I was talking to a friend of a friend many years ago who owned a small retail store. Let’s call him Jake. Jake’s store was struggling to recover from the 2008 recession, even though nearly five years had passed.
We got to comparing the advantages large retail chains have over small businesses like Jake’s. The big advantage for chains is the processes and internal software they’ve built specifically for their needs.
For example, Jake uses manual processes and Excel to track inventory and do basic analytics. He emails distributors through Outlook and tracks staff attendance on paper. Unfortunately, he lacks the technical expertise to improve this patchwork of systems.
Meanwhile, our other friend worked for a major chain. He described the amazing custom software their engineers built to optimize operations.
In today’s world, relying on fragmented manual processes like Jake does just won’t cut it. The rate of technological change continues to accelerate. Customized systems are becoming mandatory, even for small businesses. Otherwise, your processes may feel a bit like a Rube Goldberg machine in the video below.
Off-The-Shelf Products With Integrations Are Key to Unified Systems
To be efficient, modern companies can’t afford disjointed systems. Excel spreadsheets on desktops are the modern equivalent of paper ledgers — obsolete.
All the software a company buys should be integrateable into a cohesive workflow. Whether you’re a small business, mid-sized company, or large enterprise, integration matters.
Interoperability should be a top priority when evaluating tools. A system’s API capabilities often dictate how seamlessly it can sync with other apps.
For instance, desktop Excel doesn’t automatically sync with other systems. To share data, users must manually export and import spreadsheets.
But Google Sheets integrates easily with other tools like CRMs. This enables automating previously manual workflows. With the right integrations, updating a sheet can trigger records created across multiple platforms.
Even large enterprises with huge engineering teams can’t recreate every piece of software from scratch. The ideal approach combines best-of-breed tools with custom integrations and automation.
No-Code Tools Enable Business Users to Customize
No-code platforms allow custom apps and workflows to be built without programming expertise. They only require some understanding of concepts like APIs and web services.
When we started our business, no-code almost didn’t exist. Companies had to use developers for everything, even simple tasks. Progress was slow.
Now business users can create powerful solutions themselves with no-code. For instance, Notion can model complex business processes with its flexible databases.
No-code also enables connecting off-the-shelf and custom apps. Services like Zapier make this integration easy without coding.
The options are endless. As one example, you could automatically capture meeting notes in a database like Airtable. On a set date, a Zapier automation can email meeting follow-ups right from the database.
No-code is like AI — you can do anything, but you need to frame the problem correctly. Consulting help is recommended when getting started.
Low-Code Allows Quick Custom UI Development
No-code lacks robust UI development options. This is where low-code platforms like Retool come in.
Low-code enables rapidly building custom interfaces tailored to teams’ specific needs. With Retool, you can quickly create personalized dashboards, forms, and visualizations.
Low-code still requires some professional developers. But far fewer than traditional software engineering. Many consultants and agencies now offer low-code services.
You could use low-code to rapidly build a customized self-service portal for employees. This can unify tools like dashboards, admin interfaces, reports and data cleanup inerfaces into one slick experience.
Low-code combines the speed of no-code with the polish of custom software. It accelerates development while requiring fewer technical resources.
The Need for True Custom Software
Despite the new capabilities discussed above, fully custom software still has its place in many organizations. As needs scale up, off-the-shelf solutions continue to fall short.
For instance, employees may struggle to navigate disjointed tools from multiple vendors and internal tools. Custom training and onboarding only goes so far.
In other cases, unique business requirements like offline functionality emerge. There’s also still no substitute for fine-tuned software tailored to users’ precise workflows.
But the bar for building custom systems from scratch is now higher than ever. The hybrid approach combining custom code, low-code platforms, and no-code tools should be explored first.
If custom software is truly needed, focus on maximizing integrations with existing systems. For example, use low-code UIs while custom coding only the essential back-end functions. Consulting partners skilled in hybrid strategies are indispensable here.
The bottom line is custom software is no longer the default option, but instead a deliberate choice after assessing the trade-offs. Modern platforms enable organizations to get more innovative functionality faster than ever before.
Originally published on Medium.com