Neil Mortimer is the digital innovation lead for West Midlands Academic Health Science Network. Neil has led digitally enabled transformation programmes for 30+ years, and works with NHS and social care organisations, industry, universities and the third sector to drive the adoption of innovations which improve health & wellbeing and attract investment into the region.


So you wanna be an app star?


© Nicola - Caledos Runner - December 2013

Like the music business, the app market is now overcrowded. So why bother? There’s no ‘silver bullet’ to success in developing health and care apps, but if you are planning for success, here are some key questions you should ask yourself.

The launch of the iPhone in 2007, and the Android mobile operating system a year later, revolutionised popular access to the web, and created a brand-new industry: the mobile application or ‘app’.
Apparently overnight, coders became rich, with some selling their year-old, one-man-band businesses to global corporations for millions or even billions of dollars. But now the app market is overcrowded. So why bother?
Working at West Midlands AHSN, I’m lucky enough to work with talented, ambitious digital entrepreneurs who are developing truly innovative digital tools to help people live healthy lives and to take greater control of their medical conditions. 
What problem are you trying to solve?
So many apps come my way that are a solution looking for a problem. If you’re not fixing something that needs fixing, who on earth is going to buy your product?
Do I really need an app?
The app has become the buzzword of the last decade, but there are other ways of delivering digital content. Browser-based content can be cheaper and easier to develop and isn’t reliant on people keeping an app up to date, and as over half of web views are now from smartphones and tablets, it could be that an app is an over-engineered approach.
What’s the impact and cost of the problem?
Problems generate cost, whether that’s financial or societal. Some are relatively easy to measure: avoiding admission to a care home by helping someone to live independently, enabling someone to access professional advice virtually saving travel time, and helping someone with dementia to keep track of what’s going on can reduce carer costs.  Whatever the benefits of your solution, if you can’t measure the benefit, people are unlikely to bear the cost.
Who will use it?
As an AHSN, we’re committed to involving users in co-designing solutions; not just because it sounds good, but because only they can really determine whether the solutions are fit for purpose. If you’re not clear on exactly who is the intended beneficiary of your product or service, it’s almost certain that you’ll end up with a white elephant.
Who will pay for it?
Here’s a trap I see many innovators fall into. The assumption that the NHS will pay for a health app, or a council will pay for a care app, is often misguided. The fact that the NHS and local authorities are under huge financial pressure means they are a tough market to break into. In recent years, there’s a much greater willingness for individuals (carers, relatives, service users and patients) to buy devices and tools that save them time, make their lives easier, or help them manage their illnesses or disabilities.  
What’s your business model?
In the last 10 years, industry has made a big move from buying software to ‘software as a service’ (SAAS): remember when you used to buy a Microsoft Office CD? Now the software is ‘free’ to download, but you pay an annual licence to use its main functionality.  It’s worth thinking about the balance between up-front costs and monthly or annual payments; and don’t forget other business models, such as relicensing, franchising and third party distribution.
What’s the Return on Investment?
Finally, remember that the benefits must outweigh the cost. Those benefits may be purely financial (a £10K investment to save £50K) or measured in outcomes (independent living, better management of a long term condition or reducing delays in transfers of care).  However they are measured, you have to be really clear on the RoI if you’re going to break into a market.
Where can I find help?
What’s pretty certain is that you won’t succeed without help. Here’s where Academic Health Science Networks can be a crucial resource.  In the West Midlands, WMAHSN helps to match problems to solutions:  
  • Our Meridian innovation exchange ( showcases problems that the health and care sector are looking to address, allowing you to target your innovation at a willing market.  It also allows innovators to showcase their wares.
  • Our Serendip® Digital Incubator supports start-ups with access to state-of-the-art-office space and business mentorship and advice, helping you to really describe the benefits and RoI of your products and develop a compelling business case
  • Our networks give developers access to health and care professionals, service users and patients and academic experts with a wealth of expertise.
If you want to know more, visit our website or send me an email at

WMAHSN and Neil Mortimer will be at Connected Local Government Live 28 & 29 June, central Birmingham.

WMAHSN are hosting a table in the Innovations showcase and any delegate can drop by for a chat.


Back to homepage