Tips for Successful Low-Code Adoption

All right. So, the topic I want to go into is the discussion about adoption, expansion, and scale. These are some tips that I’ve had over time.


Number one, tips for building trust.


We want to showcase our applications to senior leadership. I had examples where the CEO wanted an app made just for him. And I’m thinking, I have 3,000 users, but of course, the CEO is going to come first. But hidden behind that was immense value. It was the value of being able to show the CEO how Caspio can solve business problems. So, it was a great opportunity. Look for opportunities where you can build trust within your organization early on.


The second method that I employed to build trust was to assign application owners to power each department. It’s important to ensure that every application has an owner where they’re assigned, and they’re empowered to make decisions for that application and to speak to the business results.


Secondly, ease of use.


I focused on a consistent UI design across the company. These applications are very easy to use and familiar as users navigated across applications.


I would recommend implementing a single sign-on or cross-app authentication. At one point early on, I had a separate password for about a dozen applications and, of course, that got a little difficult to manage.


You want to create a process for end-user support. So today, I have a Caspio technical support desk at Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores served over one method of communication. We respond to our users within 24 hours.

Getting and Demonstrating Results

Additionally, business results.


You want to formalize your requirements through planning. This is very important because traditional IT and Caspio work alongside. And over the last five years, I met some of what I would call resisters. These are folks who didn’t really know what they didn’t know coming from a traditional IT background.


But as the applications delivered business results, those applications could stand shoulder to shoulder with those traditional IT solutions. So, it’s important to focus on applications that will deliver results very early on and ensure everyone is aligned with that.


Like I said, great. It’s one thing to create a great looking application, but behind that, the ultimate goal is a business result.

Scaling Your Business With Caspio

Lastly, expansion and scale. We want to train application owners as developers and provide templates. So, this is that baby step approach. As each application has an owner, I would create templates that they could then modify. These are DataPages they developed as they built confidence and controlled those areas that they’re making.


Some lessons learned.


  • You want to create a user management plan early on. Like I said, we had several applications with different passwords, and we brought that together through a single sign-on connection, or you could do the same with cross-app authentication.


  • I didn’t really understand the power of resizing images, but that’s a very important part when you’re dealing with images on a day-to-day basis. So, that’s definitely a takeaway.


  • And lastly, as you’re expanding your applications, you want to leverage app parameters. What a great way to manage dynamic content instead of having to go and do multiple pages and modify them.


So, in conclusion, Caspio has revolutionized the way Sears Hometown and Outlet has approached solving business problems. Whether you’re new to Caspio, already managing a few applications, or have created dozens across your business or enterprise, Caspio can revolutionize the way you solve business problems.


Thank you.


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