Today, many companies are seeking alternative solutions to building internal tools in-house. If you’re evaluating an internal tools solution to replace or supplement existing tools, here is a list of questions you should ask and things to look for.
1. Does it remove dependencies on my engineering team?
Chances are, you’re evaluating an internal tools solution because you don’t have time to build a tool your business needs, you’re tired of pulling in engineers every time a change needs to be made to your existing internal tools, and/or you’d simply rather spend valuable engineering time building other core products. If so, be sure the internal tools solution you choose actually removes dependencies on your engineering team.
What to look for: You need a solution that empowers non-technical teams to create and update their internal tools. Look for a no-code solution that doesn’t require code or SQL knowledge to do everything, and ensure the process to create tools is easy and intuitive. If you can, find a solution that provides some immediate value, so you don’t have to put in any work to start reaping the benefits.
What to avoid: Most low-code solutions are made only for engineers or SQL experts. While these solutions may save some engineering time, if you don’t have (or don’t want to dedicate) engineering resources to work on internal tools, it's likely not the right solution for you. If you're okay with your engineers maintaining and constantly retooling all of your internal tools, then a low-code platform might work for you.
2. Is it flexible enough to meet my business needs?
You may not know exactly what tools you’ll need to build in the future, but you do know what type of data is unique to your business and you probably have some example use cases in mind. Make sure the solution you choose is flexible enough to work with your data and can accommodate the different types of use cases you’ve identified.
What to look for: The solution you choose should provide just the right amount of flexibility to create the tools you need. Look for the ability to include data from multiple systems, a customizable interface that allows you to mix and match components like tables, forms, and buttons, and an easy way to incorporate custom business logic (without significant engineering work).
What to avoid: While being able to customize every tiny detail may seem compelling at first, remind yourself what resources you’re willing to dedicate to creating your internal tools. Avoid solutions that require design, product, and engineering time to get right — unless you’re willing to dedicate those resources.
3. Does it duplicate my source of truth?
Most companies have a handful of mission critical systems that serve as the source of truth. Your database may be the source of truth for a lot of customer information, activity, app settings, order history, etc., while your CRM is the source of truth for sales-related interactions and your ticketing system is the source of truth for customer support-related interactions.
If you need internal tools to interact with these various sources of truth, it’s important to know if the internal tools solution duplicates your data and whether you’re okay with that.
What to look for: Assuming you want to keep your source of truth intact, you’ll want a solution that reads directly from it and writes changes back to it.
What to avoid: Be wary of systems that require you to pipe in data from your source of truth. You’re effectively making copies of your data and allowing users to modify the copy. What’s your plan to sync the data back? What happens if changes are made in both places? Is that something you want to deal with?
4. Does it help protect my company’s data?
Internal tools almost always include sensitive data. Sensitive data isn’t limited to PII or PHI data. It’s a user’s performance review, their salary information, their photos, or ride destination. Whether regulations like GDPR and CCPA require it or not, any data that the user considers private is sensitive data that should be handled with care and protected against access abuse.
A major benefit to using an internal tools solution instead of building your own tools in-house is that you can get robust security and data access features from the get go. Realistically, these features are things you probably won’t get around to building in-house for a long time — but if you’re going with an outside solution, there’s zero excuse not to have them.
What to look for: Make sure you can control access to data and actions at a granular level. Also look for audit logs to help monitor unusual activity, 2-step-authentication to protect against unwanted access, and ability to redact sensitive fields.
What to avoid: Avoid all-or-nothing access controls because you’ll end up giving too many employees access to too much data. If you assign permissions to each tool separately, you'll very quickly lose track of who has access what data.
5. Will it adapt and scale with my business?
Internal tools often mirror the current products and features your business offers, so there’s no doubt they’ll need to change frequently. If you work for a company that makes software, many things change including data models, schema, and business logic. Consider how your internal tools solution will adapt to these types of changes.
What to look for: Look for a solution that helps you quickly update your internal tools when things change. How does it respond when there’s a new field in your database or a new endpoint available? Ideally, your solution will automatically detect changes and take care of a lot of the work for you.
What to avoid: Avoid internal tools solutions that require engineering work to deal with changes. If it requires engineering intervention every time a field is added to your database, you might as well continue building internal tools in-house. Bottom line: Make sure your internal tools can easily grow with you and avoid having to retool your tools all the time.
We hope you find this helpful as you evaluate alternative solutions to building your own internal tools in-house. If you have any questions about how to evaluate solutions or if you’re interested in checking out Internal as part of your evaluation, let’s talk!