What is a Data App?

Peter Solymos
Peter Solymos
What is a Data App?

Data apps are modern web applications that simplify data-intensive operations and provide value to users by answering very specific questions.

This website is about hosting data apps. But what is a data app and why do you need hosting for it? Data apps are modern web applications that have some features that differentiate these apps from traditional websites. These apps are used by the end-user for a specific task.

The primary goal of data apps is to simplify data-intensive operations. For non-technical users, this means simplifying a sophisticated/complex task. For technical users, it offers an intuitive understanding of complex relationships through interactive visualization, or it can help in institutionalizing these workflows.

The steps involved in simplifying data-intensive operations resemble more traditional workflows used by analysts through the command line:

  1. Data import (files, databases)
  2. Data transformation (extract–transform–load; ETL)
  3. Summarizing the data (descriptive statistics)
  4. Visualization and exploratory data analysis (EDA)
  5. Repeat these steps for different subsets/slices of the data (interactive, reactive)
  6. Save or export results & store application state (files, databases)

Because these apps allow users to interact with the data, these apps share some similarities with desktop software (think Excel), but unlike desktop applications, data apps are accessed through the browser. There is also a distinction between our definition of data apps and general-purpose analytics tools, like PowerBI, Tableau, etc. – see a really long list here. These tools are excellent and versatile but require significant investment (licensing fees, hiring and training staff) before delivering value. Such tools are primarily used for exploratory purposes.

Data apps are focused on answering very specific questions and require only a moderate upfront investment. Dashboards are an example where you need to have an idea of useful metrics to report on for the dashboard to be useful for decision making. In this sense, data apps have a well-defined scope and provide value that can lead to agility, cost reduction, and better precision. Such apps are exploratory and explanatory at the same time.

After the resources spent on app development, maintenance costs will be determined by what kind of setup and hosting is required to deliver value for the users of the app. The user experience also largely depends on the performance of the servers the apps are running on, because most of the computations happen at the server-side – i.e. on a remote computer or in the cloud.

The client's machine specifications are less important. Data apps are expected to run on desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones. This is good news for app developers because data apps can be written in many different programming languages and still can result in a comparable user experience. One might prefer Python or R, others might use JavaScript. The end result will be very similar: a data app running in the browser.

Data apps simplify data-intensive operations by answering very specific questions. Data apps can result in better decisions in less time. How you host your data apps matters because it relates directly to the user experience while also contributing to your operating expenses. The goal of this website is to help you make smart choices and teach you the skills needed to host your own data apps.

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