By David Head
Work as we know it has been transformed in recent years – gone are the days of being tied to a desk to do a job.
With laptops replacing desktops, smarter phones and more powerful tablets, the mobile revolution is in full swing.
With this revolution, there has been an ever increasing demand for business apps. A quick look in the various app stores shows a wide array of business focussed apps – many of these provide mobile access to cloud services like Salesforce and Xero Accounting.
When you are looking for an app to either streamline manual operations or make them more efficient, you have two choices. One is to download an app – if one exists – and fit your business around it. The other choice is to build your own custom app that fits your existing processes.
Building your own custom app is going to deliver better outcomes — staff do not have to learn new processes; you leverage your unique business advantage and you build valuable intellectual property.
But how do you build an app that is customised to your unique business processes?
Traditionally, building apps requires learning coding languages like Swift for iOS or Java for Android. That will automatically exclude most people from building their own apps. So you would need to contract a skilled developer with mobile app experience.
The fact is that there are simply not enough of developers to satisfy demand and costs can be prohibitive for startups.
Fortunately there is a way. Over the last few years there has been a proliferation of development platforms and frameworks that offer simple ways to create custom apps without coding, like that from FileMaker.
These platforms are essentially visual environments that allow you to drag and drop elements to build your app interface.
The simplest apps are easy to create. Many of the app creation tools provide templates that can easily and quickly be used to create apps based on standard processes.
The more complex apps that will accurately model your processes will take a bit more work. Sometimes the hardest work is not the coding itself – it is the analysis and design of the solution you want to build. You need to understand and think about data input, processing, storage and output. You need to be able to imagine a user interface that would be efficient and effective for the given task.
While there is code involved it is inside the building blocks you drag and drop in the interface, written by someone else.
With the simplest requirements, it will likely not need any coding from you. The advantage is that you don’t have to write code, understand it or maintain it. And that’s fine if it does what you want.
When you need to add functionality beyond the basics, you may need to learn a little about programming concepts and writing basic code.
There are some real benefits to building your own custom startup app using these no-coding frameworks.
An obvious benefit is that you don’t need programming skills to get started. This is not to say that programming skills are not useful – if you already have skills or aptitude in this area, you will progress a lot faster than someone starting from scratch.
But almost anyone can get started building their own custom app. How far you get will depend on your willingness to learn and persevere.
Another benefit of building your own custom app is that it forces you to think about exactly what you want, what you need and how it should work After all, nobody knows your business processes as well as you do.
You may use templates to get some ideas of what is possible. At a minimum, you will end up with a clearer idea of the processes involved and where the custom app can change your business. If you decide that it is all a bit hard to get it working the way you want, you could then call in a professional developer, show them what you have come up with and use it as a prototype for app development.
There is a certain sense of achievement from building your own app. It is a living thing you can build, launch and be proud of.
Have a look around at some of the no-coding custom app frameworks available and start playing around with it and you’ll likely be surprised at what you are able to create.
David Head is a consulting engineer at FileMaker Inc. Asia Pacific, an Apple subsidiary.
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