All the major cloud players continue to refine their low-code/no-code services as the demand rises for tools that permit workers to automate and make data accessible in company workflows.
Last September, as part of my overall low-code/no-code series of articles about these services, I profiled Google AppSheet, plus services from Microsoft and Amazon. All of these tools target what is often referred to as citizen developers, employees who understand their workflow and the data they interact with every day.
The Google AppSheet service is another one of these tools. I recently had the chance to sit down with Praveen Seshadri, CEO and co-founder of AppSheet, which was acquired by Google in January 2020. We discussed the evolution of no-code tools like AppSheet and how they empower employees to create their own solutions for data handling in their workflows.
Seshadri says a company’s workers are the folks who understand the best methods for handling and maintaining this data daily, so that is who the Google AppSheet service targets with this tool and its features. AppSheet allows the intended end users to enable solutions without having to go through a long permissions process across the company to get an app built and deployed. Seshadri walked through a demo showing that a basic functioning app is possible within just a couple of clicks and without entering one line of code. This is why they describe Google AppSheet as a no-code solution, and it is an important distinction.
I put this no-code approach to the test by logging into the service using my Google account and using a 200-line Google Sheets spreadsheet as my test bed. This is the same spreadsheet I used last fall to test the Microsoft Power Apps platform in Microsoft Teams.
(Just as a reminder, I needed assistance from a member of the Power Apps team at Microsoft to enable that app to sort data based on the article author and date it was published. Without that assistance, I just had a long list of articles in Teams.)
After an initial login, AppSheet presented the following options:
- Make a new app: This can be done with existing data or from scratch to build out an app to collect that data.
- We took the first step for you: AppSheet knows there were two spreadsheets in my storage with structured data and offers to start an app using those as potential data sources.
Using the ITPT Full Article List spreadsheet, I began my AppSheet no-code experience.
After just one click, there was an app on the right side of the screen that listed the more than 200 articles in my spreadsheet, including a calendar-based date view. By selecting any entry in this list, I could then view a data card with other details about that entry, including the article title, published date, the author's name and a link to the article on the web.
By default, the app can also update and add entries to the data in this initial state with that data synching back to the data source spreadsheet.
At this point, the user developing this app can begin tweaking it to adjust how the data is displayed, how to configure UI features such as light or dark mode, font, column width and names, and how to apply branding elements such as a logo, company colors, or a splash screen.
Through this entire process, I did not have to enter any element of code to add these features and adjustments to the prototype of the app. Google AppSheet offers smart options based on the data for its default display, all of which can be adjusted by the app developer. Data is intended to be sorted and that functionality is automatically added to the various data views enabled in the app.
From here, these employee innovators, as Seshadri described them, can advance their apps' functionality by adding automation through bots for functionality such as step-by-step approval processes, sending welcome emails, or even pointing them towards key information resources based on certain employee criteria.
Google AppSheet provides a broad range of capabilities to employees of all skill levels. As Seshadri shared, this service allows employees to speed up innovation in ways that don’t require a lot of time or money. Plus, based on my own experience, nobody has to know code to make their apps work. As I wrote earlier, that is a very important distinction compared to my experiences with other low-code/no-code offerings.
To be deployed at the enterprise level, Google AppSheet will require a subscription to deploy apps. The service is accessible through a personal or work Google account. However, it’s possible to experiment and assess the service before committing: a prototype app such as this one, can be used by up to ten employees without that subscription.
The app itself is accessible via the web or on a mobile device utilizing the AppSheet Host app.
When it comes to accessing company data that’s hosted across multiple clouds and services, Google AppSheet allows it, which is similar to Microsoft Power Apps. (Remember, Amazon’s Honeycode low-code/no-code service does not.) Seshadri emphasized that your data stays put in your cloud of choice when it is used by AppSheet, and that there is no need to import or export data to keep the data source up-to-date as changes are made in the app.
For companies concerned about data security and governance, that is all built into AppSheet and can be managed by IT admins on a company-wide level.