Taking a tour of the gallery

If you’re new to Zoho, their wide range of applications can be quite daunting. The suite has over 50 applications, enough to run your entire business, and several of them fulfill similar functions. This overwhelming factor is often amplified by the possibilities within Creator—Zoho’s powerful low-code application development platform. Creator is just one of the many applications available as part of Zoho One, or it can be used as a standalone product. 

When it comes to app development, some of you may have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, the time to execute it, and the know-how to do it from scratch. But don’t be discouraged if you don’t, as there is another way—the Creator App Gallery.

When Creator was in its infancy, I don’t think even Zoho had a full idea of what people would go on to use it for. Now, within the gallery, you’ll find a whole host of prebuilt applications from Property Management to Library Management, Point of Sale to Attendance Management, Seat Booking, Corporate Travel Management, and even Franchise Management. And the best bit? They’re all fully customizable, ready to be tailored directly to your business’ needs.

As with anything, the best practice in low-code applications comes down to planning. You need a clear understanding of your business, which you most certainly have even if it’s not written down. A full knowledge of your business processes is also key, and may involve you, or someone else, sitting down with your team to see exactly how they use your current systems—and most importantly what they need from them that they aren’t currently getting.

A cautionary tale

Take my situation. Back in 2013, the company I worked with was using spreadsheets to monitor our overseas students, who were travelling worldwide from the oil industry in Libya. We booked courses for them, and arranged visas and transport, but the numbers were growing too fast for the tool to keep up. I was tasked with finding a workable solution, and my only brief was that it should be inexpensive. I tried Salesforce, but it didn’t bend the way I wanted it to, and cost more than we could afford. Then Zoho Creator entered my life.

What happened next lead to a gargantuan project that fairly quickly went beyond my skillset. Before long, the bosses realized the power of Creator and made almost daily demands that it could easily meet, but my skills could not. I learned how to use it to a large extent very quickly, but with the benefit of hindsight I needed help. It was perceived at the time that we had no budget to enlist one of Zoho’s many partners, but the amount of hours I spent breaking, fixing, adding, and going back to the drawing board could have paid for one several times over.

How I would have loved the App Gallery at the time! It’s very possible that the Course Planner and Education Management apps there would have done the job of my own behemoth, at a fraction of the effort.

Ok, back to that tour!

Now you’ve learned from my mistakes and have a proper plan for what you need your app to do. What’s next?

Let’s say you run a restaurant. The gallery has an app that will “manage all the data in your restaurant business within Creator. From people and food, to processes and service, keep employees on their toes and your customers satisfied”. Sounds great doesn’t it? Have you clicked Install This Application yet? I have, and I don’t even run a restaurant!

Once installed, I’m greeted by a Customer Representative screen that allows me to select a table to see the orders placed there. There are further menu options for Chef, Cashier, Staff Details, and Records. I then explore them to find further submenus within. When I click Order Details I’m reminded that I haven’t added any records yet, so I head to the settings to see what’s needed in the background for it all to make more sense.

Tables seems like a good place to start, and Chez Mel only has one table, in my kitchen. I’m not sure the chef (my husband) will be happy with this new system, but I’ll see if I can edit it to suit his needs. The back end reveals the Page Builder, where I can play with the design. Workflows have already been configured to handle the addition of staff and tables, among other things.

The custom scheduler used to allot particular sections to the chef is disabled, but can be toggled on, if I upgrade from just £8 per month. It’ll execute the action at regular intervals, in line with their shift patterns. Report workflows to trigger discounts and bills are available in the free version, as well as preconfigured functions to assign orders and sections, and create bills. If you know how, or know someone who does, you can add new versions of each of these, generate an approval process, and run actions when payments are submitted or fail. Some are for free, while others become available when you upgrade.

I have a feeling my staff will indeed be kept on their toes and my customers satisfied—and it won’t cost a fortune either! Just one of the advantages of low-code.

Essential or overkill?

On to something a little more complicated. Not to belittle restaurateurs in the slightest, but my new business is a bit more varied and requires project management. I can only have one app in the free version, so goodbye Restaurant and hello Project Tracker!

What does this app do that other prebuilt Zoho applications don’t? The answer is simple—it can be readily customized. But do you really need that? I was talking to a company recently who are using Zoho Projects, but have found it to be a bit rigid for their needs. A short screenshare of how they were using it later, and we realized that the Creator CRM Kanban view would work perfectly well for them, right out of the box.

Zoho Sprints and Zoho Connect tasks also work as off-the-shelf options, so a bespoke system may be completely unnecessary. Your plan will help you decide which path to take, and the experienced eyes of a certified partner will speed things up, no doubt.

Take a seat, write down what you do now—and what you want to be able to do—and then go through it with your team. The time you spend will be more than worth it, trust me!

And if you’re struggling, get in touch with the experts at MOBIX

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  • Mel Constantinou

    Mel joined the Zoho Universe by way of Creator v1.0, back in 2013. With no prior coding knowledge, she was quickly able to build a bespoke database from the terrace of a house-sit in Australia. Still location-independent, with bases in the UK and France, she works as a consultant with Zoho Partner MOBIX. Together, they help businesses worldwide unleash the power that Zoho has to offer.

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