Building Internal Tools: Why Internal Tool development is picking up?

Kushagra Pal on August 31, 2020

Internal tools, also known as internal software, internal apps, custom apps, employee tools, are software tools designed and developed to optimize day-to-day work. These are generally purpose-built to fit an organization’s internal operations processes. Any application you use internally to optimize how you do your work, is an internal tool. Right from data visualization dashboards and CRUD interfaces to your admin panels, lead management and customer support tools. 

Internal tools are as old as software development – powering businesses for many years. And although there are plenty of ready to use tools available in the market, companies choose to build their internal tools themselves. The reason behind that is they need these tools to fit their unique processes, say, a highly tailor-made lead management system that connects all the customer interaction touchpoints vs a ready CRM that is inflexible and complicated to use.

Why build internal tools?

You may be using Google or Notion to store or share documents, Jira for project management, or a custom-built admin panel on top of your SQL database. Whatever the case may be, it is safe to say the objective is to provide more transparency for employees, contractors and service providers into how a company functions. And internal apps help teams work the way they want.

Companies of all sizes are hiring developers solely to lead internal tool development. Product managers for internal tools is a role becoming increasingly popular in many organizations, more now than ever. Engineering teams are found to spend more than 30% of their time building and maintaining internal tools. And these internal apps are being created to support several teams. 

Customer support might need a refund dashboard or an admin panel to update user records in their database. Sales might need a custom CRM for data entry. Engineering might need a PR approval queue connected to GitHub.

Why are internal tools and apps so important? And why do developers spend so much time on them? For most organizations, these internal tools are software programs that make teams more productive: 

  1. Automate manual and repetitive operational tasks
  2. Store information employees might need to access
  3. Dashboards that will display customer information, or business performance metrics
  4. Stitch together disparate data sources and business apps (e.g. creating a seamless data flow between Sales, Marketing, and Customer Support) 

Examples of internal tools

Dashboard / Database GUI

With most of our businesses running online, there is more data to process today than ever before. It is relatively easy now to collect the data. Getting an accurate interpretation is a tricky part. The data sits in multiple disconnected systems, piecing it together for analysis becomes complex. Dashboards and database GUIs have become a common internal tool use case for many companies to help connect disparate data sources and display data as per their needs to further interact with and make decisions with.  

Admin Panel

Admin panels are critical to back-office operations to perform tasks like – data manipulation, activity monitoring, approval of tasks. These typically support CRUD operations but most users build these from scratch to add functionalities that are not present off the shelf, like creating tailored app views based on user roles or limiting the actions one can perform, or configuring systems in a way so users can trigger events in third party systems without leaving the screen. This is why DronaHQ supports integration to over 50+ resources out of the box – like MongoDB, PostgreSQL, Firebase, Salesforce, Stripe, Slack, etc. 

Approval Apps

The approval process is a pretty common business use case, especially in a large organization, with multiple layers that can demand intricate specific approval cycles involving different stakeholders and logic, from signing off on a discount to assigning a job order to an external partner.

Inventory apps

Inventory or stock management is another use case that can be found as an internal tool in various shapes and forms. Inventory management is an intricate process involving large databases and various stakeholders. A custom internal tool for the same allows businesses to design an interactive UI to easily manage looking up inventory, managing shipments, and orders and deliveries.

Customer Support Tools 

While there are plenty of refined tools for, say, the sales team with the CRMs, the HR department with the HRMS and payroll tools, the Marketing team with the Analytics dashboards, the Support team with the Ticket management systems and so on. However, when we laser focuses on customer support, there are many disconnected systems in play with different stakeholders involved. So for customer support cases where the reps need to solve customer queries fast and speed is of the essence, dependency and delay in getting the information to act on can be detrimental. Custom internal tools for the support team helps them plan, triage, communicate and inform – allowing them to do their job with an impressive level of calmness and efficiency.

CRM

A CRM, the lifeblood of a company, helps the sales and marketing teams manage and nurture their prospects. However, the likes of Pipedrive, Salesforce, HubSpot off-the-shelf CRMs leave much to be desired by a large set of businesses. So organizations build custom prospect nurturing tools to fit the unique nature of their sales process. At DronaHQ we used a bunch of ready CRM tools but the uniqueness of our sales and onboarding process had us longing for more flexibility in our tools and that’s why we built our tool and we love it. 

What do top companies have to say about Internal Tools

Mobile applications are a staple in the enterprise, but there are always new elements that transform the apps. As new technologies are introduced to the enterprise, many of them eventually integrate with mobile apps.
From technology giants to manufacturing leaders, businesses greatly value internal tooling and understand that internal tools are critical to the company’s success. Amazon, Walmart, Reddit, Netflix, eBay are just some of the big names who not only invest in their customer-facing interfaces but also on internal tools that boost internal teams’ performance.
According to Gartner, by 2024, 30-year-old Generation Z IT leaders will be driving innovation and trying to self-disrupt enterprises every three months. Everything around the enterprise is changing: the technology, employee and customer expectations, and ownership. As the role of enterprise application leaders continues to go through changes, adopting new, more effective ways of working with business stakeholders in order to deliver critical internal/enterprise apps will become the norm to solve customers’ problems or deliver great customer experiences.

Why use low code for internal tools?

Building these tools, however, can often be a hassle for any company. It takes time, money, and development resources – all of which is predominantly spent on new feature development, site maintenance, and customer-facing aspects.

Low-code provides a way out. Low-code internal tool builders aim at automating all the boilerplate parts of building internal tools, all the way from integrating data sources to creating front end for user interactions. Further giving its users the opportunity to customize the tools as and when necessary

Let’s take a look at how fast-growing startups are using low-code to build internal tools and how you can too build internal tools that enable business agility. 

Check out the most popular use cases of internal tools built using DronaHQ

Low code internal tool builder benefits 

Interface intuitiveness 

The visual modeling tool, usually a drag-and-drop interface, helps developers by reducing the lines of code that needs to be written to a minimum. Using the interface, app makers can design UI, write queries, model workflows, and declare front-end logic.

Ready controls and control reusability 

Low code app development tools come with pre-built controls as well as the ability to create new controls. These controls can be reused to develop different solutions more quickly, making app development more efficient over time.

Responsive design

Low code platforms like DronaHQ support let you build apps that are responsive by default. So apps you build can work on web as well as mobile. As opposed to traditional coding where you would have to take the time to make your designs web and mobile responsive.

Predefined building components and templates

From a basic CRUD interface to a refund management tool, DronaHQ gives an exhaustive marketplace of ready to use front-end templates that you can plug your APIs to and start using instantly.

Third-party integration

Low code development offers various kinds of native integration to database, APIs, and back-end services. This allows it to work with all data sources seamlessly. Users can register APIs with just few or zero lines of code if a ready connector does not exist.

Writing custom code

Connect your queries and logic to prebuilt components like tables and dropdowns. Manipulate data with JavaScript anywhere.

App Lifecycle Management

With developer-friendly capabilities like version control, audit logs, authentication, user access permissions, debugging and app testing across dev, beta, staging environments, low code promises speed and agility across the application lifecycle.

Who builds internal tools?

As I mentioned above, developers are generally the ones behind internal tool development while many organizations also seek to hire internal tool product managers. But they aren’t the only ones. Owing to the surfacing of solutions like low code builders that are lowering the learning curve, more people can get involved in the app development process as the complex and technical parts are abstracted away. This has led to a new wave of internal tool developers. Below we will explore the types of users building internal tools with DronaHQ 

Internal Tool Developers/Engineers

These developers are the ones building the most mission-critical tools that are going to deeply impact the company’s performance. They use low code to speed up delivery by making use of out of the box functionality and getting solutions out of the door fast.

Internal Tool Product Managers

Product managers are an emerging role that used to be reserved for larger organizations. Internal tool product managers are committed to the product they work on while providing the right direction to the team that is working on the tool. They have the right blend of technical and business know-how needed to drive internal tool development.

IT Manager

IT professionals from across the industries can be found building internal tools right from inventory management use cases to database GUIs as they need to continually deliver solutions that help internally facing processes execute better and faster. 

Data PM

Data PM/ database administrators can be observed taking interest in building internal tools and interfaces to make sense of the large amounts of data collected within their platforms. They then analyse this data to inform business direction. It’s very much a data analyst/product manager hybrid – which seems like a role that could benefit almost every organization.

How to build internal tools?

1. Lay the Foundation

Just like building houses, while building internal tools start with listing out the team’s requirements from the internal tool you need. Start asking broad questions. What problem do we need to address? What data do you need to collect? Which existing database do you need to build the tool on? How does the piece of data relate to each other—do you need to sort products by category or contacts by company or industry, for instance? Who will be interacting with the tool?

Keep all the answers ready. Once you’re ready with clear requirements from the tool, let’s get to building internal tools.

2. Pick a data source

To build an internal tool over your existing database, you can start by integrating the source using a ready connector or configure the API in a couple of steps. Using low-code platform DronaHQ, you can connect to anything with a REST, GraphQL, or a gRPC API.  

You can also configure data environments to define staging, production, beta, or any environment you need as per your internal tool development and lifecycle management needs.

Each one makes it easy to make forms, collect data, and sort through that data. Plus, they each have features to make them unique. Browse through this list of ready connectors on DronaHQ

3. Pick a ready internal tool template or Design UI using Ready UI controls

Now you can start building a frontend from scratch by dragging and dropping UI controls in the builder. Alternatively  you can also choose from a list of ready to use internal tool templates. We take an example of a sales dashboard in which all the required features like charts, statistics have been added. 

All that needs to be done with this template is to bind the UI controls to the data source we integrated in the previous step.

If you want to see what else internal tool builder DronaHQ have to offer, here are some quick how-to guides on building: SendGrid Email Tool, Airtable Frontend, Employee Self-service Portal, MySQL Client, MongoDB Admin Panel, GraphQL Client