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Companies Are Turning More to the Cloud for Do-It-Yourself Apps

When off-the-shelf just won't do.


It’s often said these days that every company is at some level a software company. That may be stretching things a bit, but when you think about all the things that businesses do every hour of every day, and how many of those things require the presence of software, it’s more true than not.

But what’s even more true is that every company is in some way unique and does certain things differently from everyone else. One company may handle an otherwise identical process just a tad more efficiently than a competitor, giving it an edge. Every task flows in a certain direction from one person or department to another, and often those processes are unique to a company, only occasionally subject to change, and there’s almost always software involved.

But a problem sometimes occurs when companies buy their software off-the-shelf and then try to apply it to how they do things. If the software doesn’t fit the established process, it becomes a square peg shoved into a round hole. The process is forced to change, and valuable time is wasted adapting to the changes. Now the answer at many companies both large and small is to do it themselves by building their own custom apps.

We have some data today on what research firm Gartner has dubbed the “Citizen Developer,” which it defined as “an end user who creates new business applications for consumption by others.” The data comes from TrackVia, a Denver-based startup that offers companies a Web service upon which they can develop their own custom applications, and involved a survey of 1,000 U.S. workers age 18 to 55.

It probably won’t surprise you that younger workers are more likely to be the Citizen Developers at a company. Those employees under 30 were seven percent more likely to build their own app to get things done at work than those 45 and up.

And those who do build their own apps tend to be ambitious and independent: 73 percent of them say they expect the freedom to choose what software they use on their work computers and to customize their own machines as they see fit; 63 percent bypass the IT department entirely to find things they need to get things done; and 53 percent expect to be promoted within the next 12 months.

If the thought of all this gives you a bit of a headache, it looks like an opportunity to Charles Var, TrackVia’s VP for marketing, with whom I spoke recently. TrackVia’s business is to harness this demographic of workers, and it’s turning out to be a healthy business. Var describes the company as “a do-it-yourself application platform designed to empower non-technical people to help track and manage the work that they do.”

Rather than buy, some build their own stripped-down customer relationship management apps. Some nonprofit organizations build their own apps to track donations and donors. For all the conventional wisdom that says that some big-name cloud applications like Salesforce and Workday save money versus on-premise apps, some companies see the cloud apps as still too expensive, Var said. An enterprise app can run $65 to $125 per user per month, which adds up quickly. “Our customers see them as really pricey,” he said. Apps built on TrackVia average about $25 per user per month.

Pricey and complicated. Often the big-brand apps have features that smaller companies don’t want or need, and which can get in the way. Sometimes companies find themselves working around those features. Building their own gives them a means to bypass them. “They build around their workflow, the way they do things that is unique to the particular company,” Var said.

Unique is putting it mildly. One company that specializes in placing cadavers and body parts with medical schools and institutions built its own cloud application to manage and track the shipment of those body parts. “They weren’t exactly going to find a generic commercial application for that,” Var said.

The approach appears to be working. TrackVia has 2,500 customers in 15 countries, and 1,500 try it out every month, he said. The company has raised a combined $9 million in two venture capital rounds, the latest of which was led by Longworth Venture Partners and Fairhaven Capital, two funds based in Massachusetts.

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