CASE STUDY

How Brief Media Provided a Veterinary App to Over 32,000 Subscribers and Modernized the Animal Health Care Industry

BRIEFMEDIA
briefmedia - mobile - 4
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INDUSTRY
Veterinary
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COUNTRY
United States
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PARTNERSHIP WITH STX NEXT
ongoing since May 2020
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client
Brief Media

Table of Contents

About Brief Media

Brief Media is a leading veterinary media company based in Oklahoma, USA. They provide resources to help veterinarians in their day-to-day life. They are US-focused and primarily support the clinicians of small animals: dogs, cats, and other household pets.

In 2014, Brief Media partnered with Plumb’s Veterinary Drugs—a handbook that has become a trusted resource for veterinarians since it was first published in 1991. The guide is widely used across the veterinary industry in the USA.

The Plumb’s Veterinary Drugs app and website first launched in 2015 and has four key user groups:

  • Individual veterinarians
  • Veterinary students
  • Veterinary practices
  • Pharmacists

As well as providing drug information through Plumb’s, Brief Media also publishes advertiser-supported clinical articles.

Brief Media’s product: turning a leading book into a revolutionary website and app

Many veterinarians rely on Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook on a daily basis. The handbook helps them when they are prescribing medication and helps them to feel confident in their dosage.

The information included in the book has been steadily increasing. By the time the ninth edition was published, it comprised almost 1,500 pages and weighed more than 2.5 kilograms. It had become apparent that the guide needed to change.

The physical copy had drawbacks other than its size: often, practices would only have one copy shared between different veterinarians which can lead to unnecessary delays if people need to spend time tracking it down.

A printed book, once published, is unable to be updated until a new edition is released. In the case of Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook, this was typically every three or four years.

Once Brief Media had obtained the right to use Plumb’s content, they were tasked with digitizing a huge amount of information—and presenting it in an accessible and user-friendly way.

Brief Media’s business challenge

From a business perspective, Brief Media’s main challenge was to stand out in a very competitive market. The aim was to create the most popular professional app for veterinarians in the USA.

Brief Media wanted to provide an original and unique product based on a cornerstone of animal healthcare in the US. The product would be an extension of the legacy already created by the physical version of Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook.

Brief Media had taken on the task of creating an app that would reflect the existing paper guide: a platform that offered support to veterinary professionals and could be trusted as a reliable resource.

The Plumb’s Veterinary Drugs website and app (iOS and Android) were first launched in 2015. The product had originally been outsourced to a company within the USA, but over time had encountered a number of difficulties.

Primarily, the technology aged and the product was not as stable as required by 2019. There were some reliability issues and difficulties updating content.

Due to these challenges, development for the website and app was brought back in-house. However, it soon became clear that what Brief Media wanted required more work than the in-house team could manage on top of their existing workload.

Brief Media decided to approach STX Next, who had been on their radar thanks to recommendations from two different sources.

Originally, Brief Media looked into working with us solely on Plumb’s Pro: an expanded version of the original Plumb’s platform that would offer more functionalities to Pro subscribers. Research had shown Brief Media this product was desperately wanted within stxnext.com 4 the veterinary industry and has no direct alternative. Plumb’s Pro would allow practices to function more easily.

After the discovery workshop, Brief Media decided that they want to work with STX Next on the basic version—not just Plumb’s Pro. It was thought that better solutions could also be found for the basic product.

The collaboration between Brief Media and STX Next begins: discovery workshops

At the start of the collaboration between Brief Media and STX Next, there was already an existing Plumb’s platform.

In May 2020, we held a discovery workshop with Brief Media to understand the project in greater detail. During these workshops, a rough backlog was created. We estimated when the deliverables could be provided and how many developers would be involved.

After a kick-off meeting, a few weeks were spent conducting further workshops and interviews to really dig deep into the project.

Dr. Amy Mohl from Brief Media was impressed by what the workshops offered.

“The piece that stood out for me was when the team mapped out our customer journey, and how
customers would use this product, it became so clear—the depth of understanding that your
team [STX Next] had of what we’re really trying to accomplish.”
Dr. Amy Mohl

Chief Medical Officer, Brief Media

As well as setting out the user journey and identifying the pain points, we presented original potential ideas that the client had not considered.

“The ideas proposed went so far beyond what we originally had in mind. They’re fantastic […] we came with the shell of what we wanted to do and your team really filled out what that could look like. What areas made the most sense to prioritize and where to focus.”
Dr. Amy Mohl

Chief Medical Officer, Brief Media

“Essentially, they did a discovery workshop and concept design. We already have an idea of what we want our new product to be, but they challenged our ideas and assumptions for features and UX.

We came away with eight deliverables, helping us leverage their expertise from a business perspective. We came away with requirements, a road map, recommendations on the system architecture, concept design, and prototype. Then they gave us an estimate for team composition needed to develop the platform.

This helped with product management. They also assessed how we could balance our business interests with providing the most value to the end-user subscriber.”

Natalie Williams

Chief Information Officer, Brief Media

Alongside the workshops, our team organized a “magic estimation session,” which was important to the project. At the very beginning of the project Przemysław Kusiakiewicz, the Product Owner, invited all developers to take part in the session as a way to understand what the whole project would involve and set out realistic initial timeframes.

What came out of the magic estimation session was used as a basis for discussion with other stakeholders. It allowed the stakeholders to see the time and effort required to build different parts of the product, to make decisions about what to keep in the backlog and what to throw out.

Development begins: rebuilding the product from scratch

From the start of the project, there was working code from the existing app. But it became apparent that the legacy app should be replaced with a product built with original code.

Our job was to provide a better version of a good product. There was no problem with the content within the web app—but there was room for improvement with the web app itself. The app that we were presented with was not necessarily intuitive and had stability issues. There was scope for the original product to be refreshed and updated.

“The biggest challenge was related to the application before. The challenge was to migrate the old project to new technologies,” says Mariusz Sobczak, Senior Full-Stack Developer at STX Next.

Rebuilding the product with new code was the best solution to ensure our developers could follow best practices, speed up development, and ensure high-quality code.

We kept the initial architecture and expanded it. AWS (Amazon Web Services) was used on the backend—which is a strong backbone for the product.

Applications were created using the Python framework Django, MySQL database, and Elasticsearch engine.

“You could create your own code from the beginning with people you work with—not make changes to old code from other developers,” says Romana Ciesielska, who progressed to a Regular+ Developer position on the Brief Media project. “It was the perfect project to develop my technical skills and soft skills—with so many developers on one team, it was a chance to learn in my own time.”

Becca Thompson, Senior Project Manager, Engineering, at Brief Media, explains the positive impact that the new version has had on their users, their employees, and their overall business:

“From a user perspective, the stability of the website, the ease of use of the website—that’s been amazing. We’re not getting calls, we’re not getting angry customers that are having challenges.

There is the other side as well, which is the content perspective of being able to make an update to content and release it and it immediately happens. That’s been amazing.

I know that our content team has been so much happier with the processes and the ease of being able to make changes or add content and they don’t have to do any weird workarounds, they can do it themselves. They were previously having to work with the development team a lot. So I think from a workflow perspective, things are working smoother as well.”

Becca Thompson

Senior Project Manager, Engineering, Brief Media

Building the product
that the client—and their users—need

The directive from Brief Media was that they wanted to create an industry-changing product with a technical focus on four key areas:

  • Availability
  • Monitoring
  • Security
  • Scalability

The product, which is a serverless application, was built using AWS (Amazon Web Services) and the whole infrastructure was kept in code. AWS also helped fulfill the availability, monitoring, security, and scalability requirements.

Availability

The code base for the infrastructure configuration is customized for the specific client and their requirements. For Brief Media, we decided that the frontend would be served on Amazon CloudFront rather than a standalone virtual machine.

CloudFront serves the static website hosted on S3. This ensures high availability and is easy to maintain. We only need to make sure that code is properly deployed to S3 and everything will be maintained by the AWS service.

Monitoring

CloudWatch is used to monitor everything in our infrastructure that happens in the application. There has also been a 24/7 DevOps on-call service: our DevOps team ensures the smooth running of the website and app by being available around the clock and reacting to any issues that may arise. Python developers were also on call 24 hours a day at the launch of the web app.

“The stability of the website has been amazing. I don’t have to worry about the website crashing or something going wrong. They have set up multiple processes that if something does happen, they are alerted immediately. We’re in completely different time zones but I have a way that I can immediately get into contact with somebody on your team. So I have confidence that if something does go wrong, there is somebody who is there that could help fix it.”
Becca Thompson

Senior Project Manager, Engineering, Brief Media

Security

Security is always a significant concern for STX Next and our clients. Throughout this project, we have ensured that we have consistently maintained a high-level of security.

Scalability

On the backend, the Amazon ECS (Elastic Container Service) API has been configured to ensure autoscaling. In case of increased traffic, the service adds resources and sets up a new container that will take over the additional traffic. On the whole, everything is deployed continuously without manual steps.

A better user experience

Our Product Design team worked to make the flow and structure smoother, easier, and more user-friendly. The digital product needed to offer veterinarians everything they had in the physical copy of the Plumb’s handbook—and more.

Using the paper version, you are able to personalize your copy by making notes in the margin and adding comments for your own benefit. At the beginning of the project, users could add notes, but not add comments to a specific paragraph. This was one area where the physical copy had an advantage over the app. We made it possible to add specific comments to specific paragraphs and provided a way that users could migrate the notes they already had to an updated version of the app.

Another big improvement for users of the app was a change from a basic search function (with no tips) to an elastic search. The whole development team worked on the elastic search which allows users to search data on the platform far more easily.

Feedback for the design was positive:

“We have some pretty firm ideas about what we’re looking for design-wise. Working with Olga [Sobolewska, UX Designer], I have to give her so much credit for being so receptive to our very strong design ideas: incorporating them, pushing back where she needed to push back. That is one area where I feel like our teams worked together through almost everything. [Olga was] so graceful with a lot of feedback early on. And where we’ve ended up design-wise… it’s so gorgeous.”
Dr. Amy Mohl

Chief Medical Officer at Brief Media

A partnership based on communication and trust

There has been one key factor that has been crucial in ensuring that this partnership was a success: communication.

“The most important and best thing that I’ve experienced is communication styles. The communication has been flawless. Przemysław (Kusiakiewicz, Product Owner) has been amazing to work with, answering my questions. I’ve been able to work with several of the developers as well whenever I have challenges that I come across. And everybody has been willing to help and to try to help me solve the issue that I’m experiencing.”
Becca Thompson

Senior Project Manager, Engineering, Brief Media

Of course, communication is a two-way street, and departments across STX Next praised Brief Media for great communication on their part. “They were really responsive and really open to discussing problems,” says Jan Latour, React Native developer.

“Their communication was very thorough. From the proposal they provided, we knew the phases of the process would be. That included dates and which members from our team needed to participate with each session.”
Natalie Williams

Chief Information Officer, Brief Media

As well as strong communication skills, Brief Media was also open to different ideas and new ways of working.

“One of the other things that I really appreciated is the willingness to think outside the box. There are times where I come with the problem and I’m like, ‘Hey, I think this is how we should solve it,’ and then they come back with a completely different, much, much better solution of how to do things.”
Becca Thompson

Senior Project Manager, Engineering, Brief Media

A good example of new solutions being adopted is the drug interaction checker. Certain medication reacts differently in combination with other drugs. This tool allows veterinarians to see potential conflicts by keeping a record of around 35,000 drug interactions.

Previously, updating their drug interaction checker was a time-consuming process that involved multiple back and forth communications between the doctor and the developers.

We refined the process and removed the need for those back and forth communications. Now, the doctor uses a content management tool to add, edit and preview the drug interactions.

This new way of working is easier and more secure. Simplifying the process and making it more efficient means that there is a significant improvement in what a doctor can do in the hours she works.

Using the Agile methodology

From the beginning of the project, Brief Media could see the positives in using the Agile methodology. Their internal development team had already been using Scrum since 2015. However, some team members at Brief Media had limited practical experience using Agile. We saw this as an opportunity to improve their software development velocity for all future projects.

Dioniza Smura, the Senior Scrum Master on the project, organized an introduction to Scrum through an online presentation. Dioniza, who has previously worked as a Product Owner and Project Manager, explained how an Agile approach works. She also showed the benefits of Agile against a traditional Waterfall model of working including having clearer time estimations and more control over the whole project.

We developed the app in one-week sprints and at each demo meeting, we showed a burnup chart which showed the progress of the project and the time needed to deliver further elements of the product.

Services we’ve provided to Brief Media

This project involved a complete overhaul of the product we were originally presented with. Meeting client requirements and ensuring a quality product involved a range of services and specialisms.

Workshops provided a full exploration of what was required on both the frontend and the backend. Our Product Design team focused on creating an optimal user experience, which was a major consideration throughout development. This was a sophisticated project, therefore DevOps were essential to the smooth running of the website and app.

Here is a list of the services that were provided during this project:

  • Frontend Development
  • Backend Development
  • Full-Stack Development
  • End-to-End Solution
  • Full Product Design
  • UX Design
  • UI Design
  • Discovery Workshops
  • Business Analysis
  • Full Scrum Team(s)
  • Quality Assurance and Software Testing
  • DevOps
  • Mobile Development
  • Continuous Integration
  • Data Engineering

The future of the cooperation

As of the start of 2022, the cooperation between STX Next and Brief Media is still ongoing. We continue to work very closely together.

2021 saw the launch of Plumb’s Pro. Brief Media have been responsible for bringing innovative new tools to the market. Tools like the veterinary industry’s first drug interaction checker to focus solely on animals. With Plumb’s Pro, Brief Media continues to grow and support the animal health care industry.

“This is truly a profession-changing product that we’re building. It will make an absolute difference in the day-to-day practice lives of veterinarians. There is not anything directly like this. There is no direct comparison out on the market right now.

This is what our medical team desperately wants in our practice so when we’re able to get this in the hands of users we’re going to make veterinarians’ lives easier—which is our ultimate goal. We’re going to allow practices to function more efficiently which helps all parts of the business. And from the Brief Media business perspective, this is such a huge growth opportunity for our business.”

Dr. Amy Mohl

Chief Medical Officer at Brief Media

What Brief Media says about the project

“The level of expertise that they have available due to the size of their firm was astounding. As a result, we had access to experts in areas that we don’t have on our internal team. We had a very collaborative relationship with them, so I would tell future clients to view them as a partner and share as much information with them as they can.”
Natalie Williams

Chief Operating Officer, Brief Media

“It’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience. I feel like your team has absolutely done the work to understand our problem, our audience, and what we’re trying to do—and really leveraged the skill sets on your team in order to make that happen.”
Dr. Amy Mohl

Chief Medical Officer, Brief Media

“I would recommend STX Next—their communication and everything that we have done with them has just gone so smoothly.”
Becca Thompson

Senior Project Manager, Engineering, Brief Media

Can we help you the way we’ve helped Brief Media?

If you’re building a software product but don’t have the technical capacity, STX Next can provide external talent for your software project—and help you just like we’ve helped Brief Media.

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We also have an experienced Product Design Team to provide design solutions throughout the development process and help build outstanding digital products. We’ve created marketplaces, internal deployment tools, community platforms, and much more for clients like Mastercard, Unity, or Decathlon.

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