Monday, October 25, 2021

Zoho One - Zoho's "Business Operating System"

I've posted before about Zoho Creator, Zoho's no-code/low-code app development platform. Creator is one of the oldest and easiest platforms to work with, but it's just one of numerous products in the Zoho family, which includes Zoho CRM, Zoho Forms, Zoho Sheets, and Zoho Books among others. Back in 2017 Zoho combined access to these applications in a single product called "Zoho One", which they refer to as a "business operating system". The latest version of Zoho One was released earlier this month and it offers a truly integrated package of applications - and what's really nice is that wirh Zoho Creator you can create custom apps that can exchange data with Zoho One applications.

Zoho One now includes over 50 applications and services, all available in one unified user interface. In addition, there is support for adding third party services by means of API connections. Here are a few of the applications and services in the suite:

  • Sales
    • Zoho CRM - A Customer Relations Management app that can be used by any size business.
    • Zoho Bigin - A CRM for small to medium sized businesses.
    • Zoho Sites - Build no-code websites.
  • Marketing
    • Zoho Forms - Simple mobile form maker.
    • Zoho Survey - Create online surveys and questionnaires.
    • Zoho Commerce - Allows users to build a website/store, take orders, track inventory, process payments, manage shipping, market products or services and analyze collected sales data. 
  • Support
    • Zoho Lens - Provide online support for users with the help of a  smartphone camera and augmented reality software.
  • Productivity
    • Zoho Mail - Provides email services for personal and normal business email.
    • Zoho Projects - Project management software.
    • Zoho Connect - Team collaboration software.
    • Zoho Learn - Knowledge management and learning software.
  • Finance
    • Zoho Books - Online accounting software.
    • Zoho Invoice - Online invoicing software.
    • Zoho Inventory - Online inventory management software.
  • HR
    • Zoho People - Online human resources management software.
  • Business Process
    • Zoho Analytics - Business intelligence and data analysis software.
    • Zoho Data Prep - Data cleaning software.
    • Zoho Creator - Develop custom applications without coding and interface with other Zoho products and third party services.
Interfacing Zoho Creator with other Zoho applications does require some (small amount) of JavaScript or HTML coding, but there are lots of examples online to guide you. Even when you need to modify the coding in the examples the changes or additions are normally self-evident. Overall, Zoho offers an interesting option for customers looking for a comprehensive, integrated business management system that can be customized with no-code apps.

By the way, if you're wondering how popular Zoho and Zoho One are, here are some figures about how many people use Zoho:

"Zoho recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and has grown to over ten thousand employees in the last twenty-five years. Zoho has seventy million users in one hundred and eighty different countries. Zoho One has over forty thousand customers, with the largest customer having thirty-two thousand employees.

You can find out more about Zoho One on YouTube at: 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Building a Predictive App with Zoho Creator

Zoho Creator is another no-code/low-code app builder that allows you to create machine learning apps. You can find an example of how to make use of Zoho's AI features by going to:

I decided to go through the steps to build a simple machine learning app to estimate the selling price of a home, given certain information about the home. Starting with a blank app design, I added fields for the estimated selling price, the age of the house, its size in square feet, the number of bedrooms, the number of bathrooms and the exterior (brick, wood paneling, or rock). Then I selected a “Prediction” field which started the Prediction Builder. The Builder asks you to select the fields for estimated price and for the different parameters or fields that would affect the price:

Next, you define your training data – whether you want to use all records or just specific records. In my case I went ahead and chose “All Records”:

Choosing “Specific records” will make the AI use only those records that satisfy the criteria for building the predictive model.

Next, the Builder displays your choices and prompts you to add a Prediction field:

To train the machine learning model to estimate a selling price you need to supply the model with data by importing appropriate records or entering records manually. It can take quite some time for the model to assimilate enough data to make predictions about an estimated selling price. In the meantime, you can check on how the prediction field's training is progressing by editing the input form, clicking on the prediction field and scrolling down the field properties to “Model Details”.

In my case, after entering 20 or so records, the description under “Model Details” reads “Model training is in progress”:

Once the model absorbs enough data, its Accuracy rating will be displayed under “Model Details”, along with a “Retrain” button which you can use to retrain the model if necessary.

Zoho Creator offers several other AI fields in addition to the Prediction field:

  • Keyword Extraction field – This type of AI field analyzes the text in a single or multi-line text field and extracts one or more “keywords”, which are stored as a comma-separated list. As an example, you could use keyword extraction to search through customer comments and find particular words such as “happy”, “great”, “unhappy”, “flimsy”, and so on. It could also be used to scan the text in a webpage for references to a subject you're researching, such as “dark matter” or “no-code programming”.

  • Sentiment Analysis field – A sentiment analysis field is used to scan a single or multi-line text field and determine if the tone of that text is positive, negative, or neutral.

  • OCR field – The Optical Character Recognition field allows you to extract the text from an image stored on Zoho Creator. It can recognize JPG, JPEG and PNG image formats and can be used to do things like extract the text from a picture of an invoice or a business card.

  • Object detection field – An object detection field can identify the type of objects in a Zoho Creator image field. The objects detected will be displayed as a comma-separated list (for example: “clock”, “table”, “chairs”). The OCR field is capable of detecting a variety of objects, ranging from cats and dogs to stop signs and traffic lights to laptops and microwaves. You can find a complete list at:

Friday, October 15, 2021

Creating an Online No-Code Course

What does it take to create an online course that has something to do with the no-code movement? It takes time, patience, and several other things: 

  • Do some research. Explore the popular online course websites like Udemy,  Skillshare, Thinkific, Simplilearn, and Teachable and look for areas of no-code development that aren't well represented (or represented at all). For example, Kintone is a highly-rated no-code/low-code app development platform, but currently there are no English-language courses on Udemy dealing with Kintone. You may also come up with a twist on the usual tutorial courses. There are a number of courses on Mendix on Udemy, but there's also a course that's simple a set of 3 practice tests to help you pass Mendix's "Rapid Developer" certification test.
  • Find out what subjects are the most popular before you decide on exactly what your course will cover. Of course you'll want to check on the number of people signing up for similar courses on platforms that host online courses, but don't stop there. Look at books on Amazon related to your course content and see how many reviews those books are getting and how high they rank. Do the same thing with no-code blogs and forums, as well as any no-code Facebook groups.
  • Find a niche. Once you have a general idea of what type of course material you want to cover, consider narrowing it down to a more specific area and still attract students. It's somewhat similar to publishing a book on Amazon - if your subject is too general it can get lost in among a lot of other books (or courses in this case) that are covering the same material.
  • Make sure what each platform provides. You're going to want a platform that:
    • Allows users to access your course on the web, by phone or on their tablet.
    • Provides a forum for the people enrolled in your course.
    • Offers polls and surveys to provide feedback on how people rate your course, both the content and the presentation.
    • The ability to have students upload course materials.
    • A built-in mechanism to handle payments and refunds.
  • Build the course. Don't be concerned about making the perfect version of your course right way, follow the same procedure that you would when creating a no-code app and start out with a Minimum Viable Product. You can add all the extras once you get some feedback on what your students like and don't like about the course. Here are some additional tips to keep in mind:
    • Micro-learning is a popular concept now for a reason. People tend to learn more easily when information is dished out in small bites. Do the same thing with each lesson in your course - keep the lessons short and focused on one specific topic.
    • To some extent use the method of "say it, then say it again" (or "show it", then "say it again") to try to emphasize main points in your presentation.
    • The majority of people who sign up for an online course never complete the course. Try to gamify things in some way to keep students engaged, maybe offer some special tips or advice for those who reach certain points in the course or points that can be used to purchase additional material.
    • Make sure you have a discussion group for students who have questions or feedback or just want to talk about things that sparked their interest.
  • Don't let inexperience stop you. If you're not sure how to put together an online course there is (somewhat ironically) a course on Udemy on creating online courses, plus there are a number of websites like Snapcourse that can help you build your presentation (or build it for you for a fee).

Monday, October 11, 2021

Guest Post: Reasons for Becoming a Freelance Coder and How to Succeed in This Competitive Field

Normally we focus on "no code", but it doesn't hurt (and in fact it can help) to have a background as a "coder". Today's post is a guest article from Chelsea Lamb, co-founder and head tech writer at Business PopShe provides some valuable advice for anyone interested in becoming a freelance software programmer.

Observers of employment trends have noticed an enormous surge in freelancers. Today, freelancers account for approximately 35% of the world's workforce. At the same time, businesses and customers are becoming increasingly connected with technology. Now is the perfect time to establish yourself as an independent programmer. Mastering No-Code shares some essential information about making the leap into coding for a living.

Why Businesses Need Coders

These days, every company needs programmers to thrive. For instance, having a presence on the web is vital no matter what you're selling. Website building services are okay for personal sites, but they can look amateurish. They also limit you in terms of design choices and the implementation of cutting-edge features.

Further, companies are constantly going paperless and doing more virtually. Therefore, having a debugging expert on speed dial has become particularly valuable. If you have the skills to go further, you might be the person that gets hired to implement companywide upgrades.

How to Become a Coder

The first step toward becoming a successful coderpreneur is learning multiple programming languages. Seek out coding schools where you can learn the ones that are the most in-demand. If you lack experience coding professionally, start by contributing to open source projects. Stay current with everything new in coding; read newsletters, join coder forums, and subscribe to the biggest tech-oriented publications.

How to Market Yourself as a Coder

As with any other business, you need to sell your services. Start with creating an online presence that breaks down your skills and shines a spotlight on your achievements. Don't forget to include a prominent, easy way for browsers to email you. Remember that your site needs to appeal to a wide array of customers, so stay away from jargon. Explain every industry term you do use so a general audience can understand your message.

Advertise your abilities on social media by creating highly shareable posts. Keep in mind that video content has become increasingly popular. Purchasing banner ads is another excellent idea. Never forget about the importance of search engine optimization. 

Follow up with every satisfied customer and request referrals. This technique offers one of the most effective ways of maintaining a steady coding business. Lay off high-pressure techniques and incentivize customers to send people your way by extending a future discount. Remind clients of your availability by leaving business cards or hanging flyers on corporate bulletin boards. Drop off extras for people to distribute with friends and family who might need your high-tech services.

How To Work With Clients as a Coder

Finding success as a coder is about more than excelling as a programmer. You also have to charge the right fee. Decide on your rates before meeting with potential clients. Compare yourself with other coders around the world to figure out how much you should be billing.

How you engage with customers has a massive impact. Take the time to improve your communication skills. Avoid talking in ways that non-coders can't understand. Learning to anticipate client needs is also incredibly important. This skill alone vastly increases how much people want to hire you.

Becoming a freelance coder can be personally satisfying as well as lucrative. Gaining a foothold in this field, however, requires the right approach. Map out a plan that preemptively squashes any bugs you're likely to encounter.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Appian is Adding an Important New Feature

Appian acquired process mining start-up Lana Labs recently, in order to add an important new component to their low-code platform. "Process mining" looks at the work people are doing in an organization and tries to find repeatable processes in that work, processes that can be automated to improve efficiency and accuracy. By adding Lana Labs to their system, Appian offers the ability to determine processes that can be automated and provide the low-code tools to create those automations. 

For anyone looking to provide business automation services Appian is now one possible platform that you can use to identify and build those processes in an integrated environment. The pandemic spurred the move to "digital transformation" of business workflows and systems like Appian's offer an inexpensive and efficient way to help businesses join that movement.

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Ultimate No-Code Platform

Recently I wrote a post about OpenAI's "Codex", which translates natural English language into ready-to-use program code in any number of different programming languages. Codex is currently in beta release and is still in its infant stages, but eventually OpenAI hopes that it can be used to interact with existing program code simply by issuing spoken instructions. That would open up a lot of possibilities - including one that caught my attention over the weekend.

There are still millions of lines of COBOL code out there in the business world, running thousands of major software systems. Converting all those programs to a more modern platform would be a huge task. However, I came across a video this past Saturday about using Codex to automatically translate between Python and COBOL ("Codex translates COBOL to Python", by Mark Ryan, Oct. 3, 2021, As somebody who has done considerable programming in COBOL over the years, I was really interested in whether Codex could manage to actually translate COBOL code into Python program code (and vice versa).

To test the ability to convert back and forth between the two languages, Mark went to the Codex "playground", entered a very basic "hello world" program in Python and had Codex generate the equivalent code in COBOL. Running Codex's generated code in OpenCOBOL's IDE showed that Codex can indeed handle very simple COBOL programs. However, Codex failed to convert a slightly more complex Python program into valid COBOL code - but it did manage to successfully convert the COBOL version of that program into a valid Python program.

That's a really intriguing result, considering the level of interest in translating a lot of COBOL legacy code into Python or some other language that's in common use today. It's probably still a way off into the future, but Codex could eventually turn out to be the answer to modernizing a lot of those COBOL programs that are still running some of our most important business systems.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Making Money with No-Code

 For most of us the question comes up at some point: how can I make some money working with no-code? The answer is there are quite a few ways to monetize your interest in no-code - some with more earnings potential than others, but they can all bring in some extra dollars. Here's a short list of possibilities:

  • Create a business-oriented web app and market it to local businesses.
  • Create a mobile app focused on social networking and market it to local organizations.
  • Create a website for a local business.
  • Create an online course on websites like Udemy, Udacity, or Skillshare.
  • Offer your services as a tutor for others trying to learn how to use a no-code platform.
  • Create a YouTube channel to discuss all things no-code.
  • Start a blog about no-code.
  • Offer to provide guest posts about no-code programming on other people's blogs.
  • Write an e-book about visual programming and no-code platforms.
  • Volunteer to help a non-profit develop a no-code app or website to build your portfolio and attract paid jobs.
  • Provide assistance to other developers on how to make an app that they can market successfully (including App Store Optimization tips for mobile apps).
  • Create an account on Fiverr and market your services, explaining how you as a no-code specialist can create an app much faster and cheaper than a traditional programmer.
  • Offer to help local businesses automate their business processes to cut down on duplication of effort and reduce errors.