4 intranet personalisation models

In her excellent executive summary of Digital Workplace Trends, Jane McConnell discusses 5 megatrends for intranets, including the notion that intranets are becoming more ‘people-focused’. This is often used to describe the social tools that are becoming commonplace on intranets, but also reflects the growing desire to allow the employee to own their intranet through personalisation features.

The Personalisation Spectrum

Personalisation is a spectrum of choices, either made by the developers at the conception stage of an intranet, or by the employee themselves as they use the tool. When developing your intranet, consider these 4 positions on the personalisation spectrum.

No Personalisation/Targeted content

A “one size fits all” intranet for your company. Regardless of their geography, language, job function or personal desire, every employee gets exactly the same content and user experience.


  • Easier to develop
  • Ideal for small companies without overseas employees, where there is a common enterprise language.
  • Ensures consistency of content
  • Ensures critical internal communication messages are accessed (note, not read) by everyone
  • Simplest governance model


  • Extensive employee research needed to properly understand content/function needs (I accept that this is always needed, but if you don’t give your employees any choice, getting this right is critical)
  • No targeted content. Scattergun internal communication approach

Targeted Content Approach

Through connections with Active Directory (or similar), through language settings on laptops or browser, content and functionality is targeted. With this level of personalisation, the employee might see local news in their local language, or have specific HR transactions available to them but the IA and UI experience would remain identical for all users.


  • Content targeting allows for a local feel within a global intranet
  • Local language content means content is understandable by all employees — ideal for multi-lingual organisations
  • Additional development needed (ie. SharePoint variations, specific content webparts)


  • Metadata application and management critical as content may have to be tagged with audience information
  • Enterprise translation services need to be strong!
  • Potential inconsistency of internal communication message delivery — was it delivered to all targets?
  • Dispersed intranet ownership with aligned governance complexity

Semi-Personalised Intranet

Many organisations like the idea of a giving their employees a fully personalised intranet but are a little scared by the choices that they might make! This option typically gives users a frame of an intranet homepage into which some webparts are pre-selected and the rest of the space is given to employee-selected content.


  • Increased content relevance as the employee selects the content or functions that they need. Increased relevance should lead to increased readership and traffic.
  • Departments such as internal communications or HR still ensure their content is accessible (also note, still not read!)
  • Stronger employee engagement with the intranet tools


  • Training costs may increase with the complexity
  • Expect an inter-departmental fight about the mandatory content parts. You’ll need to gear up your governance; ensure that the rules are clear to everyone.
  • Dependent on which departments secure the mandatory space, you may suffer from an inconsistency in information delivery. Imagine if your global news was not mandatory — how would employees access this consistently?
  • Will employees take up the opportunity to personalise? You will still have to create a full template for users anyway.
  • You will need a ‘New Content’ feature (with additional coding overhead) to highlight when a new webpart has been developed or it’s likely that employees will not take advantage of new features when they’re introduced

Fully personalised

Feeling brave, eh? With this model, your intranet homepage is a fully blank canvas into which your employees can drag and drop content and features of their own choice with nothing mandatory what-so-ever. To ensure that users are not presented with a blank intranet page (save for your company logo one presumes), you’ll still need to develop a template which your employees can then edit to suit their needs.


  • Highly flexible model ensuring that every employee can create a digital destination specifically for them.
  • Maximises intranet relevance
  • Employee content whims can always be accommodated
  • No more governance arguments about homepage real estate


  • Internal content providers can no longer guarantee their content is accessible by all employees (and certainly no guarantee that it’ll be read)
  • Content and functionality could become a gamified popularity contest
  • Must have a way of highlighting new content/function options


Intranet research appears to show that intranets are, broadly, moving down the personalisation spectrum from a “one size fits all” approach to a “this is my intranet” vision. The precise model you’ll adopt for your next intranet iteration will depend on the employees, technology, governance and culture in your organisation. There is no right answer here; just right for your intranet.

Mandatory content is often seen as a controlling response — a form of enterprise ego-publishing. If content is of high quality and is relevant to employees then all else being equal, given the option, employees will still choose to view and use that content … won’t they? There’s a balance to make between the needs of certain departments to push communications out and for the employees to feel they have a choice about what they read. Should important HR, or executive communications be subject to the nuances of a digital popularity contest?

Personalisation increases relevance. If you choose what you want to see, you’re only seeing what you feel is relevant. If you have no choice then you will see irrelevant stuff.  If you see irrelevant stuff then the page is less interesting and you are less likely to come back or use it as often. We see personalisation as the ideal route to delivering a cohesive, singular user experience, provide for thousand of personal content nuances, and maximise personal relevance.

Data will be critical to decision making when considering any of these models.

  • How many people take advantage of personalisation features?
  • How many employees have the global news webpart and other %adoption statistics?
  • Of those who personalise, how have they personalised? What does their homepage look like?

At European Portal Evolution Masters in Berlin 2010, there was a fascinating presentation by Credit Suisse that was reported by us here and by the team at OrchidSoft. Given the full personalisation model, only 30% of Credit Suisse employees bothered to personalise their pages and, curiously, those that did often created very similar pages. Could it be that employees don’t really want to personalise and we’re presenting the option as an opt-out for employee research to create the perfect homepage?

Fewer than 10% of Yahoo! users personalise their pages. Have you created an iGoogle page, or changed any setting on your gmail account? If you blog, did you customise the template? We’re clear that personalisation is a growing intranet phenomenon but it’s not clear yet how far down the spectrum is optimal for employee and business.

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  1. EphraimJF

    This is a helpful overview DigitalJonathan.

    I think it’s helpful, however, to delineate between “personalization” and “customization.”

    I consider that “personalization” means the system delivers content to users that is filtered based on some sort of personal criteria. The user doesn’t actually do anything to directly choose content. The movies that Netflix recommends to me are personalized because I don’t actually select which movies I want to see in my recommendations. The system uses my ratings of previously viewed movies as a filter to deliver personalized content.

    I assume “customization” to mean that the user makes specific changes to the page to decide what content will display. My iGoogle page is a page I customize. I have to edit the page and select very specific widgets in order to create a customized view.

    Does this delineation seem accurate? Is it a useful distinction to make?

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