How to Build an Online Software As a Service Application in Weeks With Little to No Programming

Posted in WordPress on May 14, 2014

These days, with the boom in providing programs online for businesses instead of on the desktop, has led many businesses to obtain such programs to meet their specific organization’s needs. Since these programs require low monthly subscriptions instead of a large down payment usually required for normal computer applications, along with the strong security you can get these days online through SSL, it’s becoming much safer and cheaper for businesses to take the ‘cloud computing’ path in running their business.

A few problems exist though for businesses wanting to use online applications, a big one is that there may not be any online applications out there to meet the specific workflow needs of the business. Businesses will also find it difficult to build such an application as website development does not have its own Microsoft Access or FileMaker to build these, requiring businesses to hire programmers to build these programs for their needs which can be a costly scenario, particularly for small businesses.

Now though there are application builders that are finally advanced enough to use without any programming, or only little for more advanced features. One such application builder I found to be very efficient is Fabrik, which is a free open source builder for one of the world’s most popular Content Management Systems, Joomla. This program lets you choose what fields to put on each screen for the program you want to build, letting you make user accounts, forms, reports, tables, graphs and even calendars for scheduling. The design of the program can be done through Joomla, where you can find thousands of free or paid themes on the net. ProjectPraise is a good quality theme that makes the application look similar to Basecamp, the most popular Project Management application online, with the options to change the theme colours to anything you want.

Here is a quick tutorial on building a module to manage your customers:

1. First, obtain or install the latest version of Joomla onto your host. You may need technical help for this step as it is a bit tricky.

2. Next, download the latest version of Fabrik. This tutorial is based on Fabrik 2.

3. Open up Joomla in the administrator panel by going to your Joomla website and adding /administrator at the end. The username and password is what you set up when installing Joomla. The username is usually admin.

4. At the top toolbar in administrator, go to Extensions and then Install/Uninstall.

5. Press the Browse button, find the Fabrik file you downloaded, and then press Upload File & Install.

6. Go to Components tab on the top toolbar, and then Fabrik, then press on Groups. Here you can set groups that hold fields for input which you can place on forms. For example, we will make Groups to hold personal details of a client, their address and their contact details.

7. Press the New button, and put in the following details:

Name: customer_personal

Title: Personal Details

Columns: 2 (This will split all the customer’s personal fields into 2 columns)

Then press Save.

8. Repeat step 7 twice but put in the name as “customer_address”, title as “Address Details” for the first one and name as “customer_contact”, title as “Contact Details” for the third one and save each of them.

9. Now go to the Elements tab. Here you can make any type of fields for the groups you made before, fields that could be just for input, lists of choices, dates with popup calendars and more types.

10. Press New, we will make an element that holds the customer’s first name. Put in the following details:

Name: firstname

Label: First Name

Group: customer_personal (this field belongs to the Persona Details group we made before)

Element type: field (this makes the element a box you can type inside of)

Go to the Table Settings tab on the right of the screen, and click Yes for Show in table. This will make it so the first name of the customer will be shown in the table we will build soon.

Nothing else needs to be changed. Just press Save.

11. Repeat step 10 but for the following:


Name: lastname

Label: Last Name

Group: customer_personal

Element type: field

Show in table: Yes


Name: lastname

Label: Last Name

Group: customer_personal

Element type: field

Show in table: Yes


Name: company

Label: Company Name

Group: customer_personal

Element type: field

Show in table: Yes


Name: address

Label: Full Address

Group: customer_address

Element type: text area (makes a large box to put in whole address)

Show in table: No


Name: phone

Label: Phone Number

Group: customer_contact

Element type: field

Show in table: Yes


Name: mobile

Label: Mobile Number

Group: customer_contact

Element type: field

Show in table: No


Name: email

Label: Email

Group: customer_contact

Element type: field

Show in table: Yes

12. Go to the Tables tab. Here we will setup a table so all the customers you save in the program will be shown here, where you can click to view and edit each of them, or delete them from the program.

13. Press New. Do the following changes:

label: Customer

Published: Yes (this will allow the form to be displayed on your application)

Advanced Search: Yes (will allow you to search for customers in the table)

Show Add: Yes (you can add new customers by pressing the Add button in the program)

Go to the Data tab on the right, and put in the following information:

Connection: site database

Create new table: Customers (this is where the customers will be taken from the database on the website to be displayed on the table)

Note that since you made a new table called Customers, this will also make a Form called Customer which we will cover in the next step.

Press Save.

14. Go to the Forms tab. Now we will build a form (module) where all the groups and fields we made in the previous steps will be placed, so the user can add or edit customers.

15. Click on Customers in the list. This Form was made when we made the Table above. Place the following details:

label: Customer

Published: Yes

Go to the Groups tab on the right.

Untick “Create a group with the same name as this form”

Choose each of the following from the top large box and press Add to add these groups to the form:




Press Save.

16. Now we will make a tab in your main program so you can see the table of customers, and another tab to add new customers. Go to the Menu tab at the most top toolbar, and press on Main Menu.

17. Press New and click on the Fabrik link. Then click on the Table link. Put in the following information:

Title: Customers

Table: Customers

Press Save.

18. Press New and click on the Fabrik link. Then click on the Form link. Put in the following information:

Title: Add Customer

Form: Customer

Press Save.

You have now built a simple Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application within 1 hour!

I hope you found this tutorial helpful and help you realise that building an online application is not overly complex and time intensive as you may have expected.

By Chris Zaharia

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