That is the question faced by every organization that needs to add a database-driven application to their business software library. With the increasing complexity of information-based businesses, finding a ready-made solution that meets your needs can be a daunting task. Even if an app is available that can do what you need, does it provide the flexibility to adjust to your changing business needs, or will it be obsolete in a year?
Getting a database-driven software package that can meet the unique needs of your business usually means one thing: custom development. With the cost of custom development averaging $125 per hour, for many small businesses this is not an option. Even for larger organizations that can afford BYO (build your own) software, there are downsides to doing so—not the least, of which, includes the continuing cost for upgrades as new needs arise.
If only there were a solution that allows even the smallest organization to develop their own database applications without hiring a developer. Actually, there is, and it’s called Zoho Creator.
Zoho, a provider of online productivity tools, developed Zoho Creator as a SaaS (Software as a Service) solution for non-developers who need to create custom database-driven applications. Let’s take a look at the software and see how it compares with conventional custom development solutions.
The software, in the simplest terms, provides a drag-and-drop interface that will allow you to do the following:
- Create a customized database application that meets your unique needs.
- Add customized forms to your application.
- Collect data from users of your application.
- Analyze data that you have collected.
- Perform certain tasks based on the data collected.
- Prepare and publish useful reports that reflect the data you collect.
You can design your application solely for use on your office computers, or you can make it accessible online and through mobile devices by anyone you choose. You can even sell the applications you create online, or share them without cost. And it’s free. At least until you produce something really useful, and then it’s still reasonably priced, with pricing plans even a small business can afford.
Just to offer a brief glimpse into the possibilities of Zoho Creator development, users have used it to build applications that manage inventory; monitor manufacturing processes; track tickets; perform data analysis; create work orders; manage billing; track service calls; and manage recruiting. The list of useful applications that run on Zoho Creator goes on and on, extending into industries as diverse as wine making, real estate, and energy management.
The software comes with all the bells and whistles you will need, without requiring you to learn code in order to use them. Although intended for the non-technical user, it also helps database professionals to streamline much of their work.
Kyle David, CEO of KDG states, “KDG has selected Zoho Creator as our platform of choice for highly reliable and quick delivery database applications with robust functionality. Zoho provides both scale and power with the ability to quickly make changes and manipulate data.”
The process of using the software includes the following basic steps:
The first step in creating your application is to plan how you want it to work. You do not need to have a complete set of instructions at this point; as you work with the dashboard, you will, no doubt, have many new ideas regarding what your application will do.
Once you know how you want your application to process data, you can create a new application from scratch, or you can import a Deluge Script file that has been written by someone else. You can use the imported script, as is, to build your application, or you can add to it or modify it using the drag-and-drop interface.
You can also import xls, xlsx, csv, tsv, ods, ds files for use in building your application.
Adding Forms & Tables
Once you have created your new application and given it a name, you can use the simple drag-and-drop interface to add any number for forms to your application. The intuitive interface makes it easy for you to create just the form fields you need. You can add form field validation, and even make your forms dynamic so that they present just the fields the user needs when they need them, depending on the data he or she has already entered.
Use your forms to not only collect names and email addresses, but any information you require, including sales information, inventory numbers, and even technical data from manufacturing processes.
Connecting Forms & Tables
By default, the software creates a table for each form you create. The tables are used to store all the data that users enter using their respective forms. As a relational database, it makes it easy for you to link your forms together through creating relationships between them.
The reason you may want to connect forms and tables is will become obvious when you create multiple forms that share some of the same data. In order to allow forms to manipulate the same data efficiently, you can create relationships so that various forms can add to or change data without making unnecessary copies of it.
You can also choose not to store form data in tables, if you plan to process it using event-driven actions such as button “on click” events to process your data directly.
The data your application collects using forms is only useful if you can retrieve it. The software includes powerful data analysis and reporting tools that can process your collected data according to rules you create. Once the data has been manipulated or possessed into the information you or the application users need, you can publish that information in the form of reports. You can select any of several report formats, including List reports, Calendar reports, Pivot Tables and Pivot Charts, Spreadsheet reports, Summary reports, and many others.
You can instruct your application to generate reports when certain conditions are met. You can even schedule reports to be emailed to specific recipients whenever certain conditions arise, or according to schedules you create.
The software can use dynamic HTML pages to display forms for presenting and collecting data from users. You do not need to know how to write HTML code. The drag-and-drop interface helps you create attractive and powerful dashboards that will be the interface between your application and its users.
You can add useful widgets, modules, and plugins to your website, using the drag-and-drop interface. The program even includes a plugin for Mozilla Firefox.
Even though you can create complete applications in Zoho Creator without learning code, you have at your disposal all the logic functionality available from the Zoho code, called Deluge Script. By using the workflow interface, you can add powerful business workflows, automated task, and customized actions to your forms, reports, and other user dashboard components.
As an indication of the power of Zoho Creator development, you can instruct your application to send emails or SMS text messages to selected recipients when certain criteria are met.
Sharing/Accessing Your Application
When you have completed built your database application, you will probably want to make it available for others to use. You can limit access to your staff, you can make the entire application available for online users, or you can embed your forms in your website using simple code provided by the Embed in Your Website option.
You can also allow require secure login access for your entire application, or you can provide limited access to certain forms or other components within your application.
The software handles all of the security functions you need to access to your application while keeping it secure, including encryption, encryption of sensitive data at rest, HTTPS for all pages, use access control, multi-factor authentication options, and data backup in multiple locations.
Integration with Google Apps
The software provides easy integration with Google Apps. Using the Google Apps feature, you can allow your application users the following functionality:
- Log in from Google’s universal navigation with their Google Apps credentials.
- Upload files from Google docs to your application.
- Attach files from Google Docs.
Additionally, you can share your applications with your organization’s Google apps users, user groups, and external users.
A complete range of settings is provided for setting global options within the program. The Settings page allows you to create the name for you new application, invite others to access your application, set user permissions, set preferred language, arrange your application into logical components and sections, and to create the layout theme for your application. There is even an option for enabling a live chat feature within your application to allow users to interact with you. Zoho provides security and backups for all applications stored on their servers.
Zoho Creator Marketplace is the app store for Zoho Creator apps. Here, you can find a a huge selection of business applications, sorted into categories, such as Sales, Management, Marketing, Human Resources, Education, and Non-Profits.
If you an app that helps you, it may also help others. You can post your application and make it available free of charge or for a fee.
The software is a cloud-bases Saas application. For organizations with special security concerns, or that want to host their application in-house, Zoho Creator On-Premise allows user to install, store, and access their Zoho apps on their local server or other non-cloud-based platform. At this time, however, this feature is in the Beta stage as Zoho works through a multitude of issues. In the mean time, KDG will continue to evaluate On-Premise. KDG will not recommend the off-line version to their clients until it is more stable.
What advantages does Zoho Creator development offer, compared with developing applications form scratch? Their are several.
First, you, not a developer, create your application. If you do not like something, you can change it on the fly or at any time later on. Custom development outside the platform can require extensive and costly rework to make changes.
The intuitive interface makes it possible to create your application in days rather than months. Even an experienced developer cannot develop an application with equivocate features as quickly as one can within the drag-and-drop interface.
Zoho boast a large and active developer community. There is always free help available from experts if you get stuck, and reading posts from other community members can generate a wealth of new ideas as you develop your own application. Zoho offers extensive resources for newcomer and experienced developers. If you hire a developer to create your application outside the software’s platform, the only help you can expect must come from the developer.
Zoho Creator development makes it possible for non-programmers to create powerful database-driven applications with a minimal investment of time or money. Even so, many businesses simply do not have the resources to devote to app development.
The software is, indeed, user friendly, but it will not write your application for you. You must know exactly what it is you hope to accomplish with your app, and you must be able and willing to invest whatever time is needed to plan, build, test, and modify your program until it works. Furthermore, if you are not comfortable creating documentation on how to use your program, training your staff on how to use it may cause more frustration than you have bargained for.
KDG is a technology company that provides development and management for several web and app platforms. We are one of only a few Zoho Certified Solution Providers, which means we are certified experts at building applications that are both robust and scalable. The app we build for you will meet you needs today, and will grow and adjust to your changing business needs in the future.
Because of our extensive experience developing with Zoho Creator, we can build most applications in under 200 hours. All work is done in-house at our Allentown, PA, office. This translates into fluid communication and highly responsive support for each of our clients.
Perhaps you are running a legacy application that can no longer meet the needs of your organization. We can help. Our experienced developers can quickly upgrade your old application, or build a new application to replace it.
Whether you just need a little help getting your application up and running, or if you need someone to build your application from start to finish, KDG is the logical solution.
Why not contact us today to discuss how we can help you get your application online quickly and within budget?