Providing personalized content: Can your applications handle it?

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“Personalization” seems to be the proverbial “hammer” for the appropriate marketing “nails.” There have been massive efforts to drive more efficient, better looking and scalable methods to help companies move toward solutions that provide more personalized content. However, will the applications and business processes that use this content be able to handle so much personalization?

Recently, I was involved with a large corporation that was trying to “bring the right information, to the right people, at the appropriate time.” This is not a unique request, but this group was interested in driving multiple channels of personalization to the user at the same time. Similar to many organizations, this one had large enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems that maintain a significant volume of data and processes. There were also many organizational infrastructures that had different sets of applications as well as specialized content. These systems and associated data had to be used in a more flexible manner so that the business processes, systems of records and content could be streamlined and integrated.

In order to drive a fully personalized solution, my colleagues and I focused on the following three areas:

  • User: exposing the appropriate user interface (UI) to the user. Based on the user’s proficiency, different UI components are displayed or hidden. The user is also given the option of controlling some aspects of the interface. I often use the example of filling out federal tax forms to explain this concept: a novice user will be presented with the 1040EZ (easy) form, but an advanced user might want the 1040 (long) form.
  • Data: allowing the use of existing systems as well as business processes based on user request privileges. It is often important, if not mandated, that sensitive data be accessible only to the appropriate users. Whether someone should have access is often dictated by his or her job role, organization, geography, language, certification and licensing. Access to initiate and participate in these business processes is also a part of data personalization.
  • Content: delivering personalized content is likely the most understood discipline, but it often isn’t exercised to its full extent. Effective personalized delivery of web content, in particular, has improved dramatically over the years.

Each area is necessary to develop a fully personalized business experience, which can be accomplished by constructing an appropriate composite application: a software application built by combining multiple existing functions into a new application. This simply means providing a cohesive UI that references multiple systems and processes to create a single view of a task’s requirements. The UI we used for this project was developed using IBM WebSphere Portal and the applications were built using the Scripting Portlet with Node.js and Angular.

By using the appropriate metadata and information, and combining this with the data services and business logic, we were able to connect the dots between content and applications. For example, when an authorized user looks up an account number, several things will happen. A complete view of that account will be presented, including the primary information, an active list of the entire account team from IBM Connections, an active list of key customer contacts, and a list of supporting account documents (proposals, presentations and shared documentation).

When a line item is requested, a similar drilldown of information is initiated This request pulls back a more complete view of information with specific web content for that item, including descriptions, documentation, OSHA or required documents, a variety of images and videos, and customer support/update information. A data call returns a list of information, including a unique number for a specific product. By using these specific pieces of metadata and having the ability to pass them between the user, data and content components, it has become reasonably simple to use the services exposed in web content management systems. As a result of enabling this fully personalized experience, the corporation’s efficiency and effectiveness has greatly increased.

This February, IBM InterConnect 2016 will provide many opportunities to expand your knowledge about developing apps with IBM’s personalized content tools. For a better understanding of API creation, you can check out Session PCM-4535 on “Centralizing API Creation for Company-Wide Mobile Initiatives.” Or you can get an introduction to “Building Modern Apps for a Connected IoT World” in Session IDA-5993. I hope you’ve registered!

Connect-2016_Social-Tiles-Draft09, Personalized Content

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