Are your SaaS tools distracting from the real work?

Are your SaaS tools distracting from the real work?

Ilan Frank, VP of Product at Airtable, digs into the uncomfortable question: “What could your team be doing instead?”

This is a frustration I hear repeatedly from our largest customers: Imagine you make changes to the product roadmap. These changes aren’t automatically reflected in your marketing team’s calendar or in Sales’ playbook. Campaigns are delayed and customers receive the wrong information. Launch events and messaging compete with (rather than support) your new timeline, and costly alignment meetings are scheduled to return everyone to the same proverbial page.

This scenario forces you and your team to become human routers of static information. You’ve got no choice but to waste time updating data across multiple tools, sharing the latest with cross-functional stakeholders, and copying and pasting the same information again and again. Sure, you might use SaaS to quickly share communications and files, but it still falls to individual workers to pull data out of silos and distribute information across different tools. If sharing data was as simple as sharing a doc, what would that unlock?

Teams—under pressure to perform amid hiring freezes and tightened budgets—are turning to Collaborative Work Management (CWM) vendors or no/low-code tools as potential solutions to saving time and strengthening cross-functional alignment. These solutions exist to lift the team-level burden of operations and, because of this, they’re exploding in popularity and market value.

Recently, Airtable was recognized by analysts in each of these categories. But we believe neither solution truly answers the needs of large organizations. The missing piece in both categories is shared data. Both CWM and low-code tools accelerate workflows within your immediate team, but they fail to connect your work to the rest of the org. Because of this disconnect, complex business data remains trapped in silos. It’s still up to you and your team to route information back and forth—between teams, projects, and conflicting data sources. The result is widespread distraction and slower, weaker decision-making overall.

This failure point is shaping the way we’re building the Airtable Connected Apps Platform. And, in this post, I will dig deeper into the ways traditional CWM and no-code solutions don’t necessarily answer the needs of enterprise teams looking to move quickly, together.

CWM and low-code tools create a veneer of coordination, concealing deep data silos and leading to org-wide distraction.

Without flexibility, CWM tools can compromise your competitive advantage

Is the way you work unique? CWM tools can strip this individuality.

CWM tools are central platforms for optimizing repeated activities. They allow you to manage projects and execute work, but only within prescribed workflows and without a clear approach to sharing data cross-functionally. Forrester, who recognized Airtable as a Strong Performer in CWM, described our platform as a “flexible data model for a diverse set of use cases”. This flexibility is key.

We believe traditional CWM tools force employees into rigid ways of working—locking you into task-based processes, siloing business data into singular workflows, and stripping you of a crucial competitive advantage. Not every element of the workday can be so clearly organized into CWM to-do lists. There are product SKUs, multi-touch campaigns, site locations, and shared calendars—human-scale data that exist outside checklists of tasks and deliverables.

The need to capture this richness is why we’ve seen so many customers move away from traditional CWM vendors. These organizations are seeking a solution that can support a wide variety of use cases, allowing their teams to build products and drive their go-to-market strategies without conforming to predetermined workflows.

No- and low-code tools can leave you spinning in silos

Are you building robots? Are you making software? With low-code, you could be doing anything.

No- and low-code development platforms allow business users to build apps, to create workflows and automations, with minimal or no coding. The nature of low-code platforms means that they’re inherently unopinionated; it’s like saying “programming” will solve your silos and improve team performance. How? It’s all up to you.

I recently shared my perspective on the implementation of low-code at large organizations. Without strong criteria around connecting data, complementing existing systems of record, and adoption and usability, low-code technology can so easily become another distraction. They can crowd the IT backlog if employees struggle with adoption. And they can be customized in such detail that teams are left spinning in silos—working according to the data in front of them, but disconnected from the rest of the org.

At Airtable, we believe in empowering employees to build business apps without code. But we’re giving our users clear paths to ensure this empowerment doesn’t exacerbate silos or pull teams in competing directions.  As analyst firm ISG, who recognized Airtable as a Rising Star in the low-code space, describes: “In a connected app built with Airtable, the data layer is shared across teams, the logic layer can trigger adjacent workflows, and the interface can be customized for any team, all underpinned by the same underlying logic and data.”  

By building apps on shared data, you eliminate the risk that other low-code platforms carry: that you might create a hyper-custom solution, perfectly tailored to your team or use case, but so customized that it fails to link to any other workflow or data across the org.

Building a new category with connected apps

What’s missing from enterprise SaaS? Shared data.

Cory Shrecengost, content producer at Dropbox, originally turned to Airtable to improve production tracking. Quickly, this exploration turned into building a connected app to bridge information between campaigns, the content library, and the content intake process. Now, Cory’s content tracker automatically syncs the same data across multiple workflows, aligning teams like marketing, product, and developer relations to produce better content, together.

Where Cory’s time was once sucked into chasing approvals, responding to requests, and managing campaign expectations (all via different channels), the burden of connecting this data and information now falls to Airtable. What does Cory do instead? He focuses on the work itself.

“In the last three months we’ve seen an increase in blog traffic by 30%, which is huge for us,” Cory said recently. “Stories can help tell our customers exactly what the problem is and how we can help solve it.”

We’ve seen that large organizations are hungry for a solution—one that offers greater flexibility than CWM, and deeper connection than low-code. A connected apps platform answers this need. It allows your teams to work the way they want to work, without sacrificing connection or speed. This balance is possible through automating and operationalizing the “work around the work”.

Going back to our product roadmap scenario, imagine your changes were automatically reflected across Marketing, Sales, the entire org. All teams are able to pivot their strategies in real time, with confidence. There’s no need to double check information or ask questions in multiple places; everyone can spend their time building upon the work itself. And your job? You can free your brain from routing information, and focus on the freshly prioritized roadmap in front of you.

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