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Help! I Want to Build a Mobile App.

We see it with both startups and established companies: They want to build a mobile application. They have a vision, but need help with the details. Is it even feasible? How much will it cost? What's involved? 

First, let’s assume you've done the necessary up-front work. You've identified:

  • Your audience
  • Whether it is solving a problem
  • Your competition
  • Your return on investment

If you've hit these questions, you've at least addressed the basics of whether or not the app has potential. In essence, whether you're a startup or this is a value added to your organization, you should create a mini business plan for your app -- especially if it is intended to be a revenue-generator.

 

OK, now on to the meaty stuff:

 

1. Have you created a Vision Document?

This is critical. This is the floorplan. This is what creates the final deliverable and ultimately determines cost, timeline, phases and expectations. Without it, you're flying entirely blind. Worse, you're flying blind and don't even know how much fuel you’ve got!

Your vision doc needs to spell out in detail:

  • Specific functionality (I want it to do this, and then this…)
  • A walk-through of the app. Step-by-step, screen by screen. (If I click this, then it does this…)

Also, don't forget the things you need that are outside the app (reports, billing integration, etc.)


2. Have you thought through the business logic needed in the app?

Forms and front-end can be simple. It's the back-end logic where things get complex and time-consuming. An example of business logic might be:

  • Does every user have the same rights and functionality, or are there special features available based on user, or their group, etc?
  • Are there workflow requirements? For example, one user creates something, but another has to approve it before moving it along the process.
  • Does the user have multiple paths s/he can take during a process (whatever that process is)? How are those paths decided? Automatically? User choice? Based on some kind of data it's checking?

Remember, if some combination of business logic only happens once, it still needs to be planned for in programming. Run scenarios to catch it all.

 

3. What are the minimum features needed to roll out the app?

Does the app need everything completed in order to roll out, or can it be done in phases? What are the minimum Phase 1 requirements? Rolling out the app in phases can save cost and implementation time.


4. Do you have a guinea pig? 

One important way to save cost is to first create a wireframe mockup (with clickable buttons, etc.) and then run/beta test by your guinea pigs. What did they like? What would they change? What's not needed? It's amazing how many times the one feature you like (which might take up 60% of development time and cost) ends up being something your users can take or leave. Finding this out early can be a huge cost-saver.


 

FYI: Everything we just talked about? We can absolutely help you with that. Find out more at www.i2integration.com. 



 

Your CMS: Beware of ‘good enough’
When it comes to content management systems, there are essentially three levels, and for ease of use we’ll just use the terms basic, medium and high functionality. 

The basic functionality sites are the cloud-based solutions, such as Weebly and Wix. These are fine for startups and what we would call ‘brochure-ware’ sites. They are static for the most part, and provide basic information that doesn’t change often. There’s also no protected content and no database integration. These are great if you need to knock out a website in a hurry, such as for an upcoming event or a sister site that will only be up temporarily. They can cost very little or nothing, and you can use the templates provided and have a nice looking little site.

Mid-level would be something such as a WordPress site. This has additional functionality, lots of plug-ins for added features such as forms and calendars, event management and thousands of templates with nice looking designs. WordPress is easy to use and the administrator tools are simple. Where it is a problem is when you want to do anything advanced. Customization can be difficult, security is very much an issue and it doesn’t have built-in security architecture. So if you have client-only or member-only content, WordPress isn’t ideal for that. And though there are tons of add-ons you can download, the add-on community tends to be comprised more of individuals than companies, so you don’t get the support or followup you’d get from an actual company. If Joe Smith decides he no longer wants to sell, give away or update his add-on, you’re stuck.

High functionality CMS are Drupal, DNN and Umbraco, used frequently by associations. These are open source systems that call for advanced features. The security architecture is more advanced. These systems are ideal when you want to do heavy customization such as single sign-on or custom integration between the website and another system in your organization. And there are tons of available add-on modules. These CMS add-ons are developed more by companies, so from our experience the level of support is more professional and the updating more frequent. They also tend to be more stable and more secure. 

Many organizations that are balancing need with budget will choose a mid-level system, not aware that those may not offer the features they want and the security they need, or that they will outgrow its functional capabilities. The tendency is to underestimate what is needed, to say ‘It looks easy to use, and this seems good enough for what we want it to do.’ Bottom line: Your CMS is not the place to cut costs or to not plan for the future. 

If and when you need help, give us a holler. At i2Integration, we live and breathe in the world of CMS.

 

Do you need a tech advocate? The 50k question
Sooner or later your organization will be looking to implement some type of new system, whether that’s a Content Management System, a Client Relationship Management System, an email marketing system, Document Management System or the like. There are so many factors when choosing one over the others, and the choices are seemingly endless, especially with cloud-based varieties. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Today, with a credit card and two minutes, you could install a whole new system for your organization. But is it the right system? Is it going to integrate with your other systems? Is it scalable, so it grows as your organization grows? Can you modify it to make it your own? 

Before making the decision, even before you put out that RFP, it makes all kinds of sense to get the advice of a technology advocate. Just as a healthcare advocate guides you through the maze of choices to find the best medical solution, a tech advocate who has no skin in the game, who gets no reward for recommending one software system over the others but will look at your needs objectively and find the right solution for you. A tech advocate comes in with a toolbelt, not a hammer.

Recently, we determined that a national association looking to implement a particular CMS would outgrow the website the day it went live because that CMS didn’t have the functionality the association needed to tie the website to their member management system. This association was very close to committing 50k to a system that would not have worked for what they wanted right out of the gate. Our team at i2Integration recommended a different CMS, one that gave them more flexibility with the features they needed and the foundation for growth -- for the same cost as the one they had first selected.

There’s obviously a cost associated with engaging with a tech advocate, but false starts or adopting a system that ends up being wrong for your organization is going to end up costing you ten-fold.

 


 

Review: DMX document management for DNN
The Document Exchange (DMX) module is an add-on module that can be purchased and installed for those already using the DNN content management system for their internet or intranet websites, or for those who are looking for a full-featured document management solution.

We recently spent several months working with and customizing the DMX module for The Princeton Review, an international test preparation and college admissions service company with several thousand documents. We’re also using and customizing the DMX module for a national legal association. 

Having put this module through its paces and then some, we think associations and other organizations that are either running DNN or are in the market for a document management system would do well to give this module some serious consideration.

DMX key features:

The DMX document management module gives users the ability to specify who can view, edit, add or approve content, document by document. They also can build complex folder structures and categorize them to suit their document management needs, index the contents so users can easily find them and allow users to edit documents online while locking the file to others. It also has drag/drop capability, making file uploading and management much quicker.

DMX handles security very well by changing files to resource files that can’t be opened by going to any direct link on the website. Rather, the module has to decode the file in order to open it. Documents and document categories can be assigned various security roles for administration workflow.

In our opinion, the best part of the DMX module is its Lucene Search Indexer functionality, which allows your users to search content within documents (including PDFs!), and provide easy sorting and grouping of documents into categories with customizable attributes you can assign. 

Shortfalls of the DMX module: 

With the current released version, users cannot search documents based on a date range. The module’s creator posted online quite some time ago that this functionality would be added, but it hasn’t happened yet. 

Verdict:

There’s that famous line… “You had me at hello.” Well, the DMX module had us at the ability to search PDF documents, and do it well. That feature alone makes the DMX module a winner. The module is solid and well-built for large-scale document management. True, it can be tricky to customize, and the lack of a date range search is weird. But the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Link to DMX module:
http://store.dnnsoftware.com/home/product-details/document-exchange-61

Module license cost: $249

 

 


 

Your Jobs Page: Is It a Wallflower Or a Social Butterfly?
Are you using your website to display job openings? If so, there are some important elements to consider in addition to the job description. How are candidates learning when openings become available? Why not use your site to not only list job openings but to recruit staff? Here are some tips:

Register for notification. Rather than passively posting the information about the job and waiting for resumes to flood your in-box, allow visitors to register and subscribe, so when a relevant position does open up, they will be automatically notified. There are Content Management Systems that have tools that do just that, that function as full-featured job-management tools. And it’s a lot less expensive to do it that way than to custom-build that functionality.

Is your jobs page mobile responsive? With a younger audience especially this is not only important, it’s essential. Also, is your jobs page tied to social media? Are your postings also going out to outlets such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter? i2 can help set your site up to make those links automatically, ultimately making your company more attractive to candidates. 

Are you telling the story of your company’s culture, right down to the benefits of living and working in your area? Placemaking is critical these days. Recent studies have shown that location is far more important with the younger generation. For example, are there bike trails nearby? What restaurants, nightlife, cultural attractions and school districts does your area have to offer? You would be wise to include that, and to include it on your jobs page or somewhere that’s easy to find. Doing this also helps your organization’s web search ranking when you link to those features. 

 


 

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