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Background

This page is intended to help Emory faculty, researchers, and physicians interested in implementing mobile apps in support of Emory's educational, research, and healthcare missions.

Emory University and Emory Healthcare have developed over twenty-five mobile apps since 2013. The number of apps and their complexity is expected to increase given the popularity of mobile apps and trends in higher education, research, healthcare, and information technology. Emory has implemented key policies, mobile app infrastructure, foundation components, and identified consulting resources to prepare to meet the increasing demand for mobile app development.

Estimating Effort and Cost of Mobile Apps

Mobile apps are more costly to develop, test, and maintain than many think. There are many reasons for this, but the basics are:

  1. Most mobile apps require both a front-end user interface (what you see and interact with) as well as back-end services for logic, storage, and integration with other applications. Few mobile apps turn out to be stand-alone apps. Even basic content apps often require an integration with a content management system to maintain the content efficiently and effectively.
  2. Mobile app platforms are complex constantly evolving, requiring frequent testing and often rework of apps to work on new releases of mobile operating systems and devices.
  3. The mobile app development tools and developer ecosystems are constantly evolving and changing. This means that mobile app developers and deployers really need to stay on top of things.
  4. Often administrative mobile or web features are required that may not be foreseen in the functional design goals.
  5. Security is paramount for apps with a back-end exposed to the internet, and at Emory if the data is subject to compliance policies this may prescribed very specific security measures and audit requirements that must be implemented.

It is not uncommon for a simple mobile app for iOS and Android to cost $50,000 to develop and $20,000 per year to maintain and operate. A complex application can easily range in hundred of thousands to implement and maintain annually. For this reason it is imperative to get meaningful estimates for your project from the beginning. Useful estimates help in preparing budgets for grant proposals or allocating institutional funds for the project.

One of the primary challenges for mobile apps at Emory has been funding. This challenge has three dimensions: funding meaningful estimates to start, funding development and implementation, funding on-going operations and maintenance of the app. The challenge of funding meaningful estimates lies in the fact that under 15% of the projects IT Architecture has helped estimate have been funded by either research grants or institutional resources. So in order to perform initial analysis and effort estimation to adequately prepare proposal budgets, the institution essentially does this work for seven projects although only one project is ever implemented.

To address this challenge, LITS has developed a method to reduce the effort estimation process while still producing enough artifacts to make a meaningful estimate that can be validated by other developers. For apps from low to medium complexity this process usually involves three or four 90-minute meetings with a project team and approximately twenty hours of effort between meetings for a total of about 25 hours of effort. LITS is working with preferred mobile app development firms to duplicate this type of assessment process at a reasonable cost. The market rate for 25 hours of effort for these assessment resources is roughly $4,375. LITS has been offering these assessment free of charge, but has limited capacity to provide them.

To request a mobile app cost estimate, complete the LITS request form.

Mobile App Development Resources

Another challenge Emory has faced in the early stages of mobile app development is the use of non-optimal mobile app architects, developers, and project mangers. Many projects at Emory have proceeded with the "lone developer" consulting model or a with a small firm that lacks the expertise and capacity to understand the mobile app lifecycle, security, and compliance requirements of Emory mobile apps. These projects have suffered in one or more aspects of development, delivery, or sustainability.

As demand for mobile apps increased beyond the ability of IT Architecture to assist with every project, Emory has identified, vetted, and on-boarded several mobile app development consulting firms with the following attributes:

  1. Have a medium to large sized team consisting of IT architects, developers, project, and account mangers
  2. Executed confidentiality and mobile app development agreements with Emory
  3. Understand Emory's mobile app distribution policies and practices for internal and public distribution
  4. Have access to Emory source code version control, VPN, wiki, and other critical infrastructure to develop, deploy, and document mobile apps in a secure and sustainable way for Emory
  5. Know Emory's security and compliance requirements, patterns, and foundation components such as how to implement authentication, authorization, access back-end web services at Emory, perform HIPAA audit logging, etc.
  6. Work with Emory teams to create meaningful cost estimates at a reasonable price as described above

The current market rate for resources from firms that meet these criteria is approximately $175/hr and Emory has negotiated advantageous rates with several firms. They are:

  1. Make & Build
  2. Add
  3. More
  4. Here

To engage the services of these companies, please complete the request for a mobile app cost estimate.

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