Thoughts on developing human service applications

[avatar user=”Dick Schoech” size=”thumbnail” align=”right”]Dick Schoech[/avatar]

When viewing a human service software application, have you ever said to yourself, “I could have developed that!”  This brief guide helps you think through the rewards and cautions regarding your decision to develop a human service software application, or app for short.


  • Apps are fun to develop as they usually require creatively working in a close team.
  • Initial funding is often relatively easy to obtain if the app sounds like a good idea.
  • App development is rewarding because it is easy to see the power that technology adds to the solutions to human service problems.
  • Seeing your app being used is very rewarding.


  • When applying the power of technology to any problem solution, we should expect many difficulties.
  • Select your development team members cautiously. They will often be with you for the life of the app.
  • Often, those who are good at app development are horrible at sales and marketing.
  • Apps work best for addressing problems where the solution involves highly repetitive processes delivered to many clients, and where agreement exists on the solution. Leave novel, one of a kind solutions for human experts who can quickly and easily change and adapt to the circumstances at hand.
  • Once programmed into software, a problem solution is hard and expensive to change.
  • It is usually easier to get those in need to use an app than to get agencies and their staff to adopt an application.
  • Your app can provide a great solution, but fail because use is not reimbursable or it requires users to change their work or living patterns and habits. Organizations typically seek to avoid change and people usually do not like to change.
  • Staff may have to work harder to handle the additional communications with clients required by an app. If staff are already overworked, the agency could incur more liability for not quickly responding to client communications. Examine whether your app opens you or anyone else up for a lawsuit before development begins.
  • Technology, especially hardware, changes fast and major changes happen every few years. This is especially true in the mobile marketplace. Have a plan for funding app maintenance and future enhancements before you begin.
  • The app world is full of dangers, e.g., hackers, malware, privacy invasions, etc. Since the human services involve people with their problems, confidentiality and security are paramount. Apps must meet very high standards of privacy and security. These standards can be costly and time consuming to meet.
  • Copyright and intellectual property can become difficult to safeguard. Laws may not exist or be outdated. Some intellectual property and liability problems may require years before they are resolved in the courts.
  • Many app projects fail due to complexity, e.g., the affordable care act had many problems due to the complexity of linking many databases. The software development failure rate is high.
  • If you are working on the cutting edge, expect to bleed often.

Don’t be discouraged by this long list of cautions. They are only intended to let you know what you are getting into before you begin.  Many simple, elegant apps need to be developed to help people solve their problems.  The app you develop could be one of those.

Image credit | Flickr | Arne Kuilman