by Carol Vercellino, CEO of Oak City Labs


A product vision conveys the purpose of a product and what problem it will solve. A strong vision motivates and inspires developers, but a weak vision can result in misfires and multiple rounds of revisions. Simply put, the clearer the vision, the more efficiently developers can create software that hits the target.

 

In this article (and video) we’ll share best practices for effectively sharing your vision with a developer.




What is a product vision?

To start, you have to think about what are the key components of a product vision. They’re very much like what a value proposition would have – what problem are you trying to solve, who is it for, what’s the unique value proposition? What’s unique about this idea? What’s the market size, what do you see the product becoming in the future. It’s almost like a mini pitch stack that you would pitch to VCs. This really helps the developer not only understand what needs to be built but also who it’s being built for and why it’s so important for the market.

 

Making the pitch

So how do you pitch such a big, theoretical idea so that a developer can then transfer that into actions. Oftentimes when we work with clients we like to take the really big picture idea and start to break it down. So we’ll break it down into buckets, or larger ideas, and then we’ll break that down into smaller features. And then from there, the technical team can break it down even further into what we call stories, or technical items. That really just becomes the basic list of work that needs to be done or estimated so you understand how much it might cost.

 

What are common mistakes that clients make when sharing that vision? 

The most common mistakes that people make are not doing enough market research or not solving a problem that people will pay for. It’s rarely a technical challenge. I get asked a lot about whether something is technically feasible. Most things are, given enough time and money. But almost always, the mistake is on the market side. So we really try to dig into [understanding] what problem is someone solving and how much market research has been completed. As developers, we like to build products that will be used. So we often ask questions about the business model, market and strategy. That not only inspires us but it helps us understand what the product will become or what it might look like in the future. 

 

So developers really want to create technology that solves problems and exceeds expectations. The first step in that process is understanding the vision behind the product. A productive conversation about vision is absolutely essential.

 

I’m Carol Vercellino, co-founder of Oak City Labs. Thanks for watching, and make sure you subscribe to our channel to catch more of our tech tip videos.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at a STEM in the Park + NetApp event to bring about 100 middle school girls to view CODEGIRL. Both organizations are doing amazing work introducing young ladies to the STEM fields. What struck me most was the volunteerism, camaraderie and eagerness to learn among the kids. It also reminded me that there is so much opportunity out there, we just need to have our eyes open and teach our children the same. Today is a little different than our normal tech posts, but everyone needs a little inspiration and motivation now and then. Zig Ziglar said:

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Russell Conwell, the founder of Temple University, once gave a well known speech titled Acres of Diamonds. The supposedly true story is about an African farmer named Ali Hafed who heard stories of fortune by other farmers. These farmers discovered diamonds on their land and became rich beyond their wildest imagination. Ali Hafed became discontented with his own life and desperately desired the same fortune. He eventually sold his farm and left his family to begin a quest for land that would lead him to riches. He searched through many lands far and wide. Eventually as an old man he became depressed and despondent. He threw himself into a great tidal wave to his death, never to be seen again.

The successor of his land, another farmer, one day strolled along a creek that ran through the property. He noticed a blue flash from the creek bed, knelt down and sifted through the water until he pulled a crystal object from the mud of the creek. He wiped it off, took it home and left it on his mantel above the fireplace, where he quickly forgot about it.

Several weeks later, a visitor stopped by the farmer and noticing the crystal on the mantle picked it up. Instantly he became excited, he was holding a diamond in his hand. The farmer protested at first and the visitor reassured him that it was indeed a diamond. That farm eventually became one of the largest diamond-mines in the world. Had Ali Hafed simply known how to identify and look for diamonds, he would have had the fortune he so desperately wanted.

We’re all standing among our own acres of diamonds. We need the skills and ability to recognize what a diamond looks like in its rough state. A close friend of mine likes to say “challenges beget opportunities”. Or rather, we need to see the challenges around us as diamonds ready to be cut and polished.

It’s easy to look at our community and see the shortcomings, lack of access to capital, users that won’t download a brand new app or timing that just isn’t right. It’s more difficult to look for diamonds in their rough state, recognize them as diamonds and turn them into something beautiful. Stephen Covey says it best:

“Look at the word responsibility—“response-ability”—the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.”

I believe we’re in an incredible time period to build companies, to solve problems with data and technology and to make things better. Never before has it been cheaper to build out infrastructure, access people through networking events and pull people together in a community. Our most fun projects have been led by business owners and founders that see a problem to tackle and have a singular mindset to take responsibility and do something about it. They all share a common trait – they have their eyes open to opportunities right in their own backyard.

If you’ve found your diamond, your challenge, your problem to solve – we’ll be here for you when you’re ready.

It’s just about that time of year again! Yes, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, aka March Madness, is upon us. The team that goes the furthest in the tournament usually has a stellar starting lineup of players that work together to win game after game – and eventually that coveted championship trophy. This is not unlike the team required to bring your mobile app idea to life. Today we’re breaking down the key players involved with creating a mobile app.

Your starting lineup:

Project Manager

If those involved in developing your mobile app project were an actual basketball team, the project manager would be the point guard. He or she has to have a clear vision of the project at all times and be focused on the big picture goals, while at the same time being intimately familiar with the smaller details of the project. A liaison between the internal development team and the client, the project manager toes the line between all parties to make sure the project stays on time, on budget and within scope.

Key strengths: organization, client communication, detail-oriented

Strategist

Continuing with our team comparisons, next we have the strategist who could be fairly compared to the shooting guard. The strategist is the visionary of the project and can sometimes be the same person as the project manager. If the project manager is more logistically focused though, the strategist is strategically focused. He or she is responsible for ensuring that the client’s goals are met through the decisions made during the wireframing, design and development portions of the project. This person must be good at balancing the business needs of the client with the technical considerations of the development team.

Key strengths: strong development background knowledge, business/marketing strategy knowledge, decision-making skills

Designer/UX

Designers or UX specialists often determine the difference between a good app and a great app. A pillar of the development team, the designer is similar to the power forward on a basketball team. He or she creates wireframes and/or visual designs, as well as decides on the screenflow and user interface (UI). The designer often has a basic technical understanding and works well with the team’s developers to ensure the final product is just as visually appealing as it is technically functional.

Key strengths: creative, deep understanding of UX/UI, basic technical background knowledge

Software Engineers

On a basketball team, the small forward is a versatile player. Adept at handling the ball inside and outside, the small forward excels at offense and defense. Such is the software engineer on a mobile app development team. This role is responsible for bringing together the vision of the strategist, the creative direction from the designer and the technical requirements of the client into a working, functional app. Engineers develop the backend or server side portion of the app, and then the iOS and Android products. They fix bugs given to them following quality assurance (read more on that below) and deploy the app to the Google Play Store or Apple App Store when it’s time to launch.

Key strengths: technically minded, problem solvers, strong technical understanding

Quality Assurance

Just as the center spends the majority of his or her time close to the basket, the quality assurance position is also narrowly focused on doing one job really well. His or her goal is to test, test, test and then test some more. The quality assurance person finds bugs, checks for security holes, confirms the use cases are met, scrolls, taps, and swipes to his or her heart’s content. In short: he or she tries to break the app. The goal is to ensure the product is ready to ship to the client for testing and approval during the beta and release stages of the project.

Key strengths: detail-oriented, problem solvers, able to provide constructive criticism

So there you have it. Your starting lineup as you take on the task of bringing your mobile app idea to life! Sound like a team you’d like playing for you? We’d love to chat!

Yes, you read that headline correctly. On a blog focused on bringing you the latest tech trends and coaching you through the app development process, we’re pumping the brakes a bit and talking today about reasons why building a mobile app or web app might NOT be a good idea for your business or organization.

You Haven’t Conducted Any Market Research

If you know anything about us, you know that Oak City Labs is a huge proponent of market research. We believe it is the cornerstone of any worthwhile, successful app. If you have yet to complete any market research on your idea, you probably shouldn’t be building your app quite yet! If you don’t know where to start, download our FREE checklist detailing all of the steps.

Your Idea Isn’t Unique

Market research should help, but it’s important to answer the question, “Is this idea unique?” If the answer is yes, keep going! If the answer is no, take pause. Just because someone else has already built an app like the one you’re proposing, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It just means that you should really think hard about how you can add or change functionality to differentiate your mobile app or web app from others. What is your secret sauce or unique value proposition that will make users download your app too?

Your Idea Doesn’t Provide Value to Your Users

If your mobile app is just a replication of your website, you don’t need a mobile app. Yep, you heard me right. Your app should provide value to your users through additional functionality, interactive components, connectivity with IoT devices, notifications, geolocation features, etc. Think through what additional functionalities should be added to your app to set it apart from your website – what additional value can it bring to your users – and build that!

You Don’t See A Lot of Mobile Traffic to Your Website

This one’s tricky, but worth considering. We believe that analytics are a powerful way to make business decisions – the numbers don’t lie! If you have an existing business with a website, have you checked your analytics lately? What percentage of users visit your site with a mobile device compared to a desktop? Maybe there are a lot of tablet visitors? If you have a mobile-friendly website and still don’t see a trend in the analytics toward mobile users, think twice before creating a mobile app. If users won’t visit a mobile website, it’s hard to expect them to download an app.

You Don’t Have the Resources

Building a mobile app or web app is not for the faint of heart. And when you launch the app out into the world, the work has really only just begun. Consider the amount of time and money you have available to bring your mobile app or web app idea to life.

Let’s start with time first: is this a side project that you want to tinker with for a year or so – or are you truly diving in and devoting yourself to the project? There is so much more to building a mobile than writing code; in fact, most times that’s the easy part! To be truly successful, you’ll need to devote a considerable amount of time to the project to handle market research, strategy, marketing, public relations, operations, among other things. Can you or your team devote time for that? And then there’s the other item: money. Building a quality custom mobile app from start to finish is not cheap. Expect to spend around $50-250k+ on the process. Need ideas for funding in the life science, education or agtech space? We have one tip here.

Of course there are plenty of reasons why you SHOULD build a mobile app, and we’d love to talk with you about those too! If you have an idea, but aren’t sure where to start, let us know! We’d be happy to chat with you!

The new year is a great time to focus on new customer features in a mobile or software application, set some goals for user acquisition or put some new processes and systems in place to grow your business. Today, we’re introducing you to some resources that will help you set a plan for user (customer) acquisition, whether it be for a new mobile application or even a service business.

Running is one of my favorite hobbies. Lace up your shoes and run in the wee hours of the morning type running. A headlamp is required because it’s still dark. I’ve developed a habit around it, but sometimes a habit will plateau. The gains eventually taper off and the methods of training used over the last year may not take me to the next level of fitness. The same goes for your product, your team and your company. How do we get over the plateau?

In terms of fitness, I set a goal to beat a certain pace on a specific distance. Then I sign up for a race, and find a training plan (I’m using the free one) that will force me to do workouts to drop my pace and set a new PR (personal record). This year, I’m taking advantage of technology and have programmed my running watch for the actual workouts in the plan. That means I can’t slack off without a very loud warning from my watch. We can do the same thing for products, teams and companies. Internally, at Oak City Labs, we’ve been more strategic about quarterly goals, annual goals and long term vision. We set goals, we’ve written down a plan and it has forced us to make some uncomfortable choices. Ultimately, having that plan written down and doing things that are uncomfortable will help us grow to accomplish our goals.

We can also apply the same simple process to user acquisition and product growth. Much like the sales and revenue targets, your team needs to go through the exercise of setting a goal – whether it’s 100,000 downloads in 6 months or 100 new users in 6 months. Set the goal and work backwards. If I need to have 100,000 in 6 months. How do I get those users? How much will that cost? Where do they come from? How many can I get in January, February, etc

Ryan Gum does an excellent job of giving you a plan, or at least a format to follow and would be a great place to start.

Other resources to dig a little deeper into customer acquisition include:

It’s also important to realize that your plan is going to change depending on your target market or ideal customer. Customer acquisition costs will also differ from customer to customer. Christopher Janz outlines different strategies by type and size of customer. Make sure to read his follow-up post on brontosaurus and whale hunting.

To help you get you moving, here’s a quick checklist to guide your thinking:

  1. Define your ideal user. This should be a detailed description of who they are, where they are, what they buy, what they think and how they buy.
  2. Set a goal(s) for user acquisition. How many ideal users do you need? When do you need them? Is it a realistic number and time frame? And write it down. Print it out and hang it up next to your desk.
  3. Work backwards. Knowing how many you need to acquire, starting asking some tough questions about how you’re going to get them? How much will it cost? If you buy Facebook ads in January, when do you expect those to convert and at what conversion rate? Use the sites linked to in this article to dig into the “how.”
  4. Define your plan. Write the plan down. For example, in January we’ll call 200 people. In February we’ll spend $10,000 on Facebook ads. Make sure to include a reminder with each of your actions to evaluate the performance and make tweaks. Review the plan monthly to make sure you’re on target.
  5. Execute. Just do it, follow your plan. Make adjustments as you go and don’t let analysis paralysis keep you from testing small acquisition campaigns.

I hope this helps get you started on putting a process around your customer acquisition strategies.  If you happened to really like this article and want to read more about this or another topic please contact us! We’d love to hear your feedback!

At Oak City Labs we love that we have the privilege of working with clients at all different stages of business. From the quintessential start-up, to long-established businesses, and those all in between, we have a history of helping folks at any stage.

Regardless of your business size though, it’s often a good strategy to consider developing a Proof of Concept (PoC) or Minimum Viable Product (MVP), before diving deep into a full-fledged app. A PoC illustrates the ability to solve a core problem, but often is not ready for users and may not be feature complete in terms of usability. An MVP is similar in that it is a bare-bones version of your app, however, it is feature complete in terms that it can be used to accomplish a certain task or tasks. Additionally, the MVP’s goal is often to appease external users – be that outside investors, early adopters, etc.

Today, I’m sharing a few of the benefits of investing in an MVP or PoC for your next mobile app or web app.

Mitigating Risk

PoCs or MVPs are an excellent way to mitigate the risk involved with creating a new app. The goal? Maximize value, minimize costs.

Depending on your organization’s business practices, introducing a new app to the masses can be a scary thing. What if it doesn’t integrate well with your current operations? What if your team has a hard time implementing it? Before investing your entire budget into a full-fledged app, consider creating a smaller PoC and rolling it out to a subset of your users. In doing so, you can perform acceptability testing or secure buy-in from key stakeholders. By gaining feedback from them at this stage of the game, you can adjust and iterate on your idea before rolling it out to a broader audience.

The same goes for an MVP. Oftentimes, even if you do your due diligence and perform market validation for your app idea, building out a full-scale app can be a costly investment that still doesn’t hit the mark. Consider the value of an MVP to bring the app’s most basic functions to life. Then gauge your users’ interests, likes, pain points, etc. before moving on to additional features.

Time and Money

Time is money. Smaller projects like MVPs and PoCs mean a quicker turnaround. And while we always implement an agile process for all of our projects, these smaller projects will (obviously) get to you quicker than full-scale build-outs. With a working product in-hand, you’ll be able to move on to your next business goal faster – be that testing the market or acceptability testing with your internal users.

Smaller scale projects also lend themselves to smaller-scale budgets. By building out out an MVP or PoC, you’ll spend only a fraction of your total budget, then spread out remaining costs over time as you iterate on the concept.

Influence Funding

Finally, MVPs and PoCs are a great option to build out in an effort to influence funding. With a working demo in hand, you’ll be able to sing the praises of your app to key decision makers that hold the company purse strings. If you’ve struggled to explain the concept of your app idea to them or are looking for a way to gain critical buy-in, consider jockeying for a smaller budget to be used to develop a PoC. Alternately, an MVP is an excellent option for sharing with potential investors and partners that may be interested in funneling capital into your business as you build out a full-scale product.


What are you waiting for?

So where are you in the process? Could you consider building an MVP or PoC for your next app idea? If so, let us know! We’d be happy to help.

 

The Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBDTC) recently held a symposium on the Small Business and Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs through the government. For new and established businesses, these programs can be excellent sources of grants to fund research and innovation. Today, I’m going to highlight key points from the symposium that are helpful when considering your different funding sources for a mobile or software application project.

First, if you’re unfamiliar with the SBDTC, they are a fantastic resource for North Carolina based companies that need solid business advisors, whether just starting out or working through more complicated matters such as international trade and exports. I highly recommend learning more and applying to chat with an advisor.

Don’t judge an agency by its name

Now let’s dig into the SBIR and STTR programs. The main difference between the two is that SBIR grants typically do not require collaboration with a research institution, while STTR grants do. In the Triangle area that could be NC State University, Duke University or the University of North Carolina. For the purpose of this article, and the content at the symposium, I’m going to focus on SBIRs. There are several different agencies that participate in the program outlined on the SBIR website. One key point made at the symposium is that we shouldn’t judge an agency by its name. Often times your project might line up perfectly with the Department of Energy (DoE) but could also qualify for support from the Department of Defense (DoD) or the National Science Foundation (NSF). With the DoD, there are 13 components, meaning the Army, Navy, etc. all have different topics. The important part is to adapt your project submission to the fit the agency need.

Don’t miss the deadline!

Each agency operates on different grants cycles and with different topics of interest for each cycle. For example, the DoD just released the latest round of topics ready for review and submission. While the USDA solicitation period for Phase I has already happened for this year, Phase II is open and available until March 2, 2018. Again, it’s very important to learn and understand how the agency operates so you don’t miss key dates and requirements.

Read all the things

Get to know the agency, their mission and goal for each topic. Read all the way through the solicitation, topic AND any possible submission guides. For example, the USDA has the SBIR solicitation on their website with specifics and guidelines in the RFA but there is also an application guide that lists all of the necessary application requirements. Each agency is different and may have different guides, so break out your search Google skills and scour the sites to learn more. A Google search for SBIR samples will also help guide your submission. Be sure to include the agency name when you search in order to find the most relevant examples.

Register on all the sites

Your first step should be to register on sam.gov. It’s required and it takes time to get approved. From there you’ll need to register on grants.gov, but sam.gov is the very first one you need to get going. Do not wait until right before the deadline or you won’t have time to be approved. We recently went through the SBIR process and registering ahead of time and familiarizing ourselves with the required documents for submission helped us meet the deadline. We also started the application well before we had anything to submit. By doing so, we learned everything needed by way of trial and error. Do not skip this step and make this your very first one.

Other resources

The SBIR.gov site is also a good place to search for previously awarded SBIRs and STTRs. This will give you an idea of awards, topics and types of companies that have received funding in the past. The actual search function on the site isn’t the best and may take some trial and error to get relevant results.

For NC Business, there is a program called One NC Small Business from the NC Department of Congress. It provides a match on SBIR/STTR awards but is currently not funded. Consider contacting your legislature to have this program supported in the future. There are also great stats on the site about awardees and previous funding.

Did I mention the SBDTC? They are very focused on helping NC companies succeed and are particularly good and providing advice on the SBIR/STTR programs. There are also resources within local universities, consider reaching out to them or finding companies that rely on SBIR/STTR programs for continued innovation.

The SBIR/STTR programs can be arduous, however, the process will force you to think through a business plan, commercialization and market research. The worst that can happen is you don’t receive the grant but you can always try again next year!

We recently took part of our team to All Things Open in downtown Raleigh. It’s a great, affordable conference for developers and super inexpensive if you live in the Raleigh area. There were over 3,200 attendees, and the crowd has grown significantly since the first year. And so has female participation and speakers. Kudos to the crew that runs ATO for their efforts on diversity. If you weren’t able to attend, here are musings from my viewpoint:

Conference Takeaways

  1. As mentioned, the conference has grown significantly, from 750 in 2013 to over 3,000 in 2017. I’d love to see the geography stats for attendees to see how many are local to the Raleigh area versus out of state.
  2. There’s a little something for everyone. The tracks range from DevOps to UX/UI and Business. Check out the schedule and consider paying for only 1 of 2 days if you’re still unsure about both days.
  3. IMHO, the best sessions hit the high-level bits but then also gave practical advice and tactical actions for implementation. Craig Keirsten on Postgres Performance for Humans was one of my top 3 favorites. For those on MySQL, Valerie is a database rock star and covered a high-level approach to database upgrade testing. If you’ve never upgraded a production database, you haven’t lived life on the edge. You should follow her for all things MySQL.
  4. Kubernetes is the hotness this year. We heard it so many times it left one of our teammates rocking back and forth muttering it to himself over and over.
  5. It’s an incredible opportunity to learn at a high-level about other technologies that you don’t use day in and day out. For example, we’re dedicated to native app development for all of our mobile projects, but it gave us the opportunity to check out React Native and other frameworks. It didn’t change our minds, read more here about what we think about cross-platform.
  6. Machine learning interest continues to grow, and there was a dedicated track to it, however, most content was high level. The best teachings on machine learning came from a 15 minute conversation with Dave Anderson at Oracle (aka NetSuite aka Bronto). He has incredible hands-on experience with Spark at scale. Hopefully, he’ll submit a talk for next year. Dave echoed the teachings of another local machine learning expert John Haws: keep it simple. Don’t use things like Spark until you really need it. Most things can be handled with basic algorithms. Just guessing, but I imagine the same goes for Kubernetes.

And finally, ATO is like a mini-reunion where I was able to see some of the best developers and engineers I’ve worked with over the course of my career. It was also a refreshing reminder of how blessed I’ve been to work with those, like Dave, that mentored, taught and supported me as a young systems engineer to where I am today. We plan to attend again next year and hope to see you there.

As of 2016, about 28% of the internet was running on websites using WordPress (source). That’s a lot of websites! While there are countless ways to make a WordPress site unique, page builders have emerged as an up-and-coming force in the WordPress scene. Many page builders promise the ability to design a website without needing any code at all (hint: big promises are difficult to keep). Most page builders are drag-and-drop tools built on top of WordPress that allow users to place elements on pages. In this post, I will break down page builders into categories and cover their ups, downs, ins, outs, and everything in between to allow you to decide if using one is the right move for you.

Affordability

At the end of the day, the most common question you’ll get asked when building a website for a client, your company or yourself is “how much will this cost?” That leaves you with essentially four options:

  1. Learn code and design skills and build it all yourself (Free)
  2. Hiring a developer to custom-build the site for you ($$$$$)
  3. Find a pre-built WordPress theme (Free/Paid)
  4. Use a WordPress page builder (Free/Paid)

Bottomline, unless you’re paying for custom development, WordPress is going to be cost-effective. Most themes and page builders have a relatively small, one-time costs, and those that don’t use affordable annual rates.

When deciding between these options, remember that most websites change their design every 2-3 years. Having a page builder allows you to change the design without paying for any other content, whereas with a premade theme, you may have to purchase another to match your new design.

Customization

Elements are the custom pieces of the website like social media icons, newsletter signup forms, and images. Most page builders have every kind of element you could possibly need on your website. Additionally, page builders come with an immense collection of options for you to customize. Usually, this includes most typical CSS options as well as some custom sizing and animation options.

Customization is where page builders both shine and suffer; while a number of options provided is often enough, sometimes it simply isn’t. In the cases where more customization is required, you may need to add custom CSS or even a child theme to arrive at the intended style/behavior. Depending on your skill level, this may be out of your wheelhouse and will require you to look for external help even though you may have tried to avoid it by using a page builder in the first place.

So, should I use one or not?

As usual, it depends. Here are some quick descriptions of each type of development to determine whether doing it yourself, finding a pre-made theme or building the site using a page builder is the best option for you.

DIY

The monetary and time cost of doing it all yourself depends entirely on your background. If you’re a web designer and developer by trade, maybe this option suits you best. You’re only limited by the speed at which you can develop and design all that you need. This route gives you the utmost customization, as you can determine from the ground-up every piece of the site. In order to create your own WordPress theme, you need at least a rudimentary knowledge of PHP, CSS, HTML, and JS.

Pre-Built Theme

Using a premade WordPress theme is incredibly common practice. Why design your own when you can find a theme that does everything you want and looks great? If you don’t have a design in mind, or you find a theme that fills all your needs, purchasing a theme someone else made is often the most cost and time-effective option. There are thousands of themes already made out there. This list only scratches the surface. Some themes are free, some themes are paid. As you would expect, you get what you pay for with free themes.

Page Builder

Let’s say you have an idea for a website but you can’t find an existing theme that meets your requirements. Or, maybe you have to build a website with a specific design, but don’t have the coding know-how to complete that task. Maybe you have the ability to custom build a website, but you want your less development-savvy team members to also be able to customize the look and feel of the site. In all three of these cases, using a page builder may be the best option for you. The combination of customization, low cost and saved time makes page builders an appealing and expanding, option for creating websites.

Some things to keep in mind

WordPress is WordPress. What you get out of the box is what WordPress is intrinsically built to do. Anything beyond the base feature set puts you at risk of falling victim to the various idiosyncrasies that come with going beyond intended behavior. The following are some issues people talk about when discussing page builders:

The “Lock In” Effect

WordPress evangelist Chris Lema wrote a blog post titled “If you use the Divi theme with WordPress, it better be forever.” Divi is a popular page builder (and also a theme that comes with the page builder). Divi makes use of a WordPress feature called shortcodes that, while useful in customizing a site, are specific to that theme. If you ever want to move away from that theme, those shortcodes will no longer work. While his blog post is a bit dramatic and not entirely true (there are ways to get around the shortcode issue), it is a good read for getting a grasp on one of the major pitfalls of using a page builder.

Speed

If you’re an experienced WordPress user, you understand this well. While speedy at first, every plugin and theme you add to your WordPress site adds up, and if you’re not careful, can have drastic negative effects on the load time of the website.

Plugin Conflicts

Most WordPress plugins are built in conjunction with the base, unmodified version of WordPress. By using a theme or a page builder, you risk incompatibility with certain plugins. For instance, maybe your blog page doesn’t conform to the design WordPress uses, and an infinite scroll plugin that works for the usual WordPress design wouldn’t work for your blog. Luckily, many themes and page builders come with a set of plugins made by the same developers for use with those programs specifically.

Final Thoughts

When deciding whether to use a page builder or not, remember to keep the following in mind:

SEO

  • What kind of SEO tools does the page builder allow for?
  • Is SEO built-in or will you need a custom plugin?
  • Is the built-in SEO sufficient?

Functionality

  • Are all elements you need available?
  • What kind of plugins are compatible?

Design

  • Are you building according to a design or designing as you go?
  • How much customization will you need from the features the page builder provides?
  • Do you need to add custom HTML? (Remember: if you do, use a child theme)
  • Does the page builder have a frontend or backend view, or both? (This allows you to preview/change how the site looks from the WordPress viewpoint as well as a user viewpoint)

There is no doubt that technology is the way of the future in the healthcare space. From calorie counting and fitness apps, to digital pharmacists and the ever popular EPIC electronic health record (EHR) software (read: MyChart), technology is moving away from analog and swiftly toward digital solutions. According to some figures, there are 165,000 health-related apps in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store and it’s estimated that by the end of 2017, those apps will have been downloaded 1.7 billion times, leading to a predicted $21.5 billion in revenue in 2018.

But moving toward an all-digital landscape of healthcare solutions (now called m-health) presents its own unique challenges – namely patient confidentiality, security and compliance in a day in age where hacking is commonplace and devices (not people) are doling out recommendations and diagnosis all too often.

At Oak City Labs, we work with clients in the healthcare space and know the importance of software compliance. Today, we’re providing an introduction to the two main types of compliance you should be aware of as you begin the process of building a mobile app or web app in the healthcare space.

FDA Compliance

First, is your mobile or web app considered a medical device? Just because your app relates to the health field doesn’t necessarily mean that it is considered a medical device. The FDA provides thorough documentation of what is considered a medical mobile app on their website.

If your app functions as a medical device, an accessory to a medical device or if it intends to diagnose, treat or prevent an ailment, then it will likely be regulated by the FDA. Earlier this year, the FDA announced sweeping changes to how mobile medical devices will be regulated. This article does a great job at outlining the details, but details are still unfolding.

There are three types or tiers of regulation on medical devices (including mobile medical apps) by the FDA: Class I, Class II and Class III. Beginning at the bottom, Class I medical devices are low risk and are considered non-invasive to patients. Class II devices pose a moderate risk to patients and/or are invasive in the short term. Class III devices pose a greater risk to patients and are inherently invasive. Class I and II devices require a 510(k) premarket notification. Class III medical devices must do the same, as well as undergo pre-market approval with the FDA before they see the light of day.  

One thing to keep in mind with the FDA — the review and approval process is incredibly long and drawn out (admittedly something the new regulations announced back in July are trying to address). In fact, when asked if the Apple Watch would make a bigger play in the health space, Tim Cook said he was leary of the Watch becoming a “regulated, health product” due to the long review and lead time required by the FDA and the ways it would hold Apple back from innovation.

HIPAA

If your mobile app collects, stores and transfers any type of personal patient information, read on, because it’s likely that HIPAA compliance is something you should be aware of. Even if your app isn’t considered a medical device, it still may need to follow HIPPA guidelines. For instance, EPIC, the prominent electronic health record (EHR) software, is not considered a medical device (and therefore not regulated by the FDA), but it is subject to HIPPA guidelines.

Introduced in 1996, HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and it covers protected health information (PHI) privacy and security.

The privacy portion sets forth what is considered PHI and therefore needs to be HIPAA compliant. PHI ranges from your name, address and social security, to billing information, biometric identifiers like fingerprints, family names, your tests results or scans and more. If your app stores or transmits any type of PHI, it could be subject to HIPPA compliance.

Under HIPAA, you’re considered either a “covered entity” (healthcare provider, health plan or healthcare clearinghouse) or a “business associate.” Both covered entities and business associates are liable to follow HIPPA and as such, both would be fined in the event of noncompliance. Ignorance is not an accepted excuse and the fines levied are hefty – ranging from $100-$50,000 for just a single violation.  

Now that we know what is covered under HIPAA compliance and who is liable for covering it, let’s talk about security. Security covers three areas: administrative safeguards (have a privacy officer, review policies and procedures, go through training and more), technical safeguards (automatic logoff, authentication, encryption and more) and physical safeguards (facility security, workstation security, access control and validation and more).

It’s important to think through these details from all aspects of your app – push notifications, emails, lock screens and what to do in the event that a device (such as a phone) is lost.

The above details on FDA and HIPAA compliance are just a small glimpse into both worlds. If you are thinking about creating a mobile medical app or entering the digital health space, be sure to thoroughly research compliance requirements before you begin building out your product. Not sure where to start? Oak City Labs would love to help! Drop us a note.

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