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No-code automation for the energy sector

The energy industry powers the modern world — literally. And as the use of automation in business grows across the globe, energy leaders are poised to reap some of the biggest benefits. Experts estimate that while intelligent automation can deliver over $800 billion in cost savings and additional productivity to the energy sector, only 18 percent of organizations are using it at an enterprise scale. A lack of technically skilled talent tops the list of reasons why it’s so difficult for the sector to kickstart automation efforts. Fortunately, there is a better way to bring the power of automation to energy leaders everywhere. Google Cloud’s AppSheet combines the power of artificial intelligence (AI) with the simplicity and democratizing power of no-code development to give all energy teams — even non-technical employees — the ability to quickly automate existing processes and workflows without writing a single line of code. AppSheet is designed to help energy leaders tap into automation opportunities (with zero coding knowledge) so they can drive further efficiencies across their entire enterprise — from materials transportation and equipment maintenance to outage prediction and disaster response. Over the next month, we’ll be spotlighting no-code automation use cases by industry — this week’s focus is on energy. Field work Whether it’s an oil field, offshore platform, refinery, solar array, or wind farm, field work in the energy industry is a serious and complex undertaking. From optimizing the construction and management of sites to the production and transportation of materials, energy field work requires high-level coordination to effectively manage all the parts, people, and equipment in play across these frequently remote locations. AppSheet already brings reliable capabilities for field work such as offline sync. Now, with no-code automation, you can increase efficiency in the field and reduce opportunities for human error by putting your data collection, project management, and long-distance employee communications on autopilot. Automate field survey workflows like information capture and approvals, and simplify project management using task assignments and status indicators that automatically notify key stakeholders so your field work gets done right, faster. AppSheet even provides a Field Survey sample app and a Project Management sample app that you can copy, customize, and start using in your field operations right now. Materials transportation and tracking Supply chains in the energy industry are extremely complex, with the transportation of many materials requiring unique safety, quality, and regulatory specifications. That’s why energy businesses need a way to manage and track every truck, pipeline, and worker involved in the process to ensure these critical materials get to where they need to go, on time. With no-code automation, you can simplify this massive process using powerful tools that increase the transparency and efficiency of your materials transportation. AppSheet’s no-code development platform enables any employee to build custom apps that feature GPS tracking and barcode or QR code scanning to improve the speed and accuracy of transportation operations — automatically classifying and reporting the data back to a centralized location where it can be accessed by every user who needs it. AppSheet even provides a Location Tracker sample app and Barcode Scanner sample app that you can copy, customize, and start using in your transportation operations right now. Equipment maintenance The energy industry relies on enormous ecosystems of equipment to power the world. These equipment assets are expensive and mission-critical, and represent enormous capital investments to acquire, operate, and maintain. With so many different types of equipment in use, making sure employees know the proper procedures to safely and accurately inspect and maintain them is crucial. With no-code automation, you can create seamless maintenance and inspection processes to keep your equipment up and running. Track and train your employees on the correct protective apparel, safety training, procedures, and inspection techniques across all your locations and automatically record and report this data for easy management. And with Internet of Things-enabled equipment, AppSheet can even tell you when certain equipment is due for maintenance or may need urgent repair. This helps eliminate maintenance blind spots and reduces the potential for human error so your workers can get the job done right and keep your equipment functioning properly across your entire enterprise. AppSheet even provides an Equipment Inspection sample app that you can copy, customize, and start using in your maintenance operations right now. Disaster response In the event of a disaster, energy companies play a pivotal role in restoring critical services to the hardest-hit areas. That’s why effectively managing the logistics of dispatching work crews and ensuring the safety of your responding employees is so important. Fortunately, no-code automation can help you accelerate your response time and guarantee your crew’s safety by quickly creating custom no-code apps. Assign and dispatch your drivers with Google Maps integrations that automatically calculate and share the fastest routes and share real-time location information back to headquarters. Quickly identify the need for emergency response materials like personal protective equipment (PPE) and check it against your available inventory and each crew’s individual supply. AppSheet lets you do it all so you can help disaster-hit areas get back to normal faster. AppSheet even provides a Driver Dispatch sample app and Emergency Management sample app that you can copy, customize, and start using in your disaster response operations right now. Incident reporting When you least expect it, a safety incident can turn a normal day on the job into an emergency situation — one that requires an immediate response from management. That’s why it’s so important for energy leaders to have a fast, reliable, automatic system in place for producing and submitting incident reports. With no-code automation, you can easily create dedicated reporting apps that put your incident reporting on autopilot. AppSheet’s no-code development platform makes it easy to include forms and fields for employees to share incident data, schedule interviews with involved parties, collect evidence like photos and documents, and quickly submit accurate reports and request signatures via SMS and email — no coding experience necessary. By establishing an automatic, formalized process for incident reporting, AppSheet can help your team work safer and faster. AppSheet even provides an Incident Reporting sample app that you can copy, customize, and start using in your field operations right now. * * * With Google Cloud’s AppSheet, energy leaders and employees everywhere can automate their most mission-critical business processes with zero coding skills and technical background. Getting started with AppSheet’s no-code development platform couldn’t be easier, so start your business’s digital transformation today!

How Kentucky Power Sparked a Digital Transformation with Workflow, Inspection and Incident Management Apps

Living off the grid is rarely an option these days. As people become more connected to digital technology, they require more power to fuel their lives. Kentucky Power knows this better than most. They celebrated their 100th anniversary this week, so they know how electricity has grown and shaped America. They're also a subsidiary for American Electric Power (AEP), one of the largest electric utility providers in the U.S. The eastern Kentucky-based company is responsible for getting more than 166,000 customers the connections and power they need in the world of modern technology. That's no small feat. Members of a "Lean Team" at Kentucky Power have been thinking about ways to simplify workflows and reduce waste since 2015. They started moving away from paper and digitizing their processes, but they wanted more. They aimed for a digital transformation of the company, where anything from inspection and incident reports to employee communications could be automated. To meet that goal, the team decided to start building apps to manage different aspects of company operations.  To build these apps, there were a few must-haves: a built-in barcode scanner to track the serial numbers of different parts, an app that could create new forms and work orders rather than just updating existing ones, and one with advanced security protocols. And most importantly, they needed it fast. The apps had to be both easy to build and easy to use. Paula Bell, one of the "Lean Team" members and the main app creator, had no coding experience. Yet she was able to create 10 apps for the company in just 9 months, without writing a single line of code. Some of these apps track failed or damaged poles, transformers, and circuits. Employees know when one is being taken in to be replaced, automating a process that used to be done on paper. When you've got 10,000 miles of power lines and 210,000 poles in mostly mountainous terrain, having that kind of information instantly can be crucial. Kentucky Power's inspection and repair workflows have been substantially improved since they switched to apps. There are fewer errors in reports, and information can be updated in real time. Perhaps best of all: no more paper. Companies like Kentucky Power know the value of conserving energy and reducing waste, and digital apps are a surefire answer for both. An added bonus: the employees are happier. Having everything they need to do their job in one place has upped the company morale. Plus, the apps are easy to use. Filling out an electronic form rather than a paper one saves both time and physical energy, helping workmen get jobs done faster and leaving fewer people in the dark. In my mind, it's inspiring to see energy companies like this one become pioneers in digitally transforming their industry. The company was able to adapt long-held practices into a more efficient process, providing better service to their customers. After 100 years of business, a company that participated in changing the American landscape is able to push forward change once again. If you want to read more about Kentucky Power's journey, you can find the entire case study here. And as always, comments and questions are greatly appreciated! 

The Energy Industry and IT: The Three Most Significant Digital Transformation Challenges

As energy companies embrace digital transformation, IT professionals are tasked with the complex challenge of modernizing their companies’ operations. Not only must IT professionals overhaul critical operations, they also have to navigate numerous risks—including maintaining network security, supporting grid stability, and controlling data access, to name a few. On top of that, these upgrades need to occur behind the scenes, without any disruption to customers. Despite these challenges, the energy industry is moving full-steam ahead when it comes to digitalization. Energy industry IT professionals and the companies they represent must adapt with the times. Otherwise, their businesses may become obsolete. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most significant challenges faced by IT professionals in the energy industry today. Harnessing the Internet of Things (IoT) As the cost of IoT devices continues to decrease, energy companies are scrambling to build them into the fold. Cutting-edge IoT technologies like smart meters can lower costs and boost productivity for energy companies. One study, for example, predicts that globally, smart meter implementation will deliver savings of nearly $160 billion. However, some IT professionals are finding it difficult to implement an effective IoT strategy due to limited budgets. The same study indicates that the costs of implementing smart meters will exceed $100 billion. IT professionals also face difficulties when upper management hasn’t fully embraced digital transformation. In order to realize the full promise of a smart grid, for example, many other expensive upgrades have to take place—such as real-time demand response, integrated communications, sensing and measurement, Phasor Measurement Units, and power system automation, to name a few. What’s more, in order to analyze and respond to all of the data that’s being collected from IoT devices, IT professionals must also implement a centralized management platform and cloud storage—and some are feeling overwhelmed about having to store all of that data. Building a positive customer experience Gone are the days when energy consumers were happy plugging in their halogen desk lamps and paying their electric bills at the end of the month. According to Ian Wright, CMO at Deloitte, customers want energy efficiency programs, information, and choices, and they want their energy providers to help with all of these things. Providing choices, information, and transparency to the consumer is a tricky process. In the real world, it means that energy industry IT professionals must build and maintain reliable consumer-facing apps and web portals that allow customers to view energy usage and learn how to optimize their energy consumption. Customers will also expect to be able to contact customer support and securely pay their bills. According to an IBM study, the cost of building a bad app is devastating. Believe it or not, 47% of consumers will switch to the competition and 63% of consumers will tell their friends about their bad experience. All of this responsibility falls directly on energy industry IT professionals. Cybersecurity risks As you might expect, cybersecurity is a major concern among energy industry CEOs and IT professionals. In fact, a recent study by KPMG revealed that 48% of energy industry CEOs estimate they will be targeted by a cyberattack. The Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER), advises IT professionals to implement a robust cybersecurity risk management process that includes bi-directional risk information sharing and integrates with the electricity subsector cybersecurity capability maturity model (C2M2). There are also common sense cybersecurity tactics that IT professionals should deploy such as biometric scanning, enacting strong password policies across employee devices, and utilizing next-generation VPN technology, among other things. Why energy industry IT professionals love no-code apps Energy companies of all shapes and sizes are building custom no-code apps to lower costs, bolster security, and increase employee engagement. Not only do no-code platforms enable virtually any employee to create apps that revolutionize their businesses, they also allow for employees to stay connected with management via GPS capture and cloud integration. As an example, M&O Partners is a multinational sales hub that connects off-shore oil and gas buyers and suppliers. The company uses AppSheet to coordinate project management across 100 partnerships in 10 global markets. Another example is Northwest Edison, a smart lighting contractor that uses AppSheet to manage its concurrent projects and track its workflows. To learn more about how AppSheet can be customized to suit your energy business, drop us a line. We look forward to hearing from you!

App Development Trends in the Energy and Utilities Industries

In the age of digital transformation, mobile apps are becoming increasingly popular in the energy and utilities sector. Today’s leading energy companies are utilizing mobile apps to facilitate a wide variety of tasks. From streamlining field inspections to tracking equipment and reducing truck roll-outs, mobile apps are improving nearly every aspect of operations. Let’s take a look at today’s top app development trends in this space. Reducing truck roll expenses Truck roll expenses—or the costs associated with sending a truck out into the field—can be very unpredictable. According to one study, the total cost of a truck roll is over $1,000. Of course, costs can vary from company to company. Still, whatever the price, truck rolls eat into margins and slow down operations. After all, companies have to maintain their fleets and pay for labor, gas, and insurance. The longer the distance for a call, the higher the cost. To avoid truck roll expenses, businesses are increasingly using GPS-enabled apps to reduce transit times, thereby streamlining workflows and driving profitability. Savvy companies are taking map usage one step further by tracking asset locations directly on their maps. For example, Kentucky Power, a large electric company with thousands of utility poles, placed each pole on an interactive map to make it easier for technicians to see their location and condition. Improving personnel management Energy and utility companies often have hundreds of employees spread out across a large territory, making communication challenging for managers and HR reps. Instead of wasting time using a traditional paper filing system, companies are now making apps with mobile timesheet forms, and incident reports, enabling near instantaneous updates using messaging and email. Apps, it should be noted, are also being used to send and receive contracts on-the-go. For example, a foreman might run into an electrical contractor and want to extend a formal offer for a project. Using an app, a contract can be shared, signed, and completed during a face to face conversation—saving time and preventing opportunities from slipping away. Tracking inventory Shipment delays can slow down utility projects significantly. When a part like a light, circuit, or power line needs to be replaced, team members need to be able to quickly send in a ticket and receive a timely response. In the past, inventory management was done using traditional paper and spreadsheet systems. Today, companies are using apps to request orders and track updates, expediting the process considerably. Facilitating data collection and sales operations Collecting accurate customer information while in the field is another major challenge for energy companies. Traditionally, most companies relied on field service technicians and salespeople using clipboards and paper files to gather customer-specific information, resulting in disorganized and inaccurate data. Just think: Technicians would often have to enter data in the dark, and sometimes during inclement weather. A sheet that takes five minutes to fill out could take a half an hour or more to try and decipher back in the office. Apps help accelerate field data entry, too. For example, PEG Africa, a solar energy provider operating out of West Africa, uses no-code apps to streamline sales operations and customer data collection. Over 100 sales associates currently use mobile apps to track customer payments, accounting, and sales commissions. Embracing no-code apps Energy companies also have to navigate the complexities that come with having various teams of employees, customers, projects, and tools scattered among several worksites—and, in some cases, scattered across several continents. For example, M&O Partners is a multinational sales hub that connects buyers and suppliers in the offshore oil and gas drilling industry. Recently, the company underwent a massive digital transformation initiative, digitalizing its processes. Today, the company uses no-code apps to streamline project implementation, process management, tool management, and network management. According to Janis Majors, head of special projects, M&O’s custom apps have saved the company a ton of time and money. “We are able to track, follow, and participate in hundreds of projects from a centralized location and with a lean team,” Majors says. Choosing the right apps for your business No-code apps not only save companies lots of money, they also enable companies to develop apps within a matter of days—as opposed to a matter of months. It’s important to remember, though, that not all no-code platforms offer the same level of support, flexibility, and customization. Research the market and make sure that the platform you ultimately select aligns with your financial and operational needs. Do your due diligence and you’ll make the right choice. To learn more reasons why companies are turning to AppSheet’s no-code platform, check this out. Better yet, if you’re ready to speak with our enterprise team to find out how AppSheet can be customized for your business, drop us a line today.

Smart Lighting Contractor Builds Custom Apps for Project Management

Demand for energy efficient lighting is expanding across every vertical market, from finance to government to healthcare. The global market for energy efficient lighting is growing at a CAGR of 13.4 percent, and is on track to reach $15 billion by 2024.  To improve sustainability, cut utility costs and improve operational efficiency, more and more businesses are looking to implement “smart” light emitting diode (LED) systems and controls. Courtesy of Northwest Edison This means competition is increasing for contractors who design, specify and install lighting and electrical services. There is no shortage of providers in this market, and to stand out and win projects, commercial and industrial lighting contractors must combine superior services with stellar project management capabilities. Real-time communication, flawless data management, and strong customer support are all necessary to compete in today’s fast-paced, and competitive market.  Anything less just won’t cut it. Many contractors who have been in the game for a long time are now reassessing the way that they do business. Increasingly, they are embracing digital transformation and modernizing their processes and workflows. One such company that recently underwent digital transformation is Northwest Edison, a lighting and electrical contractor serving customers across the western United States. Northwest Edison, which has been in business since 1993, recently realized that its project management system was in need of a major overhaul. So, the team decided to take action.  Here’s what happened.  Challenge: Improving data and project management   Northwest Edison lacked a centralized “hub” for managing all of its concurrent projects. Up until recently, the company was using a combination of disparate systems including SMS, email, and paper to store and share information and track its workflows. As a result, the company struggled with poor visibility, data silos and a lack of communication. This was the situation that project engineer Jake Byland walked into when he started working in the company’s office. Byland, who had spent time in Northwest Edison’s warehouse, was attuned to how the lack of cohesion was impacting the business. “When I started in the office, one of my first jobs was manually entering data that was written down in copy binders,” Byland says, reflecting on the difficult, risky, and time-consuming process. “We knew there had to be a better option.” As Byland explains, there really was no out-of-box project management solution that could meet the company’s complex needs. Northwest Edison tried several solutions and even worked with a few third-party developers to find a fit. Nothing, Byland says, came close to what they wanted. The main feature the team sought in a platform was flexibility. The team needed a solution that could capture all of the nuances of their complex electrical projects. “No two of our projects are the same, and so finding an off-the-shelf solution that could do everything we needed just didn’t seem realistic,” Byland says. It wasn’t much easier working with third-party developers, who were often slow with turnarounds. “We were paying a ton of money [to developers], only to have changes rolled out much later than we needed them,” says Byland. Solution: AppSheet’s no-code platform Byland did some online research and discovered AppSheet’s no-code platform—a solution that would enable his team to create project management apps quickly and cost-effectively, without having to leverage third-party developers. AppSheet turned Byland into a “citizen developer,” or a worker who can design and develop apps without having any coding experience. To date, Byland has used AppSheet to design and deploy over 50 apps.  “The barrier to entry was very low,” says Byland. “It was simple to set up and we have constantly been finding ways to improve it and make our lives easier. There’s been a lot of feature updates from AppSheet that have allowed us to do more and streamline some of our processes.” Northwest Edison’s apps are used primarily for managing roadside lighting fixtures, projects at schools and universities, and projects on military bases.  “We have used AppSheet for all sorts of projects,” says Byland. “For example, we just completed a big project that included most of the major state routes in Northwestern Washington and a portion of I-5 out near Olympia. All of it was done through AppSheet.” Here are some interesting ways the company is benefiting from AppSheet. Use Case #1: Street lighting project in Oregon One project that the team is working on is for a large city in Oregon. This project involves managing about 8,000 street lights. They are a mixture of decorative, acorn-style fixtures, and standard roadside lights. “Normally, each fixture would just use photocells that are on at night and off during the day,” Byland says. “These particular lights are getting smart controls, so the city can capture significant energy savings by applying dynamic dimming schedules, such that the fixtures only have to use as much energy as is required at that moment. These also give the city visibility on their assets and notify them of outages, knockdowns, or wire theft. The city can also dim the downtown lighting fixtures during a firework show or bring an area to full brightness to assist with emergency response. These controls will also be able to integrate with new technologies in the future." For tracking and maintenance purposes, the City's Asset Management Software requires each pole, fixture, and control node to have a unique label with a barcode. This was something that the team was easily able to accomplish using AppSheet’s barcode scanner, which works with a mobile device’s camera. “Being able to use an iPad’s camera to scan each fixture has saved us a ton of time,” Byland says. “In past projects where we’ve had to do that manually, it’s led to errors and all kinds of issues. So this has been a huge benefit.” Use Case #2: Large school district in Nevada Another project that the Northwest Edison team is currently working on is a large school district in Nevada, which has many schools spread across a large geographical area. “At each location, the crew basically has to walk into rooms, swap out lights and controls and keep track of how many they have completed,” Byland says. “In some cases, there are audit errors and they are able to catch them and change them in the field. This has been a big advantage for us.” Using the app, the team can see all locations and lighting fixtures, as well as the status of each one and whether it needs maintenance. In addition to being able to view and edit line items, which contain information about individual lighting fixtures, the app also gives users three “action” buttons. They include: A gripe log: This enables crew members to pass along information to the audit and design team. In the gripe log, crew members can enter all relevant information, and attach photos. When it’s completed, an email is sent to the design team. Foot candle (FC): Some projects have strict light level requirements, measured in FCs (a non-SI unit of illuminance or light intensity). When the foot candle is illuminated red, a reading is needed for a particular location. When a crew member clicks the button, it pre-loads all relevant information, including the target figure they need to hit and the number of readings that are required. A copy function: Occasionally, an important fixture like an exit sign will get overlooked during a location inspection. Rather than creating a new line item from scratch, crew members can use the “copy” button to copy and edit an existing line item. Use Case #3: Military installation Northwest Edison is also managing exterior lighting for a military base in the Pacific Northwest. They have used AppSheet to manage several of its buildings. In this type of environment, there are many materials to track. Material tracking, Byland says, is something that the team used to struggle with. Byland made it possible for crew members to receive material on site and scan it into the app. “In the past, we had to go off site and order the final material and go back on the site, but now thanks to AppSheet, we’re able to anticipate material shortages in advance,” he says. “We can order materials sooner and stay on site throughout a project which means projects can be completed faster.”  Here’s what Northwest Edison’s inventory workflow looks like using AppSheet: When an order comes in, it’s updated by a purchasing manager who pre-loads the vendor and PO number into the app. A crew member then receives an item, and enters the item as a new delivery. This contains information such as the date of receival, the person receiving it, and any additional notes they may want to enter. For instance, a crew member can select whether an item is damaged and attach photos if necessary. Results As you’ll recall, Northwest Edison’s apps make it very easy for crew members to complete site inspections by allowing them to see individual line items, share information with team members, scan fixtures with barcodes, and more. So it comes as no surprise to learn that employee feedback about the apps has been very positive. “At first there was a little bit of pushback,” Byland says. “Everyone was comfortable using paper before. But despite a bit of resistance, we have gotten to the point where everyone sees the benefits both in the office and in the field. They are getting better information and they are able to see visual feedback. Now it’s actually possible to see a project progress, as line items and buildings turn green.” The company has also seen a big improvement in customer satisfaction, too, as they are now able to share data and project updates with clients. In the past, the crew had to take half an hour at the end of each shift to count how many fixtures they had installed and type it in an email. Now, they can use the app to pull up a daily report and share it with a client. “That’s something that’s been able to set us apart in some cases,” says Byland. “Being able to do sales presentations and show customers the type of data they receive during a project really helps set us apart. In some cases, we can even show customers energy savings to date. There are different metrics and dashboards that are very helpful.” Byland’s favorite AppSheet feature is the dashboard function. “I’m a big fan of dashboards,” says Byland. “Especially when you turn them on interactive mode, you can set filters and this is especially useful when you have a map. With a dashboard, I can look at a particular crew and see all of their buildings on a map as well as any issues related to them. There is a lot of neat functionality you can create with this.” Byland working on an app. Looking forward Right now, the team is in the process of migrating its data to a centralized server. The team hopes to further streamline project management by combining audit data with installation data. “The tools we are currently using for auditing are all stored locally on the device. Data has to be uploaded, downloaded, restructured, and put into our spreadsheet—it’s not directly connected.” Moving forward, all photos and data will be easily accessible to an installation crew. “AppSheet has already saved us a significant amount of time while providing us with better data management,” says Byland. “But once we make the jump to a centralized server and are using AppSheet for the audit as well as the installation, the benefit will be incredibly significant for us as a company.” AppSheet also recently added the ability to upload a floor plan, which is something that the team intends to take advantage of. Instead of working line by line, crew members will be looking at a map and seeing a visual representation of what’s where, with icons indicating what’s completed, remaining issues, and so on. “AppSheet, moving forward, will be an integral part of our company,” says Byland. “More and more processes will be put on the platform.”  Learn how other organizations are using AppSheet to get more done more effectively: How Front Range Excavating Streamlined Management and Saved Thousands of Dollars Using AppSheet How SmartD Created a Series of Apps to Accelerate Pesquera Exalmar’s Digital Transformation M&O Partners Moves Full Speed Ahead With More Streamlined Processes 

M&O Partners Moves Full Speed Ahead With More Streamlined Processes

M&O Partners is a multinational sales hub that connects buyers and suppliers in the offshore oil and gas industry. The company has four main locations in Brazil, the U.S., Norway, and Singapore, with sales partners across Europe, North America, and South America. Since launching in 2009, M&O Partners has successfully executed over 100 internationalization projects, helping companies expand from their local market and successfully enter international markets. The company maintains a global network of over 50 suppliers and has clients in more than 15 countries. M&O is currently in the process of scaling its network and is building an app to coordinate projects for over 100 companies across 10 major global markets. Here’s how AppSheet’s no-code platform is making it happen. Courtesy of M&O Partners   M&O finds AppSheet M&O’s journey with AppSheet started about four years ago when Head of Special Projects Janis Majors discovered the platform while researching online tools such as Smartsheet, Microsoft Project, Zoho, and others. Majors also evaluated several no-code app platforms, but couldn't find any platform that could meet their needs until he came across AppSheet. Majors—who had no coding experience whatsoever—was intrigued by what a no-code platform could do for his organization. He believed the right solution could radically change his company’s approach to project and process management tools, by offering a platform where in-house development could substitute external developers. “AppSheet has something others don’t have—an enthusiastic user base, and responsive customer support. All in all, AppSheet looks like the best companion for the future and a perfect match for our expanding operation,” Majors says. “I kept AppSheet on my radar and returned to it when we began formulating plans for the next phase of our company.” Challenge: Custom software at an affordable price  Software development is expensive. Companies often spend beyond their means by hiring new employees to develop custom solutions or acquiring new technologies that come with hefty licensing costs. Majors and his team wanted to avoid that pitfall. They were drawn to AppSheet’s no-code platform because it allowed them to avoid hiring pricey in-house developers or having to turn to third-party agencies. Before making a decision, M&O had to make sure the platform met specific criteria. The company needed to retain control over the user experience (UX), and they also needed to ensure the platform could meet its strict requirements for security and access management, since the company deals with lots of sensitive data. Also, it was important that the apps would be able to do the heavy lifting in terms of data processing and functionality, to avoid having to develop custom backend systems. The team was in luck. When it came to UX, the AppSheet editor gives developers almost complete control over an app’s look and design. It allows a creator to determine everything from aesthetics (e.g., font, colors, and branding) to how information is displayed across the app. AppSheet also has a robust security framework built around four key pillars: authentication, auditing, application access control, and data access control. “AppSheet checked all of the boxes,” Majors says. “We determined that this platform would fit our needs and decided to proceed.” Solution: How M&O uses AppSheet Majors, like many citizen developers, approached AppSheet with a massive amount of data. “At first I had almost 50 data sets in one app,” says Majors. “My initial thinking was that it was better to try and make everything function together at first. However, the app quickly ballooned and became very cumbersome to manage and update.”  The issue wasn’t the amount of data M&O was using, but rather the way it was structured inside of the app. The AppSheet team advised Majors to split the functionality into separate apps—a tip that Majors said was crucial.  M&O hasn’t looked back since. Majors and his team are currently working on developing six different apps which will all work together within the AppSheet platform, sharing the same pool of data sets. The beta version is currently being used to manage a sample of live projects, while the finished suite will be rolled out later this year. Here is a brief overview of each app: A project implementation app runs all projects on top of specific processes, where each step is assigned to different users worldwide. The app distributes notifications to end users and provides an interface where they can execute tasks, upload documents, and pass along responsibilities to the person assigned to the next step in the project. The interface also provides users with necessary input and documents created in earlier steps, as well as the tools and templates they need to complete their current step. The app also creates pdf’s of deliverables, such as reports based on project data, that can be sent directly to the project client. A process management app manages the processes that all projects use. This is the core of the system, since the processes are what makes project automation possible. Processes will change over time as jobs get updated and new ways of doing things emerge, and this app is where M&O can add and edit processes as they go along. A network management app manages the members of the network, which is planned to reach 100+ companies within the next year or so. The app contains detailed information about the companies and their staff members, membership statuses, the services they are receiving from M&O, project information, and more. A tool management app ties in with the processes, with an interface to create the tools that users need for the various project steps. This includes a report generator, which can produce custom pdf reports from project data through a Word template. Other tools are an interface to input meeting notes, a repository of various templates, and various input forms for project data. Tools can be customized and attached to steps in a process, so that end users will find the tool at the step where it’s needed. A top-level management dashboard gives managers a detailed overview of every project. A system admin app manages backend operations. Administrators can use this app to edit the technical elements of the network, and to define common elements that all apps use such as graphics, help pages and system messages, settings, user authorities, and so on. They’ve designed the apps to have a simple and intuitive interface so that suppliers, project managers, and agents can easily understand the specific actions they need to perform during a project and when each of them needs to be executed. All of these tasks will take place within M&O’s secure apps. The app will also serve as a valuable resource for M&O, as it will provide real-time visibility into all customer projects taking place simultaneously across its global network while also serving as the main managerial interface for the M&O team. “We will be able to track, follow, and participate in hundreds of projects from a centralized location and with a lean team,” Majors says. Majors is now working to make sure that all of the apps work together smoothly. “Data coordination needs to be seamless behind the scenes,” says Majors. “This is somewhat difficult, as all six of the apps are interacting with a large shared data repository and pulling specific information to match their functionality. But we see that we are able to make it work.” Results: Powerful Applications Delivered in Less Time with Less Budget  Without AppSheet, M&O would have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in developer salaries and software creation costs to develop the same functionality, and with less agility. We were curious, however, to learn what Majors’ experience was like learning to use AppSheet. Remember: Majors doesn’t have a technical background. On top of that, his project was quite complicated. “I found the learning curve to be a bit steep if you go beyond simple, stand-alone apps,” Majors admits. “But after a while, you will find that it’s a logical system to work with.” Majors elaborated on his experience using AppSheet’s expressions, which can change the behavior of an app and provide advanced functionality. “These expressions run throughout the system, tying data together. It was a bit tricky at first, but postings in the very active user forum provided help for some of my more complex needs.” Majors went on to say that while you don’t need to know how to code to use AppSheet for an operation this complex, you do need to have a clear understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish. “It’s important to have an organized and logical approach to what you want to do with your app,” Majors explains. Majors also added that he appreciates AppSheet’s user forum, which contains a trove of useful information from AppSheet’s robust user base. What’s more, AppSheet regularly updates their platform, taking user feedback into account. Majors has seen AppSheet leverage feedback to build user-requested features and enhance the UX. “AppSheet is continuously getting better,” Majors says. “There is constant development. And you can do lots of useful things on the platform that you could not do years ago. I'm happy to see that there is increasingly better documentation and help pages becoming available.” The company sees great potential with the platform and is going “all in” moving forward—despite other no-code app platform providers. “AppSheet is an excellent tool and I don’t want to scare anyone from using it,” Majors says. “As we say in Norway, it’s a ‘raisin in the sausage,’ meaning a very pleasant surprise.” Majors also offered some helpful advice for app creators. “The best tip I can give developers is to create one new slice for each and every view. It's the only way we could have several different detailed views for the same table—and to control which one to show and where.” Editor's Note: AppSheet works with a variety of customers from different vertical markets whose projects range in scope and complexity. Some companies make very simple apps, while others—like M&O—are highly advanced. Ultimately, AppSheet can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be. Check out these resources to learn more: How Rotary International Is Using Apps To Help Rebuild The Hurricane-Ravaged Caribbean How a Chef, Farmer, Pig, and an App Made Farm-to-Fork a Reality How AppSheet Turned an Idea Into a Habit and Goal Tracking Business Spreadsheets and Beer: A Better Match Than You’d Think