Training and Webinars Feed

Why Some State Health Exchanges Failed


With the launch of the Affordable Care Act’s online exchanges, some states are celebrating huge successes while others completely failed.  We’ll explain why and how to avoid these mistakes when selecting a web development company.

Maryland was at the forefront of implementing the ACA. Gov. O’Malley established six policy workgroups and trained over 5,000 people to help consumers enroll.  Their exchange site failed miserably with fewer than 100 people able to enroll before the site was taken offline.

Kentucky, meanwhile, had a cake with the number 100,000 written on it to celebrate passing that number of people who had prescreened for enrollment by Wednesday.

Colorado’s exchange, where we are located, has had problems with users experiencing outages and downtime, but nothing as severe as Maryland’s flat-faced failure.  Still, it’s hard to imagine why the Colorado exchange’s homepage loads 1.1 MB of files and data!

The federal exchange is being mocked on Redit for its terrible coding and caching, noting that it loads 11 CSS files, 62 JavaScript files and that HTML is inexplicably nested inside of script tags.  None of the code is compressed and none of the files contain expiration headers allowing for local caching to work.

All of these mistakes are amateur issues that a decision maker hiring a firm would never spot without addressing the issues covered in this post.

The Challenge of Selecting a Competent Tech Company

The recent launch of the federal and state exchanges has provided a phenomenal case study about the difficulty in selecting a truly competent web development firm.

Organizations looking to develop excellent web applications will benefit from understanding a few important concepts when vetting a development firm.

First, I’ll highlight three key points about web applications that are often overlooked.  Then I’ll go into some recommendations about how you can address these points to ensure a better outcome.

Key Items for Application Development

  1. The visual appearance of a web page tells you nothing about how well the page is coded.  Two pages could look identical to the human eye on screen, but one may be far lower quality.  This can affect the expense of upgrading content and appearance in future versions, cross browser support issues, and most importantly performance and organic search.
  2. Examining the front-end code of a web application tells you nothing about how the backend software will perform under stress that comes with high volume use.
  3. Examining the back-end performance of a web application tells you nothing about how easy or difficult it will be to maintain and upgrade in the future.

Looking Beyond Basic Vetting

Every website project decision maker looks at basic qualifiers for a development vendor.  The firm must be capable of designing an attractive, clean and functional website that looks professional and is easy to use.  Then there is the importance of an established track record of successfully completing projects on time and on budget.

Once these two basic requirements are met, decision makers often start looking at the proposal costs.  This is a huge mistake.  Here’s why: An initial proposal from multiple firms is almost never apples to apples.  There is no real map or formalized architecture at the time of an initial proposal. 

Proposals often estimate radically different levels of application performance or features.

To use a car analogy, many firms attract business by quoting the site like they are building a Nissan Versa sedan, which costs under $13,000.  The problem is that almost no one buys the cheapest cars.  They simply don’t do what is needed.  What’s more, web applications generate the big costs down the line in maintenance and future development.

What is the answer to this dilemma then?  Never select a firm based on costs and content of an initial proposal.  Instead, vet the firm based on communication skills, level of service and responsiveness, ability to deliver on time and on budget, a proper hourly billing rate, and most importantly a complete knowledge set about front end design (UI/UX) as well as back end engineering (code, databases and business intelligence).

Beyond the Basics: Addressing the Three Key Points

Ask your development firm about all of these issues during the vetting process.  If their people can speak clearly, knowledgably and succinctly about these points, that is a good clue as to their skill and value.  If they stumble and don’t provide specific examples of how they have worked with and addressed these types of challenges in past projects, it is a big red flag. 

Point 1: Go Beyond the Visual Appearance

  • Review the page to make sure that there are no <table> elements used unless the design actually calls for a data table (i.e. for pricing or product information).
  • How many kilobytes are loading in the page code?  Is the design overly complex with too many elements or is the source code clean, consistent and easy to read?
  • How many elements are loading on the page?  Are there too many style sheets?  Too many JavaScript files? Are the images optimized for web performance?
  • Does the site use the most modern standards from HTML5 and CSS3?  It should!  But it should also still look good on older browsers too.
  • Google, Bing and other search engines will read the code.  More modern, well-designed, cleaner code will perform better for organic search rankings.
  • Poorly architected code will be hard to maintain and update.  It is difficult for a content manager to work with.  Poorly architected code also makes it hard for universal CSS changes that keep the site looking fresh and modern.

Point 2: Stress Test a Serious Site & Be Ready to Scale Up

If designing a small business “mom and pop” application, stress testing doesn’t matter.  But if you are designing a shopping cart that will end up with high volume in the future or high stress periods such as during sales or holiday shopping periods, stress testing is critical during development before the big launch.

  • What is the strategy for stress testing the site and discovering bottlenecks before “go live”?
  • Is the firm going to use third party software to simulate a range of expected traffic?
  • Will the load testing account for hacker attacks such as DDOS attacks (distributes denial of service attacks)?
  • What is the strategy for adding more support as volume increases?
  • What will the costs be to expand capacity?
  • How rapidly can these resources be added?
  • Can the resources be reduced during slow periods and increased elastically during high volume periods to save costs?

Point 3: How Architecturally Sound Is Your App?

Ask the question: If and when changes and upgrades are needed, how easy will it be to implement them?  A well-architected application is modular so that different components can be upgraded without impacting other areas.  A poorly architected application has code that is deeply entwined and makes it difficult to change.

  • Determine how the firm will trap, record and report on exceptions and errors.
  • Ask how the various elements of the application will be separated to ensure that other developers can work independently on different areas.
  • Will the firm use interface based design practices?
  • Will late model binding and inversion of control (IOC) methods be employed so that business logic and data management components can be re-optimized or redeveloped later to upgrade or enhance performance and capacity?
  • Most importantly, does the firm know these terms and understand why or why not to implement these development patterns for a specific project?

New Cross Media Marketing Training Videos for the Holidays

Video training on holiday cross media marketing from JFM Concepts, part of the 2012 VDP Web Webinar Series, has been published.  Join John Fager, Co-Founder and CTO, in a short overview of how you can turn a common branding activity into a powerful lead generation tool by creating customer engagement and a two-way conversation.  Discover proven, practical techniques, tips and advice on how to create campaigns that highlight your firm’s expertise and drive customer engagement to new levels, turning a push communication into a growth opportunity.


View Part 1 hereView Part 2 here.

To explore the entire VDP Web video series, visit our YouTube channel.

Webinar: More Effective Self Promos Offered This Week

VPD Web will be offering a free webinar to clients and newcomers alike this week on Tuesday, July 17 at 1:00 PM EST and on Thursday, the 19th at 4:00 PM EST.  The webinar will address creating effective self-promotions.

Attendees will benefit from learning simple, straight-forward techniques that have successfully generated business growth for our clients and our own organization.

Our valued clients have had great success with creating self-promos and marketing cross media services. Check out the do's and don’ts, and learn why self-promotion is the way into your client's budgets.

When: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 1:00 PM EST and Thursday, July 19, 2012 4:00 PM EST

Presenter: John Fager, Principal of JFM Concepts, makers of VDP Web Cross Media Marketing Software.

Please signup online as attendance is limited.

New HTML Videos from VDP Web for Cross Media and Mobile

Join John Fager, the tech guru at VDP Web, for a high level, succinct and invaluable look at how to stay out of trouble with web and email for those of us who aren't technology geeks.  This seminar will give even non-technical attendees the confidence to work with cross media campaigns and get the basics on pricing, scope, hours required and common pitfalls.

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VDP Web at Print Solutions 2012 next week!

It is not too late to get in on the action in Baltimore at the Inner Harbor.  VDP Web® will be presenting and exhibiting at the 2012 Print Services Distribution Association’s Print Solutions show in Baltimore June 4-6. Visit to read more about the show and educational seminar.

VDP Web be exhibiting in booth 823. John Fager will also be presenting an educational seminar “Don’t Get Killed by HTML: Winning Cross Media Strategies for Printers & Distributors” on Tuesday, June 5th at 3:30 in the Exhibit Hall Education Theater.

With three days of education and more than 200 expo booths showcasing the latest products and services, the 2012 Print Solutions Conference and Expo is the most important event of the year for professionals who buy print and related marketing services for resale to customers. View the below video and hear other members talk about the value they receive at PSDA meetings and events.

Who Should Attend?
Everyone directly responsible for buying or influencing the purchase of print and related marketing services. Gain contacts, partners and clients if you work for a print distributorship, promotional products distributorship, advertising agency, marketing firm, Design firm, or direct mail firm


VDP Web Announces Cross Media Marketing 101 Webinar

JFM Concepts, the maker of VDP Web, is proud to announce the Cross Media Marketing 101 for 2012 webinar.  Learn the ropes of cross media with this informative webinar that details what cross media marketing is and ways you can enhance current efforts without breaking the bank.

The webinar will be held March 8th at 4:00 eastern Time.  Register at

VDP Web and Zodiac Pools Systems at PODi AppForum 2012

Join JFM Concepts and VDP Web for a practical guide to “Generating Leads with a Cross Media Marketing Platform” on Tuesday, January 24th at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, Nevada as part of the 2012 Print on Demand Institutes AppForum.

Zodiac International is a world-class manufacturer of a wide range of recreational products. Zodiac Pool Systems required a cost effective, easy-to-implement marketing platform to improve efficiency, add tracking and increase ROI on its existing marketing mix without adding complexity.

The effort was focused on getting consumers to print out rebate forms and download brochures for more complex products. Learn how Zodiac's marketing team created, implemented, designed, and executed their program. We'll share results and samples.

Key Takeaways:

  • Learn how to leverage multiple marketing channels with minimal effort to generate sales leads
  • Discover how Zodiac increased revenue & efficiency while lowering costs
  • See how one effective manager decreased man hours for fulfillment, limited dependence on other departments, and lowered cost
  • Explore how consolidated tracking improved search, banner ads, direct mail, and email results

As a special offer from VDP Web, use promo code SPK2012DIS to save $100 on every ticket.  See you there!

Can't make the show? Email for a copy of the presentation or to schedule a one on one discussion.


2012 Cross Media Marketing Webinar Series

Join JFM Concepts and VDP Web for the 2012 Webinar Series "Tools for Successful Cross Media Marketing."

In its 5th year, the popular JFM Cross Media Marketing Webinar Series is the industry standard in bleeding edge information and business strategies that can be practically implemented to show immediate results for service providers and practitioners. Discover the best professional training available anywhere, for free, all with no travel required. Register here.


2012 Cross Media Marketing Outlook

Join James Michelson and John Fager of JFM Concepts on this comprehensive analysis of the 2012 Cross Media Marketing Outlook for both marketing service providers and internal marketers. Discover lessons learned in 2011, the trends for the upcoming year, and benchmarks you can use to develop your own strategies for 2012.

January 17, 2012 1:00 Eastern & January 19, 2012 4:00 Eastern

Cross Media Marketing 101 for 2012

Learn the ropes of cross media with this informative webinar that details what cross media marketing is and ways you can enhance current efforts without breaking the bank.

March 6, 2012 1:00 Eastern & March 8, 2012 4:00 Eastern

How To Bid Cross Media & Effective Sales Strategies

Join James Michelson, Principal of VDP Web to discuss effective pricing strategies for cross media. Learn how to up-charge and price jobs without the dreaded "scope creep" and maintain a positive cash flow while showing value to your clients.

May 8, 2012 4:00 Eastern & May 10, 2012 1:00 Eastern

More Effective Self Promo's

Our valued clients have had great success with creating self-promos and marketing cross media services. Check out the do's and dont's with James and learn why self-promotion is the way into your client's budgets.

July 17, 2012 1:00 Eastern & July 19, 2012 4:00 Eastern

Cross Media Holiday Marketing 2012

Now is the time to think seriously about holiday marketing! Join JFM Concepts to discover how holiday cross media marketing can provide sales leads and good will even without an offer or sales call to action. Learn how cross channel communications with mail, email, social media, and landing pages can turn an expense into a revenue generating activity. Your customers, clients, and prospects will love it!

October 2, 2012 1:00 Eastern & October 9, 2012 1:00 Eastern

2013 Cross Media Marketing Outlook

Join James Michelson and John Fager of JFM Concepts on this comprehensive analysis of the 2013 Cross Media Marketing Outlook for both marketing service providers and internal marketers. Discover lessons learned in 2012, the trends for the upcoming year, and benchmarks you can use to develop your own strategies for 2013.

December 18, 2012 1:00 Eastern & January 8, 2013 4:00 Eastern & January 10, 2013 1:00 Eastern

Register here.

2011 Connections Presentation

JFM Concepts, the makers of VDP Web, is proud to announce that principal and founder James Michelson will be speaking at the Exact Target 2011 Connections conference in Indianapolis.  The session is titled “Email + Direct Mail: Response Rates on Steroids?”  Reports of "direct mail deaths" have been greatly exaggerated.  In fact, when used in combination with email, direct mail can lift response to new heights.

Connections 2011 is the world’s largest interactive marketing conference with more than 3,000 global marketers attending the three-day event Sept. 13-15. Connections ’11 follows ExactTarget Connections ‘10, which welcomed more than 2,000 marketers to Indianapolis and featured a lineup of industry titans including Virgin Group Founder and Chairman Sir Richard Branson, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and a private concert from Grammy Award-winning band Train.

If you cannot make the event, please contact us to obtain a copy.

Cover sheet 

To obtain a copy, contact us!


Offer cross media to sell more print

According to InfoTrends, “PSPs offering cross-media marketing services report a 13.7 % increase in digital print volume” from their report titled The Evolution of the Cross-Media Marketing Service Provider. Firms offering cross-media marketing services increase their digital print volumes and offset losses due to shrinking print volumes.”

In order to make this possible, the report suggests that “There is a strong need for education across the board. Vendors must provide educational programs and tools for customers at various levels aimed at the business and operational sides of an organization.”