SaaS solutions can be a faster and cheaper alternative to building custom internal tools in-house.
But oftentimes, they can lack features needed to solve your unique problems.
This raises the question: should you continue to buy software that’s easy but inflexible? Or should you take it on yourself to design and own something that fits your exact needs?
The decision to build internal tools in-house requires a significant investment of time and resources, including hiring a development team, managing the project, and maintaining the software. On the other hand, purchasing software from a vendor can be easier, but it may not fully meet your company's needs and may require customization and integration with existing systems.
Fortunately, the rise of no-code has created a third option. No-code development allows companies to now create custom software in less time and cost. But because this trend has grown so quickly in the past few years, many executives and managers are wondering: “Is this right for me?”
At Airdev, we’ve built no-code internal tools for hundreds of businesses (Bubble.io is our building platform of choice). Based on our first-hand experience, below is a guide to help you evaluate whether no-code is right for your business. We’ll include the benefits (and limits) of building internal tools with no-code, and the types of situations businesses are typically transitioning from.
What are internal tools?
While consumer software gets most of the attention, the majority of software is actually consumed by businesses. These internal tools help businesses of all sizes run their most critical functions and workflows.
An internal tool is a custom software application that is built for internal users in an organization. It is where businesses runs their operations and performs various actions such as:
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- Employee Directory and HR platform
- Event Management directory
- Forms and Surveys
- Dashboards and Reports
- Client portals
- Inventory apps
- IT support ticketing tool
- And more
Internal software can help companies of all sizes solve workflow problems and inefficiencies, making teams more innovative, competitive, and collaborative.
Why build no-code internal tools?
The emergence of no-code platforms has reduced the barriers to building custom internal tools and alleviated many of the previous concerns.
For example, small to midsize businesses often face a difficult software build vs. buy choice: Whether to buy new software or attempt to write their own code. Hiring a developer in-house or using third-party services is often financially out of the question for many growing businesses. But on the other hand, sometimes, there’s simply no off-the-shelf, SaaS software available to address a business’s unique problem.
No-code provides an alternative, making it easier for small and mid-size businesses to build custom internal software for the following reasons. Some of the benefits of building internal tools with no-code include:
- Cost effectiveness: They significantly reduce the cost of developing bespoke technology. Furthermore, they can prevent paying for any unnecessary features.
- Reduced demand on internal IT resources: Their visual programming interface makes platform building accessible to non-coders. Additionally, every stakeholder can be involved in the building process.
- Speedier development timelines: They significantly accelerate development processes, allowing businesses to reap the benefits of improved workflows faster and iterate more frequently over time.
Refer to our What is no-code? guide for a full overview on building apps without code.
4 use cases of no-code to build internal tool
At Airdev, we’ve built hundreds of no-code internal tools for small and mid-size businesses, such as the visual development tool Bubble, in just a matter of weeks.
With no-code technologies becoming the new norm, here are some of the key reasons we’ve seen growing businesses turn to building their own custom internal tool without code:
1. Current Software as a Service (SaaS) limitations
As businesses grow and their needs shift and evolve, their off-the-shelf software often isn’t customized enough. It lacks certain features the business needs, or it becomes too expensive to grow and maintain due to per-user license costs. In this situation, businesses will turn to no-code platforms like Bubble to build totally customized internal apps or portals that include all the feature sets they need to run key business operations according to their processes.
- Real-life example: Cadence Translate ran into a wall with its CRM platform, Salesforce. The business had grown to over 2,500 users and Salesforce’s per-seat cost model became too expensive. To get around this, Cadence partnered with Airdev to build a custom no-code gig portal using Bubble. This platform took the underlying structure of Salesforce’s data and connected it to a lightweight web app that could scale to thousands of different users without any additional per-user cost.
2. In-house developer optimization
It’s widely understood that software upgrades are always expensive and often disruptive. For businesses’ internal development teams, programming new internal tools can be very time consuming, especially given other work priorities that directly affect revenue streams. Since the large majority of custom software being built today already solves standardized problems, your in-house developers should prioritize their focus on the highest-leverage technical problems, which are often with your external products.
- Real-life example: The national non-profit The Food Project’s original PHP developer had too many projects on their plate and needed to transition. To avoid the process and cost of finding a new developer to learn the entire code base, they partnered with Airdev to rebuild their tool with no-code on a modern stack.
3. Legacy system maintenance challenges
When legacy tech systems are outdated and can’t connect with each other, it falls to businesses’ IT teams to maintain them. When that’s not feasible, many businesses find that it makes sense to build their own app from scratch using no-code. With a tool like Bubble, this is especially easy to do, as it allows businesses to port all other their data or sync it using APIs.
- Real-life example: One private equity-backed company focused on the market for charitable giving was spending way too much capital to simply keep its 3 broken legacy systems limping along. To reduce its burn rate, the company turned to no-code to rebuild and simplify its internal software system.
4. Spreadsheet and paper upgrades
As businesses and teams grow, working in disparate spreadsheets and documents can become highly inefficient and inaccurate (e.g. tedious data collection, version control, etc.). Instead, it makes more sense to use no-code to build an app that streamlines and automates many of these essential business processes and workflows.
- Real-life: In 2015, Teach for America’s Bay Area regional office needed to replace its hodgepodge of spreadsheets, email blasts, and shared folders with a more streamlined workflow system – but its internal tech resources were busy and hiring a contract software developer was too expensive. Instead, it built a custom no-code CRM tool on Bubble (in just 4 weeks!) that has scaled and evolved with the organization.
No-code FAQs from business managers looking to build custom business apps
Because no-code software development isn’t the same as traditional program development, your business may be wondering if it’s viable for your use case. Below are answers to some of the most common questions we get from business managers who are considering full code vs. no-code to build their internal tools:
- Q: How custom can my app be? Will I hit a feature wall?
A: It's important to find the right no-code tool to meet your needs. This means deciding between an off-the-shelf SaaS software specific to your use case or going with a visual programming tool like Bubble that can make anything. Read more about what Bubble.io is and its capabilities here.
- Q: Will I get locked into my no-code platform once I start?
A: Data exportation is the most important dimension to consider here because you must be able to take your users and data to another platform if you migrate. Fortunately most platforms offer options to export or sync data (Bubble has CSV export, data API, and direct SQL connections). Fewer platforms offer the ability to export code, so most migrations mean rebuilding the app logic in a new platform.
- Q: Is no-code secure?
A: The benefit of a fully hosted no-code platform is that it takes care of security and technical maintenance centrally. This means you'll be running the latest infrastructure with security patches, compatibility, and monitoring. However, security certifications are more essential in some enterprise cases, so you should confirm that the platform you choose checks the right boxes (for example, Bubble is not yet HIPAA compliant in spite of being extremely secure).
- Q: Is no-code scalable?
A: In most cases, no-code apps can scale with your business, but the extent and cost of their scalability features may vary. This means you must evaluate the long-term business needs for your internal tool (e.g. number of active daily users, integrations with other systems, etc. ) and decide between off-the-shelf SaaS software or visual programming tools like Bubble that can support all growth. Notably, scaling issues are rare in this case since internal tools are usually only hosting thousands rather than millions of users (like consumer-facing apps at scale).
- Q: Can no-code integrate with my other software and data?
A: Most no-code platforms with data features will offer some sort of integration options, whether through direct database queries, plugins, or API tools (Bubble offers all three). It is important to evaluate your specific needs before building to make sure you don't get stuck.
Building custom software is much easier thanks to no-code
It’s widely understood that traditional software upgrades are expensive and often disruptive. Fortunately, no-code c the dynamics of this debate.
If you're tired of wrangling with Excel spreadsheets, waiting for IT, and continuously purchasing new SaaS solutions but not sure if a custom build is feasible for your business, talk to us to see if a no-code internal tool could be an option.