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Human-centric automation with AppSheet

    A few months after AppSheet was acquired by Google Cloud we announced that we were extending our no-code capabilities to include a new way to empower citizen developers- AppSheet Automation.  While the team is hard at work iterating on this offering, I was recently able to have a conversation with one of the Product Managers leading this effort - Prithpal Bhogill. In the conversation below we discuss what AppSheet Automation is, how it’s used, and when you can start using it.    JC: Let’s get started with the big question - what is AppSheet's automation?  PB: Simply put, automation is the use of technology to eliminate manual steps in typical business processes (eg: Employee Onboarding, Expense Approvals etc) and make your business run more efficiently. Automation is the key enabler of digital transformation.  With AppSheet, automation is an extension of the no-code capabilities that so many organizations have begun to implement as part of their digital transformation. It’s intent-aware, modular and allows creators the ability to activate powerful automations - in addition to their no-code applications - all on the same unified platform. This part of the no-code evolution enables you to automate common business processes and document based workflows that are often time consuming by quickly configuring bots that listen to events and execute processes.    JC: You used the terms “intent aware”, “unified” and “modular”, can you explain what that means for our citizen developers who aren’t as familiar with this space? PB: Let’s break it down into the three parts starting with Intent-aware. AppSheet as a platform uses the power of Google AI and Natural Language Processing to understand your data model (eg: employee), what you are trying to automate (eg: employee onboarding) and will surface relevant suggestions for bots, events and processes - minimizing the clicks and configuration required to create your automation.   For eg: When you type in “Employee Onboarding” during the automation bot creation, the platform detects that the employee data model has a column “Email” and offers up suggestions  (completely configured bots) that are relevant. It can automatically populate complex expressions thereby reducing the amount of time the application creator has to spend setting up the automation.     Next up is “unified” The no-code nature of the platform allows anyone to create both applications and automations within the same product rather than from separate products as is the case with some other solutions in this space. The application creator can use the same application editor that they use to design application experiences, to configure bots, events and processes. This allows them to create powerful automations that include rich approvals and intelligent document processing (more on that later).    Finally, “modular” Modularity is a key design principle of AppSheet, and this is not to be confused with the drag and drop elements that you see in low-code platforms. Events, Processes, and Tasks (steps inside of processes) are all reusable components - saving valuable development time. That means  you can reuse events and processes in various bots and tasks in various processes.   JC: We're in the early stages of this release, any particular business need that you’ve seen really benefit from this thus for?  PB: Anything related to approvals has been quite popular, especially because of what we call document AI, or document processing. Think order approvals, invoice requests, employee management, etc.   JC: Ok, I know we have some really incredible work happening behind the scenes. Is there anything you’re particularly proud of that you want to highlight for our audience?  PB: Document AI, or intelligent document processing, is a really powerful part of the intelligence behind automation. The best way to think of it is the extraction of content from an unstructured document. To take it a step further, the intelligence capabilities of AppSheet will automatically extract useful content from document files that are stored as a PDF, GIF or TIFF files. Pdfs of invoices or receipts that need approvals are one of the best ways to see how automation leverages document AI.    JC: One final question for you - where can those that are interested go to get started? There are two places, both serving separate needs. The first is our Creator Community. We’ve created a special channel where those that are interested can engage with others leveraging this capability. This channel is also a great place to provide feedback and let us know what’s working and what you’d like to see. The second is your AppSheet account. We’ll be rolling this out over time so not everyone will be able to access it right away, but once you see the Automation tab appear in your navigation bar, you can dig in.  A big thank you to Prithpal for sharing his expertise and to the entire team for their work on this next AppSheet chapter.  Ready to get started? Begin your automation journey today. 

AppSheet 2020 Year in Review

What an unprecedented year, for both AppSheet and the word at large. Even as our team faced new challenges, we remained committed to uncovering new opportunities to serve our community. Our team began the year by joining Google Cloud after being acquired by Google. By combining our advances in no-code development with an organization with world-class infrastructure and resources, we were able to supercharge our efforts to bring the democratizing power of no-code app development to citizen developers  everywhere. Responding to the global pandemic The timing of our Google acquisition put us in a unique position to support those in need of unique solutions to serve their communities.  – just as the global implications of the pandemic began to become clear – In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, digitizing became critically important and no-code development was able to help individuals and organizations around the world respond to the urgent crisis. All across the globe, everyday citizens  with zero coding experience used AppSheet to build powerful applications to help combat COVID-19 and its effects on vulnerable communities. Here are just a few of the inspiring ways people around the world used AppSheet to respond to the crisis: USMEDIC – a provider of comprehensive equipment maintenance solutions to healthcare and medical research communities – used AppSheet to build a medical equipment tracking and management solution to support various healthcare organizations, including busy hospitals struggling to locate vital equipment. The Mthunzi Network – a not-for-profit organization that distributes aid to vulnerable populations – built an easy-to-use app to automate the distribution and redemption of digital food vouchers. You can read more about how Google Cloud’s AppSheet and our global community of no-code app creators have answered the call to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic here. Reimagining work Needless to say, the phrase “business as usual” took on a whole new meaning in 2020. And at AppSheet, our mission has always been to change the way organizations and businesses do what they do best with our intelligent, no-code app development platform. Unlike low-code platforms, which still require experienced development teams to design and build applications, AppSheet’s no-code platform empowers anyone to design and build custom apps that help digitize and simplify business processes and workflows. As one retail app creator in our community put it best: “The future is no-code app development. Creating an app from a simple spreadsheet opens up endless possibilities in making business processes seamless.” You can read more about the difference between low-code and no-code development here. Our team’s been amazed by the creative and inventive ways in which app creators have used AppSheet this year. A small Utah-based construction company created an app to simplify inspections and help mobile workers do their jobs faster. An engineer in Mumbai used AppSheet to build an app that brings solar water pumps to remote farms in India. And a telecom company in the Philippines hosted an AppSheet-based hackathon where the winning team built an app that detects and reports illegal signal boosting. Preparing for the future We also worked hard this year to integrate AppSheet with Google Workspace and add powerful automation and security tools to enable no-code and citizen development everywhere. For example: The Google Sheets integration now allows Google Workspace users to build AppSheet-powered apps directly from a Sheet. We also developed app templates that incorporate Google Workspace functionality into AppSheet-powered apps – allowing customers to further streamline their tasks. Because of integrations like these, Google Workspace users now have a powerful app development platform built right into their favorite productivity suite. And with AppSheet Automation, we’re doubling down on the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to no-code development so any employee can easily automate existing processes and drive efficiencies within their enterprises -- with no coding experience necessary. AppSheet’s human-centered approach to no-code development also offer easy-to-understand suggestions and checks, which help speed up the time it takes to develop and deploy an application. AppSheet also features powerful security, compliance, and governance rules built right in, so citizen developers can easily create apps without worrying about putting their teams, their company data, and their organizations at risk. 2020 was a challenging year but our community of citizen developers inspired us each and every day. From brainstorming community driven solutions to participating in the next phase of our no-code journey, we are so grateful to have gone through this year together. Here’s to a new year and all that 2021 may bring!!

North Carolina teacher creates student carpool app with Google Cloud’s AppSheet

It’s been a school year like no other for teachers like Erin Wolfhope, Instructional Technology Specialist at Burke County Public Schools in Hickory, North Carolina. A former kindergarten teacher, Erin earned a master's degree in instructional media, and since 2005, she’s helped her fellow educators integrate technology into their district’s K–12 classrooms. “I help other teachers learn and grow with technology to use with their students,” says Erin, a Google Certified Educator. In early 2020, she transitioned from working in elementary schools to helping high school teachers master their school’s learning management system. “I moved to the high school a week before COVID took over the world,” Erin says. “I’m trying to help teachers work smarter, not harder. They've been forced to use technology for virtual teaching or hybrid learning. They are stressed and overworked. I thought, ‘How can I help them?’” Erin has helped teachers navigate the previously unchartered waters of teaching online via video conferencing. “A lot of them will say, ‘I don't do technology,’” Erin says. “But they literally are doing all the technology right now. I show them new things apps and other digital tools can do in little snippets, so as not to overwhelm them.” When North Carolina teachers and students returned to in-person learning in fall 2020, they entered a new world of COVID-19 safety precautions. This included trying to keep students from congregating in groups, including when waiting outside for their rides home from school—a topic Erin and her husband, Jeff, a middle-school teacher, knew all too well.  The challenge: Keeping students safe during school dismissal School districts all over the U.S. have faced unprecedented challenges creating a safe teaching and learning environment during the coronavirus pandemic. In the past, school dismissal has sometimes been a free for all, with excited kids racing through hallways to get outside and hang out together, as they wait for their rides home. This practice had to change in the age of COVID-19, to better regulate student dismissal and allow for physical distancing. Erin’s husband Jeff Wolfhope, a sixth-grade science teacher at Walter Johnson Middle School in Morganton, NC, vented to her that his school was having difficulty managing the student dismissal and car ride pickup process. “They were announcing student names over the intercom [to go outside to catch their rides home] for 35 minutes straight,” Erin recalls. “My husband said it was maddening. I said, ‘I have a way to fix that.’” Fortunately, Erin already had experience building a no-code classroom app using Google Cloud’s AppSheet. A few years earlier, Erin had looked for ways to engage students in learning about historical explorers. “I was looking in the Chrome Web Store for things to add onto Google Sheets, Google Drive, Google Docs, and Google Slides. When I saw AppSheet, I thought, ‘I've never heard of that.’ When it said you could build an app without code, I thought, ‘Well, I don't know how to code. That sounds good to me.’”   Using Jeff to test things out, Erin built a no-code app with AppSheet that allowed students to enter and cross-reference data about historical explorers in Google Sheets. “I wanted it to be mostly the kids inputting the data,” she recalls. “I just gave them some column headers and pointed them in the right direction. We used Google Search to find information about the explorers. Getting sixth graders to all collaborate on one sheet can be a little hairy. But they built this app. I threw in some maps. And I came to love Google Sheets and [AppSheet], and what [the students] could do with data.” Choosing AppSheet: Streamlining the after-school pickup process Erin set out to help schools in her district address the student dismissal and ride pickup issue. She created two tabs in AppSheet: “Students” and “Pick Up.” “I pulled the student rosters from our student information system and dumped them [into Google Sheets],” Erin explains. The lists of names synced with another app called Awesome Table that creates dynamic websites using data from Google Sheets. Here’s how Erin’s car rider app works: The app sorts student names by grade and displays them in an Awesome Table view projected in the classroom. “It’s really pretty basic,” Erin says. “Teachers and students see the names of students projected in their classrooms. Outside, in the car rider line, administrators have the app on their phones. When students see their name on the board, then they go outside. Then, when one of the administrators sees that kid get in their car, they tap their name on the picked-up side [of the app] and they come off of the Awesome Table view in the classroom.” The app supports an orderly dismissal of students, with real-time updates between students picked up and the list of students waiting projected onto Awesome Table in the classroom. AppSheet Customer Support guided Erin in finetuning the app’s functions. “Now, schools don't have a cog of kids out there on top of each other and they don't have to make those [student dismissal] announcements every day,” Erin says. I thought, ‘OK, this might be amazing.’”   The results: Getting students on their rides home safely Erin’s no-code car rider app made with Google Cloud’s AppSheet is now used by several elementary schools and one middle school in the county.  Because of her no-code app, the rider pickup process is easier for teachers, administrators, and students; and parents approve of the more orderly dismissal, too. “At my husband’s parent–teacher conferences, he bragged to his kids, ‘Hey, my wife made this app we're using,’” Erin recalls. “Then he said, ‘Erin, you got a shout out in my parent conference. [Parents] said since [schools] use the app, the car rider line is so much faster and efficient. They can get their kids and get out of here so much quicker.’  I thought, ‘Oh, there we go!’” Erin’s no-code app also saves schools money. This is so important, now more than ever, as resource-strapped school systems struggle to keep learning alive during the pandemic. “I know there are some [commercial] car rider [software packages] out there, but we have no money, we really have nothing,” Erin says. “So I'm super thankful that [AppSheet] is not something we have to shell out money for. I'm hopeful the principals will say, ‘Hey, this worked so well. What do you think about doing something else with this?’” Erin hopes to develop and expand use of her no-code car rider app to other schools in her district, including once the pandemic is over. She has other ideas for using AppSheet to create no-code apps for use in classrooms and school libraries, as well as to facilitate workflow and communications between teachers, school administrators, and parents. She says she likes AppSheet for its simplicity and ease of use for users at all levels, including the teachers and students she supports on a day-to-day basis. “There are lots of possibilities,” Erin says.  “I just need someone to say, ‘Hey Erin, I need this thing.’ And I will say, ‘OK, I can work on that.’ Point me in a direction to work on something and I'll see what we can do.” Do you have an idea for a no-code app that could help your school or organization work better? Google Cloud’s AppSheet is always free to try.

Med Student Uses Google Cloud’s AppSheet to Create Singular Flashcard Study App

Sean Lim’s AppSheet-powered app organizes related medical conditions and concepts on flashcards, putting the right information at students’ fingertips Sean Lim is a third-year medical student at Touro University California, College of Osteopathic Medicine in Vallejo, California. Like so many of his peers, Sean had trouble processing the vast amounts of information piled on him in lectures and by the intensive medical school curriculum. “Medicine is classically taught via lectures and PowerPoint presentations,” Sean explains. “But that's simply too much information for the human brain to process. Our brains are not built to soak in four hours of all this stuff that's being thrown at us. And the information that will be taught to med students will continue to increase, and there's no control to [that] information.”   Ask anyone who’s attended med school, and they’ll likely tell you: It is a grind — both in classrooms and clinical studies. Sean believes students can empower themselves to more  actively shape how they learn the volumes of information required to graduate medical school. He’s also an advocate for achieving a more balanced and healthy lifestyle. Sean wondered: Could technology provide a solution to make medical school studies more manageable? The challenge: Too much information, not enough study time  Sean had been using digital flashcards as a study tool — the electronic version of an old-school method to help students memorize bite-sized pieces of information and quiz themselves, via two-sided cards. But off-the-shelf apps didn’t give Sean the control he wanted to organize related pieces of information among flashcards. And sharing flashcards with his fellow med students didn’t get Sean any closer to a solution. “Unfortunately, a lot of the flashcards that exist out there are kind of random,” Sean asserts. “Sometimes one person has a deck for a certain class, and then another person has another deck for the same class. But the two decks aren't really similar, and you don’t really know if another student’s deck has the information you need until you go through the whole deck.” Sean was up for the challenge of diagnosing and treating the problem himself. He was exposed to computer science and datasets as an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California, where he majored in biophysics and minored in cinematic arts. “I was bouncing between both arts and sciences,” Sean recalls. “I actually took classes in video game design.” He worked with microbial bioinformatics as part of his post-college research work — which combines biology and computer science for the acquisition, storage, analysis, and dissemination of biological data. So he was comfortable working with databases and large datasets. He also developed coding skills through MathWorks’ MATLAB platform.  Sean began searching for a way to develop an app himself that would organize interrelational information into flashcards — giving students faster access to exactly what they need to learn for their courses and maximize precious study time. Choosing Appsheet: Connecting related medical conditions and concepts Sean had tried other flashcard storage and organization apps on the market. But they didn’t offer the relational tables featured in Google Cloud’s AppSheet — essential for Sean to build the med school flashcard study app he envisioned. “Only through AppSheet can you really connect flashcards that are similar,” he says. Sean liked that no-code development with AppSheet felt like a familiar environment. “You can just use its existing framework to create and customize your interface without having to put in a line of code,” he offers. Sean built his flashcards with key information from lectures and medical textbooks. He used Google Apps Script to batch the flashcards and automatically enter their information into AppSheet’s tables. He then used AppSheet to create parent and child tables in order to organize relational databases of flashcard information. “So if you're learning about diabetes, you want to learn all about diabetes before you move on to heart conditions,” he says. “AppSheet let me organize my flashcards and string them together in a way that told a story. It wasn't just isolated flashcards that were just all over the place. One flashcard could be related to another cluster of flashcards. None of the other apps can do that.”  Sean set up relational databases across several categories in his AppSheet-powered app. “Many diseases have the same symptoms,” he offers, as an example. “So I can look at all the diseases that have this symptom all at once, and then develop those kinds of mental frameworks. My app has around thirty of those kinds of relationships. And because of that, I'm able to parse my data very quickly, instead of looking it up without knowing where I'm going.” The results: Balancing med school studies with leisure time Sean is a true citizen developer. His goal? “Empower students to reach medical knowledge goals with data and technology.” By developing his AppSheet-powered app, his medical flashcards can now be used over and over again, rather than being “siloed for a single exam.”  Sean envisions integrating the med school’s entire curriculum into his relational flashcard app — helping his fellow med students maximize their study time and achieve more balance between work and life.   “[An app] like this would be a great gift,” to other students, Sean said in a Touro Triumphs article. Sean presented his learning app to Touro University California faculty and then rolled it out at the Innovations in Medical Education Conference at the Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles in February 2020. On his website website, Sean writes: “My app employs learning theory such as spaced repetition and schematic thinking where every flashcard is placed in a knowledge network, allowing students to see how medical facts are interrelated and keep track of their day-to-day progress on the competencies they need to be successful in the clinic.”  It all fits with Sean’s goal to make med school studies more manageable and to help future doctors take a more holistic approach to school, medicine, and a balanced lifestyle. An advocate for “democratizing urban farming,”  Sean has also developed a nonprofit management app for a community garden outreach team. “My goal as a student is to have a nice kind of lifestyle, not just studying all the time,” Sean muses. He likes that his AppSheet-powered app can run offline, so he can study wherever he wants. “That has allowed me to exercise every day,” he says. “Because the app can run offline, I can go outside of the grid and then still use the app to review stuff. So I don't have to be sitting in front of the computer to study. I could just be walking outside having a good time.” Do you have an awesome idea to help you study, work, or relax better? AppSheet is always free to start:

Event coordinator helps track mountain bike racers during COVID-19 with Google Cloud's AppSheet

An avid cyclist and mountain biker who studied industrial engineering, Hennie Scheepers found his dream job as Information Systems Manager at Faces Advendurance. The South African company organizes a wide range of adventure endurance sporting events including cycling, mountain biking, obstacle course racing, and trail running. The Nissan Trailseeker Series is one such event, known for its outstanding trails, scenic locations, family-friendly experience, and competitive field. Held in the outskirts of the capital city Pretoria, the race is open to both novice and professional mountain bikers and runners of all ages. For months, Hennie prepared for this highly anticipated event, which took place on September 4–6, 2020.  Since 2017, Hennie had been using Google Sheets to manage the Faces Advendurance registration process.  “An events company’s biggest asset is its database,” he explains. He says it became costly and time consuming to outsource registration to a third-party vendor. So Faces Advendurance took the function in-house.  “I built our registration system onto Google Sheets, which I liked very much, so we could do registration on our own,” he says. The solution worked, though he had to teach numerous volunteers, including many students, how to use the system on race mornings. Sometimes, mistakes were made. He knew he had to find an easier way to track race participants and update data on the fly.  Then, COVID-19 made everything even more challenging. The challenge: Rethinking race registration Hennie admits he’s not a programmer, though he enjoys keeping up with technology trends. As an info systems manager, it’s his job to find software and apps that keep his company’s services up and running smoothly. Bringing the digital and physical worlds together can be a logistical challenge, especially for events in remote locations.  When the coronavirus pandemic put new restrictions on sporting events — including how many participants could enter a race course at one time — Hennie started brainstorming easier ways to manage registration and participant activity. He needed to find something that could quickly and accurately pull in database records; track participants’ start, checkpoint, and finish times; and be easy for multiple event volunteers to update data in the field from their mobile phones.       “We started printing QR codes on timing boards in January 2019, but could never find a way to efficiently scan the codes and submit the number to a database,” he explains. “When we went into lockdown, I was searching for QR code scanner apps, and somehow, I stumbled across AppSheet's no-code development platform. At the time, I didn’t even know no-code existed. I liked that AppSheet could pull in data from Google Sheets. I’m such a nerd, I stayed up in bed at night watching AppSheet YouTube tutorials to learn what it could do. I thought, ‘I can do this. Let’s give it a try.’” Choosing AppSheet: Making course corrections “The Nissan Trailseeker is the biggest mountain bike series in the world, with six events per year attracting 3,000 riders per event,” Hennie explains. Some events, such as the Pretoria mountain bike race in September, span three days and conclude with a trial run attracting between 400 and 1,000 runners per event. That’s a lot of mountain bikers and runners, trail courses of varying distances, and time slots to manage and track.  “Now, our COVID regulation stipulates that we’re only allowed 300 people at an event,” Hennie continues, “and we must start them in batches of less than 50.” To foster social distancing and limit the number of people on the course, they broke the big race down into six smaller events, totaling 1,800 participants to register and time. Google Cloud's AppSheet enabled Hennie to build a quick-and-easy app that imports data into Google Sheets from race participants who have pre-registered online through their entry platform. He then installed his custom app onto 20 race phones and distributed them to students and other volunteers. Volunteers can use the app to register new participants as they arrive at the event, assign them race numbers, and plug them into available time slots. Faces Advendurance uses an RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) timing system, where race participants get a tag with a tracking code that is automatically scanned by RFID readers as participants cross the finish line. Participants’ results automatically update in Google Sheets and are then made available in the app in real time for race organizers. When mountain bikers and runners cross the finish line, the RFID system enters their race number and a timestamp is added to Google Sheets and Hennie’s AppSheet app. “I built the app in such a way that anyone can register at any time,” Hennie says. “I know when they start, I know which batch they start in – and compared to what we were doing before, no one can make a mistake now. So I can literally give the phone to a student and show them in one minute what to do.”  The app has also improved handling of event logistics. “In the past, everything had to be done on laptops,” Hennie says. “The challenge with that is we have to set up tables with generators and electricity and WiFi. When there are 3,000 people on the venue the [cellular] tower struggles to handle it. When I read that AppSheet-powered apps can go offline, it was a colossal plus. So I bought phones with dual SIM cards and two providers. Now, there’s no problem at all if there’s no connectivity.” Hennie’s new AppSheet race registration app was put to the test at the September 2020 event.  “It could hardly have gone better!” he says. “We received so many compliments from participants about the new registration system.” Thanks to the app, the company created a much faster registration process, a neater registration area (“no laptops, cables, or power supply units!”), improved timing accuracy, and offered greater convenience for racers in the field (no need to return to the registration table to make changes). Limited Internet access did not slow things down. Hennie also combined COVID-19 screening into the app’s registration process, cutting out an extra step.  And when the timing scanners hiccuped at the mountain biking finish line, Hennie “quickly built a backup timing solution in AppSheet, enabling our staff to scan each finisher's race number using the QR code we printed in the number board.” The app has also enabled event organizers to more quickly handle race participant queries after the event. The results: Getting out in front of the race With Hennie’s custom-built Google Cloud's AppSheet app, he and Faces Advendurance can now focus on running sporting events — often in remote areas — and on timing race participants, without worrying about connectivity issues and other technical difficulties.  “The results are fed directly from Google Sheets to WordPress,” Hennie says. “So when someone crosses the finish line, their result is posted online immediately. Our admin staff is incredibly impressed by this new functionality. It made their lives much easier. They are able to provide quicker and more accurate service to our participants.”  Hennie says the sky’s the limit with Google Cloud's AppSheet. He’s now experimenting with breaking down different types of relational databases into subsets (e.g., batches of participants, course lengths) and specific disciplines (mountain biking, trail running, and road racing), for even more precise event management and better customer service for participants. He’s even built a COVID-19 compliance app for his children’s school to allow administrators to take students’ temperatures and enter them into a Google Data Studio dashboard.  “In our world, this is a game changer,” Hennie says. “No one in South Africa is doing it this way because there are too many variations for a standard [off-the-shelf] app. Now I’m building an AppSheet-powered app for our obstacle races. Our two biggest events are a cycling event (Ride Joburg) of 20,000 cyclists and a running event (Cape Town Marathon) with 25,000 runners. And both of those have registration challenges. I think our apps are going to answer all of that.” Ready to become an app creator like Hennie? Start building for free on AppSheet today.

IT’s New Machine Learning Strategy

At its core, technology exists to make certain tasks faster, cheaper, and easier to perform, all while delivering better results. Machine Learning (ML) is no different; the task it optimizes is identifying improvements and solving problems. From Netflix to Salesforce to Twitter, many of the world’s largest and most valuable companies are investing heavily in ML, betting on its value with their bottom lines. In fact, analysts expect corporations to commit $12.3 billion to machine learning by 2026, up nearly 5x from the $2.5 billion spent in 2017. But what about everyone else – all those companies that don’t have billions of dollars to commit to hiring ML engineers, developing proprietary AI, and building their own ML programs? How can we democratize ML so that even the smallest and most ambitious companies can get into the game and start using ML to improve how they do business? That’s where Machine Learning as a Service (MLaaS) comes in. Offering ready-made tools that can be easily adopted and fitted to various business needs, MLaaS removes many of the barriers that previously prevented smaller companies and their teams from tapping into the power of ML, including time, budget, and – most importantly – the ability to code. No-Code MLaaS democratizes the power of machine learning  No-code platforms like AppSheet are the backbone of MLaaS, and for good reason. With a no-code platform, anyone — regardless of their technological prowess or experience — can build robust applications that are driven by ML algorithms to solve problems, increase productivity, and deliver a healthier bottom line. These no-code development platforms extend the power of software development beyond the IT department to empower non-technical employees like business leads, employees who run on-the-ground processes, and subject matter experts to create customized business applications without writing code.  Equipped with no-code development platforms, “citizen developers” play pivotal roles in building apps that help move their teams and companies forward. Empowering non-technical workers to build their own solutions also frees up IT to focus on key strategic objectives, and helps eliminate the knowledge gap so that the workers closest to the problems are equipped to solve them directly, no matter their level of technical experience. 4 steps to unlocking your MLaaS strategy With the democratizing power of MLaaS and a no-code platform like AppSheet, you can embark on a new IT strategy that future-proofs your organization’s tech stack from the ground up and delivers continuous optimizations to every facet of your operations. Here are four key tips for unlocking IT’s new MLaaS strategy: Plan No-code MLaaS can optimize mission-critical processes across your entire organization. That’s a powerful prospect. The technology gives business leaders the insights and ability they need to revamp old tech stacks and future-proof companies from the ground up without re-starting at square one. No-code platforms make it easy for all employees to create custom applications that enable app creators and app users to tap directly into data sources. For example, data resting in a spreadsheet or database can be surfaced for strategic trends and predictive insights that can help shape that department’s strategy.  This direct connection between the data and the non-technical workforce enables citizen developers to transform the way work gets done, fully automating tasks and eliminating process gaps. But no-code doesn’t leave IT in the dark. Quite the contrary. The IT department establishes and maintains the governance guardrails for app building organization-wide. Without any coding experience, employees can create apps that not only extend the life and value of your legacy systems, but also bridge the gap between them, making it easier to connect  older systems with newer technologies so your organization can plan for the future and be prepared for whatever’s next. Invest A decision to use a no-code platform is an investment in your organization and IT department. MLaaS eliminates the pressure of developing ML systems and constantly creating and testing new business apps through the IT team’s workflow, relieving the strain on over-stretched developers. This frees up time for IT to focus on what they do best: Keeping critical processes and strategic initiatives humming at maximum efficiency. With MLaaS, the role of planning and execution moves from the IT and development teams to the people across your organization who know your company’s challenges best – from sales and marketing to HR and operations – all while supporting technical innovation and organizational growth. Evangelize The next step in any MLaaS strategy is to identify early adopters in your organization and get them on board. Who will see the most benefits from creating no-code apps? And how can you sell them on this solution? The key here is to help them understand the game-changing value of solving problems at an unprecedented scale by thinking creatively and building their own solutions. No-code MLaaS puts the control back in the hands of your employees, harnessing untapped problem-solving potential. Everyone across your company can perform better when they feel that leadership empowers them to make decisions and equips them with the tools they need to succeed. That’s exactly what we mean when we talk about the democratizing power of MLaaS. Iterate ML apps get smarter the more they’re used; that’s why it’s called Machine Learning. And the people who create these apps do, too. Perhaps the most important step in any MLaaS strategy is iteration. ML doesn’t just help your business run better; it continuously surfaces insights about your operations that you may never have even considered. As a result, app creators learn what’s possible and iterate more quickly using MLaaS. That means that your digital transformation isn’t a one-time event; it is a constant, ongoing process of improvement and optimization every single day so that your apps (and the people who create them) will perform even better tomorrow than they did yesterday.

Formulas and Expressions are Key to Powerful No-code Apps

Building custom apps can really streamline business processes, but where do you begin if you don’t have a technical background? While coding traditionally requires years of education and expertise, you can immediately start building custom apps using a no-code development platform — even with zero coding skills.    If you need to build customized apps for complex business processes, consider the flexibility and robust functionality of a declarative no-code development platform such as AppSheet, which uses formulas to tell apps what to do. In AppSheet, these are called app formulas and expressions. Using formulas and expressions may sound intimidating, but they’re actually intuitive to master. In fact, if you can use a basic spreadsheet, you can use the AppSheet no-code platform. In fact, AppSheet expressions are a lot like the formulas you use in Google Sheets or Excel. For example, if you have an app for job managers that contains data for every job your team does, you can use a formula to filter the view to display a specific result such as “jobs not completed.”  That’s just a basic example; with formulas, you can build powerful functionality within your apps. Consider that same data set of jobs and the information captured about due dates and status. With formulas, you can have your no-code app highlight overdue jobs, jobs that are incomplete, and all jobs that have a due date before today. You can even configure your app to have a custom view that marks overdue jobs in red or displays a list of only overdue jobs. Using formulas, you can also create a more user-friendly experience that displays your data dynamically and doesn’t require job managers to manually filter tables to get the type of reports they need. Taking formulas to the next level, you can create actions. For example, for each overdue job, you can have your app create a new email that’s pre-populated with a message that job managers can easily edit before sending an update to their supervisors. You can also have your app record the fact that the email was sent and save that data to the job record.  The most powerful use of formulas in no-code apps takes actions to the next level with automation. In the example above, sending out the email required the job manager to spend time customizing and clicking to send and record the email. If you want to reduce this type of manual task (especially ones that might be repetitive) further, you can automate your no-code apps. For example, each morning your app could send the job manager and their supervisor an alert with all newly overdue jobs. The AppSheet platform excels at this kind of workflow automation by managing a complex scenario that triggers an action, helping keep your work moving forward on time and on task. Automated workflows are a powerful feature of declarative no-code development platforms. With declarative no-code apps, you can filter results, display custom views, create helpful actions, and create automated workflows that reduce manual tasks and opportunity for human error.  Here are some tips and best practices to take into account as you build no-code apps: You might already be familiar with expressions if you're a spreadsheet user. Learn a few new rules and you'll hit the ground running.  Filter data using expressions in Security Filters or Slices to make sure your app users experience the best performance and only see data relevant to them. Use expressions as 'Show If' conditions on views, actions and data fields throughout the app to ensure specific app features only appear when relevant to the user. Take advantage of app user details to influence app functionality and make it relevant to the individual app user: USEREMAIL() for detecting who is using the app CONTEXT() for understanding what type of device they're opening it with HERE() to use their location to present nearby entries USERSETTINGS() to apply their custom settings to their app experience (localization) For more ideas on how to create your app using formulas, check out our App Design 101 guide, which walks you through the different types of formulas you can use to build and make the most of your no-code business app. Ready to build? Start AppSheet today for free.

5 Tactics to Inspire No-Code App Adoption

As an innovator, you’re a change agent who seeks ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness. A single idea can transform a business by solving problems, saving time, improving performance, or boosting profits. And you probably already know the impact that an individual or small team can have on your business if you empower them with the right tools. That’s why a no-code app can be such a powerful resource, enabling non-technical team-members to manage business processes, track, plan, audit, take inventory, and do other essential activities. . By allowing anyone in an organization to develop apps, a no-code platform like AppSheet can provide the power to scale a solution from one person’s idea to a tool for your team or even an integrated suite of apps that completely reshape the way your entire organization works. But if you build it, how do you ensure that your colleagues will actually use it? As you approach designing a no-code app, it’s vital to plan steps to ensure adoption. Even if you create a flawless app that can enhance or streamline your business, it won’t work if people don’t actually use it. No matter how brilliantly an app solves a problem, it’s common to encounter colleagues who don’t embrace it without help. Some may dislike new technologies (or any type of change), preferring to do things the way they’ve always been done. Other co-workers may have a different view of the best solution. And some may not understand how to use the new tool. Whatever your specific adoption challenges, here are five proven tactics that can help you get your colleagues on board and help your no-code apps achieve their potential. 1. Sign up for the right capabilities To ensure adoption, your app should work seamlessly for everyone; done well, it can even  inspire other “citizen developers” to tackle their team’s needs with a no-code app solution. As you begin this journey, you’ll want to decide on the right no-code platform Service Level Agreement (SLA) for your needs (which is in part based on the features you want and the number of users your app will support). Here are three key factors to consider when identifying the right SLA for your app: Features It may be tempting to sign up for lower SLA levels for lighter users or developer groups, especially if your app creator team and end users don’t all need the same features. However,  it’s a best practice to give all app creators the same feature set to make sure everyone has the features they need and not preclude development. We recommend including popular features such as precision address geocoding, machine learning,  barcode reading, and QR code scanning. Also, make sure your company has registered all the domains they’ll need in advance of rolling out your no-code solution so that your domains function properly with the apps being developed. Performance Choose an SLA that offers the performance you’ll need so your apps run smoothly and quickly for everyone using and building your no-code apps. Factors such as server geolocation, data partitioning, and active database filtering may need to be enabled to ensure app performance. Hardware Make sure your no-code apps will work properly and securely on all types of hardware and devices used by employees, especially if you have bring-your-own-device (BYOD) options. Different tiers of SLAs may include different levels of security and hardware integration, such as on-device encryption and different user roles. 2. Provide training and onboarding Whether you’re creating an app for a team or inspiring others to create their own, it’s important to build a plan for training and onboarding. As a developer, your job isn’t done once your app is built. If you just hand it to users and expect everyone to intuitively know how to use it, users will struggle, which is why timely training and onboarding are key to successful app adoption. The same is also true for any workers who are considering building their own no-code apps. You’ll need to train and onboard them on how to use the no-code platform. Decide if you’ll train everyone at the same time, use a staggered schedule, or perhaps provide documentation that lets users onboard themselves. Consider creating documentation as you design your app (and be sure to include screenshots), and then test it with a few users who can provide feedback on the materials. Communicate your plans and launch timeline so users know what to expect and when.  3. Establish your no-code community Creating an internal no-code community at your organization that defines requirements, tests features, troubleshoots issues, and provides feedback can be a valuable tool for adoption. Your internal no-code community can include fellow citizen developers, colleagues who volunteer to be early adopters, and perhaps a consultant from your IT department and a division supervisor. Also, consider adding colleagues who might represent reluctant users of new apps. Gaining their input early on can help you anticipate roadblocks and overcome objections. During launch, your community can also advocate for your app’s adoption across the organization. And after post-launch, this no-code cohort can help with further app development over time by filing feature requests, testing new releases, and inspiring others to create additional functionality and apps.  4. Encourage no-code sharing to inspire development Reviewing apps that have already been built can help inspire prospective citizen coders who are dabbling in no-code. Check your no-code platform to find available samples from within your organization. When you launch a new app, post a data-scrubbed version of the app to your company’s intranet to share how you approached solving a problem with the app and inspire others to create their own no-code solutions. You can also encourage more no-code development and app adoption by sharing data across teams and opening up your development team to additional internal collaborators.  5. Plan for user support No matter how intuitively designed your apps are, you’ll inevitably have some users who struggle to get started with them. To ensure adoption and spare your inbox, offer a clear and easy way for users to get support. Begin by creating detailed documentation such as FAQs and video tutorials that you can publish internally. Check if your no-code platform provider offers helpful materials or links, as well. And keep track of questions you receive, incorporating them into self-serve support options over time. You can even build a no-code support app or ticketing system!  Using these five tactics can smooth the way as you design and launch your no-code apps and inspire others to build their own. Even if your app development is well underway, it’s never too late to use these techniques to improve your processes, enhance the success of your final product, and, ultimately, transform your business by driving adoption of these useful apps. Haven't started building yet or have a new idea to explore? 

Using Apps to Bridge the Gap Between the Physical and Digital Worlds

As computer chips become smaller and more connected, the digital world increasingly overlaps and interacts with its physical counterpart. The ubiquity of smartphones, the rise of big data and the Internet of Things, and applied augmented reality applications within gaming, education, and manufacturing are just a few examples of how the digital world builds on — and even alters— the physical world. The physical world comprises everything around us, and consists of the tangible products we use each day, the cities and towns we live in, our workplaces, field sites, and the infrastructure, sensors, and machinery that support them. Though it may not always feel like it, we live in the physical world 100% of the time, even as the digital world increasingly augments it. Unlike the physical universe that’s existed for billions of years, the digital world emerged in the 1950s with the advent of the computer. While digital access was once limited to government agencies, most of us now regularly interact with the digital world via our computers and mobile devices. The digital realm consists of everything that’s stored in the cloud: personal and enterprise data including emails, documents, spreadsheets, photos, videos, and all the metadata surrounding them. Many businesses already recognize the benefits of applying the digital world to enhance or keep track of the physical world, and are digitizing physical processes to reduce human error, redundancies, and inconsistencies. For example, a manufacturer may develop a barcode scanning system that allows for fast and accurate real-time data collection throughout the distribution process. Replacing the physical, analog system of pen and paper with a digitized solution not only helps to ensure more accurate data collection, but it also enables new capabilities like instant access to past records, digital forecasting, and trend analysis.  Though companies are increasingly embracing top-down digitization, it’s not always possible for individual process owners to build customized digital processes from the ground up. As a lack of technical coding skills can often hinder progress for teams that rely on analog processes, no-code application development platforms are stepping in to provide non-technical employees with the tools they need to connect the physical with the digital.  Let’s explore a few areas where enterprise apps can help bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds to remove friction and error while increasing speed, accuracy, and visibility.  Rich data collection: Clear and accurate data collection is critical to day-to-day operations, particularly within industries like construction, manufacturing, and utilities. Apps can improve data gathering methods by digitally logging information like GPS coordinates, capturing and annotating images, accepting signatures, and scanning barcodes for immediate data entry. Digital apps power 24/7 data collection with the ability to run offline when a data or internet connection isn’t available. The collected information about the physical world will sync to the digital world as soon as a connection is restored, which means physical-world data doesn’t fall through the cracks even if a digital connection is temporarily unavailable. Process automation: Digitization can help improve organizational processes by introducing automation and customization into physical workflows. For example, apps can automatically log physical-world data, transfer it into the desired digital format, and notify appropriate teams throughout the organization at specified times. Apps can help teams create dynamic reports that update with real-time data flows, as well as customized campaigns based on the digitally-logged activities of team members, managers, and customers. Actionable insights: Bridging the physical and digital worlds helps teams and companies to discover meaningful insights that can transform operations, processes, and even business models. Digitized data can be analyzed, monitored, collected, and updated in real time, and shared through automatic notification workflows and customizable dashboards via charts, maps, and galleries. For greater holistic insight across data types and sources, apps can be directly integrated with legacy software, or exported to sync with existing external platforms. The constant and streamlined convergence between the physical and digital worlds creates opportunities for insight, as business leaders and process owners alike can make more informed decisions for their teams, their customers, and their businesses. When process owners are empowered to minimize the divide between the physical and the digital, fewer items are lost, processes can be uniformly communicated and executed, and teams are able to achieve goals with greater speed, accuracy, and visibility.  Want to start bridging the gaps at your organization?

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