Graham Duffill, CEO
So, your membership organisation needs an app. What are the options available?
- Build it in-house
- Outsource the build
- Out-of-the box platform app
- Customised modular app
1. Building an app yourself
If the app is central to your business success it makes sense to build it in-house. It is a capital investment and your business-plan will need to include not only the cost of the build, but also the development team to support, upgrade and maintain it.
But … developers have holidays, get sick and leave their jobs (frequently) – so you need a minimum viable team to even start. Don’t forget that they also tend to specialise in either Android or iOS so you will need at least two developers.
App developers are in very high demand and command premium rates. Assuming you are lucky enough to find and hire the ones you want you will pay from £50,000 to £100,000 each. Add overheads, recruitment, licences, and technical infrastructure and your starter costs are from £200,000 a year.
- Your business cannot live without the app
- You are in total control
- Requires a hefty capital budget year-on-year
- Maintenance and support never go away
- You have to keep a development team for as long as you have the app
2. Outsourcing your app build
It’s hard to find a development house that suits you and if you have never used them before it’s always a gamble.
But you can negotiate a fixed-price contract and are much more likely to get your app for the budget you planned close to a timescale you set. If the app does not meet expectation you have leverage by withholding payment.
Just be aware once they have completed their job and been paid they will want to move on.
An app is like a baby – it cannot be expected to be left to sit quietly in a corner – it misbehaves, screams and needs constant attention. You will need to find someone to support, maintain and upgrade it.
- You can negotiate a fixed cost and time
- You can go to tender and take references
- If they have experience building apps like the one you want you will benefit from their expertise
- You may make several false starts before you find the right outfit
- You will be left with a problem how to maintain your app
- It’s very unlikely the app you commissioned will be the one you want in 1 or 2 years’ time
3. Out-of-the-box platform apps
If you work in a sector where companies have similar business models (like accountancy, law, or HR), it’s likely there will be software houses who have ready built platform solutions offering out-of-the box apps in return for a licence fee.
You can apply some basic branding, add your content and you are good to go.
Your app is live for as long as you pay your licence fee and there is nothing to worry about because the platform owners keep it up-to-date with iOS and Android upgrades.
- Cheap and quick to market
- Ongoing cost are known
- Limited flexibility
- If it is successful you won’t be able to adapt it to meet your needs
4. Custom-built modular apps
Custom-built apps which are built on a framework can provide you with the most flexible and economic solution. The app developer starts with a software framework, like Cordova or Xamarin, which provides the foundation of the app and handles the core functions – think of it like the chassis. He then builds bespoke modules as required by the app’s architecture, which may branch out into native iOS and Android code.
A top of the range Audi may not look like a VW Polo – but they share the same chassis and many components. It’s the design, finish and custom specifications that distinguish them – which makes sense as you focus the time (=money) where it makes a difference.
And because the app will share many of its components with others, as well as the chassis, it makes sense to carry out routine software upgrades across all apps together and offer them to customers on a licensed model with upgrades included.
- Efficient to build as your project starts using all the framework and modules which have been built before
- It focuses the effort – and budget – on what makes your app different
- Can come with a fixed-fee cost to keep the app up to date with iOS and Android software changes
- Purists argue that an app built exclusively for the iOS platform by an iOS specialist developer will be better than one built on a framework. The same goes for an Android build.
- Frameworks are not a way for a lazy or inexperienced developer to create shortcuts. They consume a lot of time at the start – so the benefits only come with scale and experience.
Page Lizard (www.pagelizard.com) creates custom-built modular apps for Membership organisations and supports them on a licensed model. Upgrades and improvements are shared between projects. You don’t just get what you want – you learn what is working for others as well.