Anatomy of a personalized web portal – Part 1

My team is currently working on a personalized portal for a large technology company. We worked on the complete design of the site on top of a proprietary content delivery platform. Although the content delivery is already take care of, a lot of stuff was remaining in terms of designing a personalized portal on this platform. First of all the platform is designed to serve static pages. This posed the first challenge in terms of how different content is delivered to each user. All the optimization in the platform is geared towards serving more statically composed web pages than a personalized content. I will be jotting down some of our design experience and the path we followed for designing this site.

First of all we looked at the different parts of the pages that are being composed. Each page has a common header with very little personalization. Mostly it contains the greeting message and list of different pages the user would create or the page navigation bar. In almost all views this would be constant per user and will not be changed so frequently. Remaining header is constant across the site. We have to consider theme-ing the site though. Next comes the footer. This part is really simple static text. The main component of the page is the middle area where the users add different blocks, gadgets etc. This section is the real personalization. However if we look more into this section we would find that there is even one more level of commonality that can be abstracted. Each of the block has common border with a fixed set of context menu. This also can be taken out of personalization. Lastly the arrangement of these blocks on the page made the layout. It was decided that we will have a fixed set of layouts rather than allowing the user to add any arbitrary number of columns in the page. Most of these layouts are combinations of different column numbers and widths.

As a result of this analysis we short-listed following set of components

  1. Header text (Localizable)
  2. Greeting message (Localizable)
  3. Navigation tab (User defined count and text)
  4. Static Footer Text
  5. Theme (Mostly images and styles. Not localized)
  6. Layout (No. & widths of columns. No localization required)
  7. Boxes and context menus (Localizable for titles & menus, titles can be clickable links and a small image/ icon to identify the module)
  8. Content modules (As per the independent gadget or content developers choice)

In the next article we will see how this can be taken further and what were the other design considerations.

Three companies

The challenge

Recently three IT companies were in news for job related issues. Due to the appreciating rupee most of the Indian IT companies are under margin pressures. The way these three companies are responding to the situations shows their character and the underlying message they want to give to the industry and the investors.


TCS in response to the challenges decided to cut VA of its employees. In addition to that it asked 500 of its non performing employees to look for jobs elsewhere. While responding to the question related to similar condition, Infy replied that if you want to retain talent you need to pay more. While IBM without much noise, conducted tests for its junior staff and removed the under performers. It did not give any number and responded that it is part of their regular appraisal process. TCS also responded that the job cuts are part of regular process.


In most of the capitalist world job cuts are a regular affair and investors take it positively, as a measure to cut costs and increase efficiency, In India everyone has taken it pretty negatively. Investors feel that this is a sign of bad times ahead. The employees affected by these harsh measure have vehemently posted their replies on the various websites. Many of the TCS’ past employees reiterated the reasons for leaving the company. Interestingly enough, many of them could not write their posts in decent English. Indian media, specially business news teams, gave many of these news as headlines or breaking news. One channel went on to interview failed employees of IBM and reported that the employees complained that they were not given enough time to prepare etc.


Now when one analyzes the actions of each of these companies and tries to read between the lines, it shows the character of these companies, their management and employees. Let’s take one by one. TCS’ message is loud and clear. All employees are part of the performance and if the performance is bad all are equally responsible. The VA cut is informed to be same percentage across board. About two years back, TCS paid additional EVA to its employees but only the high performers. TCS also first time publicly declared that it had asked its non performers to leave the company. Although it says that it is part of their annual process and goes on to explain that this is just 0.05 % of it’s total strength, the message is clear that the non performing employees no longer have place in the organization. TCS traditionally being known as “government like” company, this message is very important. Infy on the other hand is known to be a modern company. It has risen from scratch. Employee retention has been a major challenge for Infy as it is for most of the new companies in Indian IT. TCS on the other hand has enjoyed very low retention rate for years. So it is highly important for these companies to retain their employee base. The statement from Infy is therefore not a surprise. For IBM it is business as usual and it has not given importance to the media or the reports in media.

More about TCS

Me being associated with TCS, has to talk more about it. In last 3 years, TCS has grown to raise it’s employee strength to 4 times. This means that there are at least 3 new employees per a seasoned TCSer. I am assuming it takes about 3 years to be mature in an organization and talk about it as your own company.

Now this poses a great challenge for any management to enforce the same values and principles in the organization. Over these three years the recruitment criteria for TCS has also diluted due to strong demand for resources. When you open the gates for all, then obviously there will be all sorts of people coming in. There has to be either a strong filter or a regular review of the intake.

Recruitment today is a very tough task. Due to the lucrative pay package, all sort of people want to join and IT company. Choosing a real good candidate is like finding a needle in haystack. There are already enough filters in the recruitment. Also when you induct such a high number of fresh graduates, it is not possible to strengthen the process any further. For lateral hires this is possible to some extent. However the cost of such filters today is also very high if you consider the loss of business due to opportunity loss. When we look at this, one will realize that applying the filter to the new joinees on a regular basis may be the best option. This indicates that the quarterlies (quarterly appraisals) for new joinees have to be taken very seriously and this process must be strengthened. Today this is left to the project where the new employee has joined. But it may require intervention from HR/ senior management. From this perspective asking non-performers to leave should be a more regular activity in an organization like TCS and it can pick up few things from IBM in this regards.

Continuing on the same lines, the VA in TCS has been stable and assumed to be constant part of the salary till date. Going forward, this should really be a variable. Cutting VA also giving a message to non performers not to assume things. This is kind of a shakeup. In terms of amount, TCS senior management will be the most affected set of people as the percentage of VA in their pay is bit higher than the junior. It will be interesting to see how these people respond to this corporate action in coming quarters. But it is the not so junior employees who will be impacted the most by this decision. Many of them must be recently married, have had purchased a home and car and may be paying heavy loan installment. A lot of these people actually go overboard and take loans more than they can repay. VA is also taken into account while taking loans. Now there is a good chance that many of them will seek better opportunities, whether they like TCS or not due to such financial constraints. This also indicates that there could be a gap in the lower management and these positions have to be filled by someone senior or junior. Will the top management will be able to drive profitability through junior management? Will the middle management be able to take up this additional work? Answers to these questions will decide the future of TCS in coming quarters.

Story of two salesmen

There is one short story about marketing which is relevant in this context. In a candy store, one of the two salesman was always flocked by children. The other guy was hardly selling anything. The manager asked the first one, do you have some magic that attracts the children towards you? The salesman responded, I don’t need magic. What I do is I put less candies in the balance and then top it up for correct weight. The other guy adds more candies and takes out some to adjust the weight. This give the children a feeling that I give more candies than the other.

PS: As this post is getting published, TCS CEO announced that the annual pay hike in TCS would be around 15% despite the cut. Hum …

TechPM – Technology or Management that is the question

Sometime back, I was a technical guy. Exploring design, architecture, getting hands on experience on new technologies. Today I am a pure Project Manager. For long time I have been in two minds. Whether I should move to project management or not. I always felt that management is not my piece of cake and I am more a techie than a manager.
Some of the questions I wanted to find answers were:
1. Project Management is all about people and technology is all about code, design and so on. Will I have to leave all the technical matters and manage only people, resources?
2. Overall impression is managers do not understand technology. Will I ever become like them? If it happens it is like seeing death of my own self. Will I be comfortable in this new borrowed skin?
3. Any management job is more generic and has longer usability. Specially in India, where all the technical profiles are dominated by young generation, will these people be willing to work with me when I turn 50? Or will they be more comfortable if I am their project manager?
4. In this world everything revolves around money and there is more money in management than technology. If I have to get a technical job at the age of 50 will it pay me the same money when there is a young engineer willing to take up the work at may be 50% of the cost?
5. Does gray hair really matter in technology? Can a younger person be a full replacement for an experienced developer/designer/architect?
6. Will project management be as interesting as development? What keeps the managers going? Where does the job satisfaction in management come from?

As I move on this track I will be exploring to get answers to these questions. If you have any please post comments on this blog.