Developing a mobile app? Don’t forget the back end!

By Karnesha Slaughter, MPH

In the 21st century, technology is key. People want information as quickly and conveniently as possible. With this expectation for easily accessible information, smart phones have become an integral part of our daily lives. Gone are the days of visiting a computer to look up information – ‘googling’ is as easy as your nearest mobile data plan.

As more government agencies strive to keep up with the technological demands of the public, more programs turn to mobile app development. As communicators, people come to us for insight on the best language, layout, and design for developing communication products, so naturally, the same would apply for developing a mobile app.

App user experience is of the utmost importance – if an app isn’t appealing, it won’t be used.  To steer you in the right direction, you can rely heavily on user testing to provide valuable feedback during the development process. Another key question to ask during development is, “How will I receive data on user experience after the app is released”? This is where ‘the back end,’ or metrics, come into play.

App metrics are pieces of data that tell us things like, “How are people using my app?” or “Are they using it at all?” These and other invaluable questions are ones you may never know the answer to unless you build in a framework to receive metrics. This framework tells the story of how your app is working in the real world, and must be built-in during the development process. Can it be done after the app has been released? Sure! Will you miss out on important information in the meantime? Definitely.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you begin your foray into app development.

  1. Determine your data needs. What information do you want to report to stakeholders and leadership? Create a list of every app-related activity that you want to know. Will you need to know how many times a particular page is opened? Certain user demographics? Or maybe you want to know how often someone clicks a particular link?  You have the ability to build this type of reporting into the app during development.
  1. Organize your glossary. Once you determine your data needs, you will then need to work with your app developers to establish a uniform method of receiving the data. This includes identifying an analytic platform and creating a glossary of metrics labeled by user action. If your app will be available for both iOS and Android, or in more than one language, ensure the glossary terms match across versions. The glossary is essential because it helps to create a full picture of app usage by piecing together individual data sent to the analytic platform.
  1. Test, test, test! Formalize a process to test whether your analytic platform is receiving the data. Before the app is pushed live, you want to be sure you are receiving all of the data with no interruptions and that you know what user interactions the data labels refer to. It is just as important to ensure there are no bugs affecting the back-end reporting as it is to ensure there are no bugs affecting front-end user experience.

Metrics provide key insight into how apps are used by the public. They can help to identify areas that need improvement and/or areas that are working really well. By using metrics data, you can make evidence based decisions on features to expand or remove for the next version of your app. Without the data to back it up, it is nearly impossible to make decisions about your app’s future, or get the full picture of the impact your app is having on users.

Karnesha Slaughter, MPH photo

Karnesha Slaughter, MPH, is a Health Communication Specialist with the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA. Ms. Slaughter provides health communication support and expertise to CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” program. Key areas of Ms. Slaughter’s work include the development and dissemination of tools and resources, like CDC’s Milestone Tracker app,  to reach the program’s goal of improving early identification of children with developmental delays and disabilities, so children and families can get the services and support they need as early as possible. Ms. Slaughter has also provided health communication support during CDC’s 2016 Zika Virus Response through the translation of scientific guidance into resources for healthcare providers and families.

Prior to her time at CDC, Ms. Slaughter developed health communication strategies and implemented evidence-based curricula as a health educator. In these roles, she managed programs in the areas of child injury prevention, youth development, and community wellness. Ms. Slaughter received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biobehavioral Health from the Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Public Health in Health Education and Communication at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.