‘Citizen developers’ unclog bottlenecks at maker of software for automotive dealers

Dominion Dealer Solutions

One of today’s most popular solutions to the IT backlog problem is to give business users the capability to build their own applications. It’s even better when the users are the ones driving the process.

At Dominion Dealer Solutions, a Virginia-based maker of software for automating automotive dealerships, an end-user development tool has become a viral hit. The product is QuickBase Inc.’s namesake low-code platform for what is sometimes called “citizen development.”

QuickBase comes with a set of templates and processes that apply to common office tasks such as managing projects and tracking deployments. Users can customize the embedded features to meet their own needs, often using nothing more than a drag-and-drop process.

Nichole Browning, Dominion Dealer SolutionsQuickBase has been key to overhauling a software deployment process at Dominion that was once plagued by paperwork and communication breakdowns. The company sells a suite of software that helps automotive dealers like Savannah, GA’s Chatham Parkway Toyota (above) manage customer relationships, maintain inventory, conduct marketing campaigns and optimize their websites. Because Dominion’s portfolio is so broad, each customer’s deployment is unique, according to Deployment Manager Nichole Browning (right). More than a dozen steps are typically involved between signing a contract and delivering a solution to the customer. The task of meeting the company’s 30-day delivery commitment requires agility and quick access to information.

Fixing a slow process

That wasn’t the case until last year. The previous tracking process was slow and awkward, relying upon paper handoffs and email communications. Reports could take days to get back from the IT organization and bottlenecks were difficult to detect. Deployments would be sidelined for weeks and only noticed when customers called asking about the status of their order.

Dominion was in the process of replacing its internal customer relationship management (CRM) system when Browning stumbled upon QuickBase. “I started playing around with it and I just loved it,” she said. “It was so easy to use. There is no coding that I’ve had to do.”

She saw the potential not only to improve project tracking in the Deployment group, but also take advantage of the new CRM system’s workflow features to improve communications between departments. And it could be done without involving the IT organization. IT was more than happy to support her in the effort.

Although she had minimal coding experience, Browning was able to use QuickBase’s interactive development features to build a system to track the status of each in just a few weeks. New features and workflows can be added interactively without taking the application off-line.

The citizen-developed application has had a sweeping impact on visibility into projects. The team now has up-to-the minute information about the status of each deployment, the estimated time of completion and how long each stage has taken. “The time it takes to pull information has gone from days to seconds,” Browning said.

Visibility payoff

A key to customer satisfaction is that the application flags any deployment that is lagging behind. Delays that were nearly impossible to spot under the old manual system are now immediately visible, which has improved efficiency. When the status of a deployment changes, the salesperson can now even get an email notification and relay the status to the customer.

Executives are thrilled with improved visibility into the status of customer orders. “Deployments used to go into a black hole,” Browning said. “Now our executives, upper managers and salespeople get a report every day on exactly where their deployments are. Everyone is on the same page now.”

Her group is now building an application to pull all deployment information for all products into a single view. It’s a complex task, but the QuickBase support organization has been a tremendous resource. “Any time I have a question I submit an issue and they are on it – calling me, emailing me, working through my problem,” she said. “I feel like I’m part of a family.”

Other departments have taken notice. The company’s equity, CRM, and dealer management software groups are now experimenting with building their own applications. IT provides infrastructure and tech support but doesn’t touch the applications directly. “Everything is within our control,” Browning said. “I absolutely love this product.”