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Top 10 platforms for internal tools

February 5, 2024

Tired of waiting on developers to deliver that HR admin portal? That crusty CRM addon? Do it yourself—here are the tools that will help.

Every day throws a new curveball, and you're scrambling to keep up. You've got an IT squad, sure, but their to-do list is already maxed out with day-to-day tasks.

So, what if you can't afford to sit around and wait? That's where internal tool builders step in. They let you build custom apps for whatever the day throws at you. We’re talking quick—get the hang of it, and you're launching apps in just hours. No more mess with data from all over the place; everything's in one spot, ready to slot into your new app with custom-made controls.

So, to help you choose, we dug into the cream of the crop in internal tool builders (including our own, because of course we did), putting them through their paces to see which ones really deliver. You want to stay fast, tackle problems head-on, and boost your productivity? Here are the top picks.

The 10 best internal tool builders

  • Directual: automating the boring stuff with pre-made templates and AI;
  • OutSystems: running a big operation? This is the heavy-duty option;
  • Google AppSheet: got a spreadsheet? Turn it into an app, easy;
  • Budibase: loving open source? This one's for you;
  • Stacker: also no-code, but this one can handle a ton of different data sources;
  • Appsmith: pay as you go, only for what you use;
  • Microsoft Power Apps: no need to code to get some complex logic going;
  • Retool: if you do want to get your hands dirty with some code, here's your pick'
  • Quickbase: whip up smart mini-apps, even throws in some AI magic;
  • Glide: perfect if you're not into coding. Drag, drop, and you're set.

What is an internal tool builder?

So, an internal tool builder is basically this cool platform that lets you create your own apps for work. A CRM, a task manager, and whatever else you need to keep tabs on social media, or an editorial schedule.

Picture setting up a dashboard where you can see all your key info at a glance, and popping in some buttons and controls to tweak things on the fly. You can roll out custom apps that make everyone's daily grind smoother, too.

The elements of a good internal tool builder

At the core, these tools give you all sorts of ways to connect to your data, display it with different UI bits and pieces, and do all the standard stuff like adding, reading, tweaking, or deleting data. The fancier ones let you really dial in the user vibe, throw in some complex tricks, and even automate your workflows.

So here's what we studied:

  • Development vibes: while no-code is life, we kept an eye out for platforms that mix it up with some low-code or even full-code options. The goal is to make it easy enough for anyone on your team to build stuff but also have the muscle for your IT folks to take things up a notch;
  • Data hooks and teamwork: we scoped out how many data sources you could link up and the kind of third-party teamwork you could get going for data and automation;
  • Make it your own: these apps should let you have stuff like a CRM or stock control, plus some niche tools, all while giving you plenty of room to make them fit just right;
  • Reputation: top of my list were platforms that have been around a while and seem like they're in it for the long haul.

What are no-code, low-code, and full-code?

Good question, here's the lowdown:

  • No-code: Lego for apps. You've got all these visual bits—click this, drag that—and it's all in plain English, so even if you're not into tech, you can start putting together your own app;
  • Low-code: this splits into two. With easy low-code, you might need to know a little SQL to mess with data and maybe some JavaScript or Python to add some fancy logic, but that's about it. The rest is no-code. Hard low-code is more for the pros;
  • Full-code: we threw in "full" to set it apart. Here, we're talking serious tech knowledge—like having a degree in comp sci or engineering, or you've been in the game long enough to know your stuff.

Alright, let’s get to analyzing.

Directual AI-powered no-code platform

Directual is your go-to for internal tools. It makes building internal apps trivial, without a single line of code. Maybe with one if you feel like it!

Pros of Directual

  • Build fast, save big: say goodbye to the endless wait for dev teams or shelling out big bucks for developers. With Directual, you're crafting CRMs, admin portals, service desks, HR tools, and more at lightning speed and a fraction of the cost;
  • Ready-made elements: no need to start from scratch. Plenty of pre-designed elements like Charts for Dashboards, Kanban boards, forms, and cards to piece together what you need effortlessly;
  • Bulletproof security and Endless scalability: set up user roles and permissions with ease, ensuring each team member has just the right level of access. Be sure that there won’t be any problems when you need to scale your app. Plus, rest easy knowing your data's guarded at the API level.

Cons of Directual

  • Complexity may intimidate some: while Directual packs a punch with its capabilities, newcomers to the no-code scene might find its array of options a tad overwhelming at first glance. Definitely not a biased opinion, no.

Directual is about empowering you to bring your boldest ideas to life, whether it's sleek admin portals, dynamic CRMs, or even cutting-edge Web3 dApps (if you ever need such a thing for internal use). With the integration of smart chatbots, you can also up every other part of your product.

Directual-GPT (D-GPT) can help you craft your project by simply chatting, no fiddling with logic cubes required. Like having a conversation with your platform, and voila, your idea is taking shape. See for yourself how AI can help with that:

$29 to start with. You will also join a community of professional no-coders, too!

Directual's blend of simplicity, power, and ease is your ticket to turning ideas in your head into reality on the screen.

Glide no-code platform

Alright, so Glide is this no-code tool that's super easy to pick up.

Pros of Glide

  • It's a breeze to use;
  • Heaps of templates to kickstart your app;
  • Pretty powerful;
  • Sick-looking website. Not that it matters, but still.

Cons of Glide

  • On the basic plans, your options for connecting to different data sources are kinda limited.

The interface is slick, with these cool little animations that make work feel a bit more fun. At first glance, it's so good-looking that I thought it might be all style, no substance. 

These apps work great on any device, especially phones. On desktops, you might need to fiddle with the settings to get your text just right. Plus, it's smart with your phone's features, like using your camera to snap pics for stuff like field reports or tracking your inventory.

Glide's riding the AI wave, too. You've got cool add-ons like text generation, turning text into images, pulling out data, and even converting audio to text. You can slap these right into your app, so you're not running between ChatGPT and your app.

Pricing-wise, Glide's eyeing individuals or smaller teams. The basic plans let you use their own database or stuff like Google Sheets, Airtable, and Excel. If you want to hook up more advanced databases, you'll need to chat with their sales team for an Enterprise plan.

Just a quick FYI on the cash side of things: every plan has its caps—like how many records you can keep, total storage space, and how many create/read/update/delete actions you can do. If you're planning to lean hard on these apps, brace yourself for an upgrade chat pretty soon.

For the dough: There's a free version to mess around with. If you're looking to level up, the Starter plan's $25 a month, and you get to roll out up to 5 apps with room for 110 users to get busy with them.

Stacker no-code platform

Oh yes, Stacker. Let’s have a looksie.

Pros of Stacker

  • Quick setup with spreadsheets;
  • Various data views and filters.

Cons of Stacker

  • Limited complex functions.

With Stacker, link up data from Google Sheets, Airtable, and a wide array of databases and third-party apps. Ideal for managing data across different platforms, making connections easy without needing to move or copy data.

Your app icons appear on the right. Clicking an icon reveals its tabs, letting you flip between your CRM, customer support, and other tools with ease. Stacker handles all the basic create, read, update, delete (CRUD) actions.

To start, kick off a new app using a spreadsheet. Add columns, set data types and names. Once set, switch from spreadsheet to visuals. In the app layout, pick your view, from lists to Kanban boards, and manage column visibility to avoid data overload. Pretty simple.

Stacker is a smooth move for spreadsheet enthusiasts.

Starter plan at $79/month for 1 app and unlimited users.

Google AppSheet no-code/lowcode platform

The platform that evolved a million times—Google AppSheet.

Pros of AppSheet

  • Auto-generates apps from spreadsheets;
  • Advanced features like machine learning.

Cons of AppSheet

  • Complex editor interface.

Unlike other tools, Google AppSheet uses AI to turn spreadsheets into functional apps. Upload a spreadsheet, and it drafts an app for interacting with your data. Customize your app with Google's clean menu designs. The interface and app feel are quintessentially Google, though some terms may be advanced. Plenty of resources, including free online courses, are available to help.

AppSheet apps are responsive, adapting well to any device, and can include mobile-specific features like barcode scanning, though at a higher cost. Other cool additions include machine learning and text recognition for a touch of AI in your app.

Work on your app without fees, paying only when you go live—very attractive business model. Google AppSheet may take more time to set up and learn, but it offers a broader range of possibilities.

Free for development; live deployment starts at $5/user/month for basic features and automation.

Quickbase no-code platform

Quickbase—perfect for smaller apps that should’ve been deployed yesterday.

Pros of Quickbase

  • Built for enterprises;
  • Strong data security.

Cons of Quickbase

  • Outdated interface.

Quickbase offers AI-assisted app creation. Start a new app, opt for AI generation, input your goals, and wait. It takes a while, but you get a foundational app plus notes on its creation. For example, requesting a CRM yields an app with the UI and data sources set up, needing only action configurations and data-logic links.

Expand your workspace with apps for different needs or departments. Import data from spreadsheets or integrate with Google Workspace and various databases.

Starting from scratch in Quickbase means defining data types and relationships first. After creating your app, you get database views and can set up a homepage dashboard with key metrics and actions, plus database tabs for actual work, including forms for data entry and editing.

Quickbase feels like advanced spreadsheet software. It's less sleek than competitors but solid, focusing on data management without coding. Workflow automation is possible for natively integrated apps.

Team plan at $35/user/month, minimum 20 users.

Microsoft Power Apps low-code platform

Microsoft Power Apps—back to the ancestral homeland.

Pros of MPA

  • Built on Microsoft Azure, works seamlessly with Microsoft products;
  • Highly adaptable.

Cons of MPA

  • Extra cost for certain high-end features.

Microsoft Power Apps is like a modern-day Microsoft Access on steroids. It's quintessentially Microsoft, with a familiar experience. Power Fx, its formula language, lets you craft complex logic in a way that feels like working with spreadsheet formulas—pretty straightforward.

It boasts the most native integrations, including all Microsoft 365 apps, Azure services, and a vast array of other platforms, from Dropbox to niche enterprise solutions. Could be great if that’s yours thing.

What sets Power Apps apart is its versatility. Start from data, a user interface, or a template. The dashboard shows all your data at a glance, and you can set up complex workflows or even train AI models. The more you explore, the more options you find. The editor is flexible, too, allowing for extensive UI customization.

Despite its power, Power Apps remains accessible. A quick tour explains the basics, and the controls are as user-friendly as an enhanced PowerPoint. Power Fx accelerates progress for those who grasp the fundamentals.

Premium at $20/user/month, with certain features like web publishing and AI training extra.

Budibase low-code platform

Budibase. Just like Quickbase, but…Budibase.

Pros of Budibase

  • Comes with automation tools;
  • Popular among leading companies.

Cons of Budibase

  • Pay for high-level security and auditing, even on self-host.

Budibase is open source, offering many features for free with self-hosting. If self-hosting sounds tricky, you might need IT help—it's not straightforward.

Using Budibase is a smooth experience. The editor is tidy, with controls in four key areas:

  • Data: set up or link data sources to fuel your app;
  • Design: build your app's screens, add UI elements, show data, and set button actions;
  • Automation: create automated actions based on specific triggers;
  • Settings: back up your app, handle versions, or integrate it into other platforms.

Design-wise, Budibase ensures a sleek look, with a consistent design system, neat spacing, and clear color coding, offering both light and dark themes.

Budibase's ability to let you craft apps and automate processes without cost (for self-hosting) is a big plus. It's a choice for giants like Netflix, Tesla, and Google, indicating its reliability for building internal tools.

Free for basic self-hosting. Business plan for self-hosting begins at $20/user/month for enhanced security and features. Hosted plans start free, with paid plans from $10/user/month.

Retool low-code/full-code platform

Retool is a really powerful thing—if you’ve got the knowledge how to use it.

Pros of Retool

  • Designs workflows, web, and mobile apps;
  • Comes with database management.

Cons of Retool

  • Editor can lag with complex app builds;
  • Weak backend capabilities.

Retool is versatile with wide range of capabilities. The UI setup is mostly code-free, and even non-tech users can manage data displays and basic actions, thanks to straightforward SQL queries. The real power of Retool unfolds with JavaScript, though.

Retool's UI design supports data-rich dashboards and multi-tabbed apps for different business perspectives.

Integrating AI into Retool workflows is also easy to do. You can include various AI models like GPT, Claude 2, Microsoft Azure's Cognitive Services, or custom models from Hugging Face. Just bring your API key to add functionalities like text generation, image recognition, or any AI-supported task.

Retool suits backend engineers best but remains accessible for building simple apps without coding all that uch. It's worth experimenting with to gauge its ease of use for your needs.

Backed by clients like Amazon and OpenAI, Retool is a flexible tool for those with coding and IT resources.

Free version available. Team plan costs $10 per standard user and $5 per end user monthly.

Appsmith low-code platform

Appsmith will need a bit of knowledge to get started with.

Pros of Appsmith

  • Intuitive, organized editor;
  • Connects to many developer-level data sources.

Cons of Appsmith

  • Less accessible for non-tech users.

Appsmith might be what you need for occasional but imporantl tasks, avoiding high costs for infrequent use. Its pricing stands out, charging $0.40 per active user hour, with a monthly cap of $20, making it budget-friendly for sporadic use. This applies to self-hosting, suitable if you have existing infrastructure. Without it, the Community plan offers many features for free.

Appsmith is more hard low-code, with a code-centric right tab and SQL for data queries, plus JavaScript for logic. Its built-in JS editor aids with autocomplete and debugging, enhancing the coding experience.

Ideal for teams with IT expertise, Appsmith allows technical setup by specialists, followed by app creation by other team members. The UI binds actions to buttons for testing. For an AI touch, typing /ai in a code block prompts Appsmith to generate JavaScript, though it's not always spot-on.

Appsmith pricing: Free for hosted use. Self-hosted Business plan is $0.40/hour/user, maxing at $20/user/month.

OutSystems full-code platform

OutSystems. A handy helper for those who don’t really need it.

Pros of OutSystems

  • Highly efficient. If you know what you’re doing;
  • Integrates well with existing systems.

Cons of OutSystems

  • Costs an arm and a leg;
  • Very steep learning curve for non-experts. Learn to code, then come back;
  • Their logo looks like a “Close window” button on Mac.

OutSystems is great for developers and large companies with complex needs. Every app gets its own development space with full analytics and logging, translating your work into efficient code.

Apps are isolated for better data and logic control, with options to link OutSystems apps or connect with external data sources.

Getting started involves creating an account and downloading the OutSystems Service Studio. The interface blends low-code ease with the depth of a development environment like Visual Studio, complete with a file structure view and advanced debugging tools.

OutSystems is recognized by Gartner and Forrester, slightly leading over Mendix. Your first app is free, but further development starts at $1,513 a month, positioning OutSystems as a choice for larger organizations facing significant digital challenges.

First app free, subsequent apps from $1,513/month. Yikes.

Afterword

Internal tool builders make things faster and cut down on errors. Just link your data, create an interface, sort the logic, and boom—more results, less grunt work. 

Whether you're new to no-code, a tech enthusiast with app smarts, or an IT pro looking to tweak code and tighten security, there's a tool for you. Pick the one that fits, test drive it, and watch your workflow smooth out. If in doubt, opt for Directual—that one has everything you need in one place.

FAQ

What are the benefits of using Directual as an internal tool builder?
What are the benefits of using Directual as an internal tool builder?

Directual’s pre-designed elements like Kanban boards and forms simplify app creation, while security features ensure data protection. It’s easy to get started and it’s cost-efficient for all sorts of internal tools.

Can internal tool builders integrate with existing data sources?
Can internal tool builders integrate with existing data sources?

Yes, internal tool builders like Directual and Appsheet allow for seamless integration with existing data sources without the need for data migration. All that’s needed is an API setup.

What is the best internal tool builder?
What is the best internal tool builder?

When choosing, pay attention development ease, data integration capabilities, customization options, security features, and the platform's community and support. Tools like Directual offer a balance of simplicity and power, suitable for a wide range of users.

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