Do staff make use of personalisation features?

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Due to technology improvements, personalisation is a growing feature in both intranet and portal usage. Organisations around the world have already made their first forays into personalisation, however many more organisations are questioning what to personalise and how to go about it.

So who is using personalisation and how effective it is?

Early in 2007 we ran a worldwide survey to establish the extent that personalisation is being used in intranets and portals.

This article discusses the results of the survey, common themes within the survey and some observations on personalisation projects throughout the world. Comments from the survey respondents are used throughout the article.

Personalisation is seen as a desirable enhancement for intranets, and a major selling point for portals. Our key question was: to what extent do staff actually make use of these features?

Each organisation needs to asses personalisation in the same way as any other intranet or portal project by considering:

  • the business benefit for the organisation
  • the needs of staff
  • the culture of the organisation
  • the current appetite for change
  • the technical skills of staff.

Personalisation must deliver business benefits like any other project

What we mean by personalisation

Personalisation means giving staff the ability to customise functionality and content they are provided with. This can be done on either intranets or portals.

This may mean many things in practice:

  • choosing which portlets are displayed on the portal home page
  • updating a list of links or favourites
  • choosing which news is displayed on the intranet home page
  • choosing contact details for staff to be displayed on a personal home page

Note that personalisation is sometimes also used to refer to the tailoring of information to target specific user groups. While this is also potentially very useful, it will be explored separately. In this article we will focus solely on user-driven personalisation.

Personalisation can also be called end-user customisation.

Results of the survey

The survey was conducted in January 2007 and included questions to establish who was using personalisation, how effective personalisation is and how the respondents measured their results.

We had 438 responses from organisations around the world, ranging from small (less than 100 staff) to large (more than 50,000 staff).

47% of respondents currently have personalisation features on their intranets or portal. Another 39% of respondents were planning to implement personalisation in the coming 12 months.

The results illustrate that:

  • adoption of personalisation is far from guaranteed, the survey shows that no significant spike of usage at the high end of acceptance
  • personalisation includes bookmarks, portlets/dashboard elements, news and documents
  • management perception of personalisation benefits is a key factor in getting a personalisation project off the ground
  • technology available within the organisation has a significant impact on an organisation’s ability to deliver personalisation
  • measurement of adoption and effectiveness of personalisation is undertaken by fewer than 20% of respondents
Survey Results

Survey Results

Full results of the survey are at:

Adoption is far from guaranteed

Current levels of adoption

Only a minority of large organisations have a high level of adoption of personalisation.

The level of adoption is relatively evenly spread throughout the results. The largest spike is within the 0-9% usage band and this is at 16.7%. (see graphics on page 2).

It is clear that adoption is lower when:

  • staff are time poor
  • there is a general lack of awareness of the functionality

Other factors that were mentioned included the appetite for change in the organisation. Some staff have had as much change as they can handle over the last few years.

“We trialled a personalisation function in 2005. It was enthusiastically received by a very small number of people, and regarded as of no significant benefit, irrelevant or irritating by most. This may have something to do with its limited functionality, but also reflected disinterest on the part of many of our users in building their own personalised spaces”

“… when we conducted a number of studies on our intranet. Most end users cited that the ability to personalise is expected and would be great. 82% said they would never take the time to do it.”

Features that are personalised

The organisations responding to the survey had implemented personalisation for:

  • bookmarks (61.9%)
  • personalised home pages (42.9%)
  • portlets / dashboard elements (44%)
  • news (40.5%)
  • documents (31%)

Some organisations had incorporated tasks within workflow into their intranet or portal.

These features allowed staff to select the content that was most relevant to them and customise their environments to their own needs.

“The ability to personalise a portal can be very useful in locating ‘high use’ items quickly and minimising the ‘noise’ of less relevant information.”

“Personalised news are most used and personalised page with access to ‘my department’. People can choose between different elements on my page, but it is often to difficult and not very work task relevant elements to choose from to interest most people in the company. Personalisation should be more simple and task-oriented to people in the sales and the production environment.”

Locating high use items quickly is important

Management perceptions

Many of the survey participants shared with us that their personalisation features, current and future, were as a direct result of intervention by senior management.

Many organisations are planning and implementing personalisation features. Management perceptions and the availability of technology within an organisation are significant factors in helping personalisation projects getting off the ground.

Many organisations are implementing personalisation for the sake of using their technology. However a clear business benefit is essential in any decision on personalisation.

“I am responsible for the intranet at my company and management is always asking for more personalisation. I don’t have all of the supporting numbers but we don’t see heavy usage of the basic personalisation that we offer. It is great to see that you are doing this survey to help build our case.”

“Our CIO thinks that personalisation needs to be a key part of a new portal/web development platform that we are in the process of selecting..

Just because the software can, doesn’t mean it should

Available technology

The technology available within an organisation has a significant impact on the ability to provide personalisation features to staff. Often technology marketing demonstrates personalisation features and benefits, creating expectations within the organisation without considering the work involved in implementing.

If the current technology has personalisation capabilities, then they are more likely to be seen as attractive enhancements. Conversely, lack of capacity in surrounding technology can hold back personalisation when other factors are equal.

“The limitations of what we can personalise at this point have more to do with incomplete metadata about visitors (identity management) than with content challenges. We’d like to personalise by role, BU, etc., but we are constrained by what we know about an authenticated employee.”

Measurement of adoption

The level of accurate measurement within organisations was low.

  • 15.6% used web analytics
  • 3.8% used surveys

41.1% of respondents did not have the means to estimate usage.

This may have affected the results.

Four important observations on personalisation

Based on the survey and our observations when working with clients, Before embarking there are areas for consideration around personalisation projects.

  • low adoption rates
  • limited benefits
  • varying impact on staff
  • measurement is essential

Remember, personalisation is here to stay, but it’s important to make personalisation work fro the business, and not just implement it because it’s there.

Adoption is generally low

In most organisations adoption of personalisation is low, even when the features include significant gains for staff members.

The adoption level is also affected by the culture and appetite for change in an organisation. An organisation that has experienced significant change in other systems may be more resistant to yet another change.

This is something that will vary between organisations In some staff may have higher expectations of systems and be more technically competent. Some organisations may have a work force who have already embraced personalisation in other areas of their lives such as book recommendations on, My Space profiles or characters at Second Life.

The time line for adoption is also generally longer than expected. A few mavericks will always embrace personalisation, other staff can take much longer. New staff are quicker to embrace new features.

Staff are time poor and often don’t see the direct benefit

Benefits may be quite limited

47% of organisations currently have personalisation features and another 39.1% or respondents were intending to implement some type of personalisation. We have seen some organisations improve the effectiveness of operational teams by:

  • sharing favourites in call centre teams
  • providing easy access to regularly used documents at law firms
  • personalising news items by state and or department

These options represent the early stages of maturity and are by no means going to shave millions of dollars from the bottom line.

Many organisations have made their first foray into personalisation by running a pilot for a key business area or selecting one type of global content to personalise.

These pilots need to manage the expectations of staff and senior management. It is also essential project teams develop success criteria for the pilot.

Qualitative measures on effectiveness are crucial

Impact on staff will vary

Any personalisation solution implemented will impact on staff and this needs to be carefully assessed, along with any training or change management that will be necessary. Important questions include:

  • how will staff know the new personalisation feature is available?
  • will staff know how to use the feature intuitively or will a training program be required?
  • what is the impact on help desk teams?

Most staff are time poor and will not take the time to discover for themselves what is on offer. One organisation has implemented a low cost training program by making available on their intranet two minute “instruction bytes” including a movie of how to do personalisation. Another approach allows staff to personalise their own desktops during training rather than having to do it at their desks by themselves.

“Our experience has been that to inspire use of new personalisation features made available by means of upgrade you really need to show people in person how to use them (Roadshow or Desktop visits). Expecting them to find out for themselves or read the documentation or watch a video has been less than we’d hoped. It’s all about time and getting their attention”

“Generally most people are not aware what the personalisation can do for them. Once shown in a one to one demo, most are quite excited about it. However, despite this, many do not go back and fully utilise the features because of a lack of time to ‘mess about’ with things that don’t help them to work better (as mistaken view in my opinion, but one that is hard to change)”

“The implementation has to be simple; users need to be able to learn to configure their environment themselves in order for the personalisation features to be utilised properly.”

Measuring effectiveness is essential

With limited resources and time any project should evaluate results and deliver a clear business benefit.

Web analytics are one way to get quantitative data about the numbers of staff using and how often they customise their interfaces. However qualitative methods like user surveys, interviews and tapping into the organisation’s grapevine will provide a richer picture of the usefulness of personalisation on an intranet. Often staff use the features in ways differently to what was expected to solve other business problems. These solutions can then be shared with the broader organisation.

Continue to build tangible and visible benefits

Ideally the benefits of a personalisation project should link directly to measurable business benefits:

  • increase in the number of calls completed with the first person
  • reduction of the time to resolve stamp duty issues on home loans
  • reduction of the number of accidents in the workplace

The intranet now plays a central role in many organisations and every improvement should continue to build tangible and visible benefits to the organisation.

Using personalisation as a gimmick to drive traffic to the intranet is not effective. Try other methods such as competitions or exclusive staff discounts on electrical equipment, restaurants and shows.

“Personalization suffers from the ‘glitter factor’. People play with it at first because is shiny and new. Later, when the shine wears off, they don’t have the time to mess with it anymore.”

Be prepared to take the longer view


Do staff make use of personalisation features? Yes, they do in a limited way. Much is dependant on the type of organisation and staff. Be prepared to take a long term approach to personalisation.

Success is far from guaranteed in any personalisation project. However personalisation is here to stay and there may be opportunities within each organisation.

Each organisation is unique, and intranet teams must decide what can support the organisation’s business objectives and move forward. However don’t expect to change the world just yet.

When deciding if personalisation is useful for staff all the standard principals for good decision making still apply. The following questions should be clearly answered before you start:

  • what is the purpose of the intranet / portal?
  • what is the business benefit of the feature?
  • how will effectiveness be measured?

There are other key factors that affect a personalisation project:

  • Are the relevant bank-end systems working effectively to manage personalisation? (Such as single sign on)
  • What kind of culture exists? Are staff change adverse or can a few mavericks lead an iniative to success?
  • Are there any other types of systems in that use personalisation? Do staff make use of the features on these systems?
  • What other kinds of projects are going on within the organisation? Do staff readily jump from one technology to another or do they prefer to stick with what they know?

All of these issues vary between organisations. To maximise the chances of success for personalisation projects, intranet teams should assess their organisation carefully before starting.

Thank you

Thank you to everyone who participated in the survey and our partners in conducting the survey, CMSWatch, Boye IT and CM Forum.

Catherine Grenfell
Catherine Grenfell
Catherine Grenfell is the manager and full-time facilitator of our Intranet Leadership Forum. She is also a senior member of the consulting team, with a particular focus on mentoring and supporting intranet teams.