Continuing on with the discussion of the five facets of personalization. Customization deserve mention as the reason most companies buy a portal and the feature most companies never actually use.
What is Customization
Customization is the ability for an end user to create a page and put portlets or web parts on that page in his or her preferred manner. It also denotes the end users ability to customize settings within a portlet. Think of iGoogle or My Yahoo! as perfect examples of this in the consumer world.
This can be very powerful functionality. Instead of you having to guess what your user wants, you just give him or her a simple interface, let them create a page, search for widgets to stick on a page and let them go. You can even give them the power to change existing pages. If the original news page doesn’t have what they are looking for they can edit what goes where and even what topics to address.
When to Use Customization
There is definitely a time to use and to not use the customization feature inherent in almost all portal products. Here’s my rule of thumb:
Rule: Consider customization only if your end user spends more than 6 hours a month in your portal
I was speaking with a small energy utility once and they said to me, “Mike, we want a my page for our customers. They can put whatever functionality they want on the page. It will be wonderful.”
There are several issues with this request. First, most energy utility customers spend an average of something like four minutes a month on the portal. They don’t want to spend five minutes setting up their My Page to do the five things you know they want to do anyway. That’s too confusing. Even if they do set it up, when they return in two months, they may have forgotten what they did and deleted the very functionality they now want to use. Frankly, allowing customization for low usage user types is a nightmare waiting to happen. You will increase support costs and cause a decrease in customer satisfaction.
You should instead focus on getting the top 5 things those users want to be front and center in your portal. Make the user experience as intuitive as possible and they will thank you for it.
Let’s consider the opposite example, someone who works for doctors office processing claims. These people go to insurers web sites many times a day. They have one role of many in their office. They don’t care about verifying that you have health insurance. They care about submitting a claim and following up on any questions about the claim. They might want access to three portlets and one set of links to commonly used content on the site. This claims person represents a fine candidate for the user of customization.