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DIY apps – Should businesses make their own custom app?

Ann Monroe

Ann Monroe, vice president of marketing, FileMaker

Ann Monroe

Ann Monroe

Custom apps have the potential to help teams and businesses become more productive, by improving inefficient processes internally and reducing scattered information. But once companies decide they want a custom app, the next step is to determine whether it is possible to build the app in house or hire an external expert to create it for the company.

The availability of low-code and no-code app platforms has increased the popularity of taking the creation of custom apps into the business’s own hands. The State of the Custom App 2016 Report found that 82 per cent of businesses develop custom apps with internal resources. But it can be faster as well as more effective to bring in expert help. So how can a business determine when to make their own custom app and when to hire an expert? There are a number of considerations which must be made.

What does the custom app need to do?

Most businesses probably have a good idea of what the company needs to build within the app because they understand the needs of the organisation. To start with, it’s important for businesses to prioritise a list and identify the top three things which would make the biggest difference to the team. By choosing the items that point to the company vision for the future, organisations can start small but pave the way for future success.

Start with the basics: businesses will have paper forms, spreadsheets or some other document process which has gotten the team through the day so far. Look for simple processes which could turn into a simple app.

If businesses envision an app which fixes everything for the team at once, the app will most probably be complex. It is advisable to see if it is possible to break down processes, identify quick wins, and start with them.

The simpler the app, the more likely businesses should choose DIY and create custom apps. The more complex the specification of the app, the more likely it is an external expert will need to assist with the development and creation of the app.

When does the business need the custom app?

Did the business need it yesterday or is there time to plan thoughtfully?

Even if the timeframe is very short, businesses should at the very least get the great idea outlined in a document that senior team members can share with the team. Asking for feedback will refine the ideas for the custom app, get stakeholder buy-in, and also prepare the team to use the app once it is created.

The longer the timeframe, the more likely businesses should choose DIY and create the app in-house. This allows the company to build the app alongside an employee’s regular everyday job. The shorter the timeframe and urgency of the app, it is recommended businesses should call in an expert to create the app.

How comfortable are the in-house developers with technology?

Has the in-house developer responsible for creating the app ever used calculations in Excel? Have they ever created a web page? Are they the go-to person on the team for tech questions?

The more enthusiastic and experienced the developer is with technology, the more likely businesses should choose DIY and create the custom app in-house. On the other hand, if the business has a great idea but no one in the team has key technical skills, an external expert should be called in to help.

Does the in-house developer have time to learn?

With any new skill, people need to set aside the time to learn how to do it. If a day job keeps someone busy day and night, the business will need to be responsible for ensuring this person is given the time to learn.

Job crafting for example, is the idea and theory that employees can alter their jobs in such a way as to better suit their skills and interests, thereby increasing their job satisfaction. In terms of custom app development, the in-house developer can work with the business to reconfigure the building blocks of his or her job, to create a more fulfilling and efficient experience at work.

Through job crafting, businesses can identify tasks that employees are currently doing which could be distributed to other members within the team, freeing up time for the in-house developer to learn and make the custom app.

The less time the business has to educate an in-house developer, the more likely it is to call in an expert. The more time the in-house developer has to learn, the more likely it is the business should create the custom app itself.


For those businesses which decide to do-it-yourself, there are many training options available which can help, depending on the platform chosen. The FileMaker Platform is a leading tool for creating custom apps, and offers a broad range of training options.Custom app solution experts are there to advise, assist and help businesses create the customised app bespoke to the company. Consultants at FileMaker for example, will provide as much or as little insight to an in-house developer as is required, to ensure they are not on their own throughout the development process.

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