Current profile tailoring has been performed by application of electron cyclotron heating (ECH) and electron cyclotron current drive, leading to improved energy confinement in the plasma core of the TCV tokamak. The improved confinement is characterized by a substantial enhancement (H-factor) of the global electron energy confinement time relative to the prediction of the RLW scaling law (Rebut P H et al 1989 Proc. 12th Int. Conf. of Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion Research (Nice, 1988) vol 2 (Vienna: IAEA) p 191), which predicts well Ohmic and standard ECH discharges on TCV. The improved confinement is attributed to a hollow current density profile producing a reversed shear profile creating an electron internal transport barrier. We relate the strength of the barrier to the depth of the hollow current density profile and the volume enclosed by the radial location of the peak current density. The rho(T)(*) (Tresset G et al 2002 Nucl. Fusion 42 520) criterion is used to evaluate the performance of the barrier relative to changes in the ECH parameters or the addition of Ohmic current, which aid in identifying the control parameters available for improving either the strength or volume of the barrier for enhanced performance. A figure of merit for the global scaling factor is used that scales the confinement enhancement as the product of the barrier volume and strength.