Saba Software: All about People (Cloud) - Part 1

The 2011 Enterprise 2.0 conference’s expo floor in Boston in late June featured many of the “usual suspects,” such as Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Adobe, SuccessFactors, Jive Software, SocialText, OpenText, Yammer, and Cisco Systems, to name only a few well-established providers (in addition to the plethora of innovative startup companies that one could encounter there). There were also some notable absentees, such as SAP (StreamWork), (Chatter), and Atlassian (Jira).

But my attention was drawn to one vendor that has not been discussed as much as it deserves: Saba Software.

I was impressed by Saba’s ability to marry the realms of enterprise-wide talent managementlearning managementsocial software, and real-time collaboration. Saba Software seems positioned well to provide a solution that supports and enables enterprises in this rapidly evolving business and economic climate. Saba believes that the following four distinct enterprise applications markets are converging to solve the challenge of how to become a people-driven enterprise:

  • The Enterprise Learning Market: software applications for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of learning and development/training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content

  • The Talent Management Market: software applications for strategic talent management, including those for performance management, compensation management, talent acquisition and recruiting, training, career development, and succession planning

  • The Web Conferencing Market: real-time online collaboration tools that support interactions over a network between participants in multiple meeting formats

  • The Social Software Market: social business software tools used in business and commercial context, providing capabilities such as search, links, authoring, tags, recommendations, and content subscription


Figure 1 [click to enlarge]

Saba calls the solution to the convergence of these four markets “People Cloud” (formerly "People Systems" see Figure 1 & 2). I certainly was not the only one impressed by Saba’s value proposition. Saba has recently received the following rewards and accolades:

  • The Saba Social Learning product won the 2011 Enterprise 2.0 Launchpad award (voted by the audience as the most innovative new E2.0 offering, under the auspices of TechWeb, producers of the Enterprise 2.0 conference, the Web 2.0 Expo and the InformationWeek Magazine)

  • The Saba Social product (formerly Saba Live) received the 2011 Bersin Learning Leaders award for best new vendor innovation (by the Bersin & Associates firm)

  • Saba Social also won the coveted 2011 Stevie People’s Choice as the best Software as a Service (SaaS) solution. The Stevie Award honors and generates public recognition for the achievements and positive contributions of organizations and business people worldwide.

Why People Cloud?

The current business and economic climate continues to change with unprecedented speed and far-reaching impacts due to globalization, economic uncertainty, increased competition, technology disruption (mobility and smartphones), and changing workforce dynamics (mobility, diversity, technology proficiency, etc.). As desktop computers are being replaced by smart mobile devices, individualism is being replaced by teamwork. While these trends are forcing change on organizations from the outside, the workforce is simultaneously evolving to change organizations from the inside. Today’s workforce has different expectations, motivations, and contributions.

Organizations are increasingly adopting a modern and networked way of working, where the norms are transparency, concurrent projects with real-time updates, and continuously connected people, including customers, contractors and partners, who can operate successfully in a fluid and fast changing environment. Email as the primary means of communication is giving way to real-time contextual collaboration and aggregation (and analysis) of social interactions. The Saba People Cloud enables organizations to transform how work gets done to realize benefits via the following abilities:

The “mobilize, accelerate, and cultivate” approach (see Figure 2) is in sharp contrast to most of today’s human capital management (HCM) systems that were built to support static administrative human resources (HR) processes and strategies, top-down management, and a culture focused on operations and automation rather than people optimization. Sequential steps that were consistent and repeatable were the keys to successful execution.


Figure 2 [click to enlarge]

Many systems were built to support these processes on highly rigid, linear, transactional frameworks, making them poorly suited for dynamic people-focused strategies and a “networked” work style. Even newer SaaS-based talent management systems are typically built to support individual processes such as recruiting or performance management, and do not provide the holistic people view required of today’s HCM systems.

Some Concrete Social Software Use Case Scenarios

About one third of respondents in a recent IDC study cited time-savings as a key return on investment (ROI) of social software. By using social software, companies can accelerate their key processes such as idea generation, learning, customer validation of requirements, etc. As a result, companies can innovate, make decisions, and implement business (and market) changes faster, while increasing shareholder return, productivity, and engagement.

As an example of social software's use case, let’s think about the innovation or product development process. How can the process steps from an initial idea to a new commercial offering go faster? Social software tools can help with surfacing best ideas (on a new or modified offering), facilitating voting on ideas by customers and partners, and matching ideas to experts and product teams. In this social innovation process, there would be the following steps: an issue identified, an idea contributed, a discussion ensues, a vote takes place, the best idea surfaced, an expert located, expert review, enter a release lifecycle, a new offering released. To this end, key Saba social capabilities are Saba IdeaLab, Saba Expert Search, and Saba Social Forums, and these will be explained shortly.

Along similar lines would go the socialization of customer, partner, and franchise communities. Some process examples would be a new product introduction (NPI) to the channel and providing insight to the customer community in terms of upsell, cross-sell, and contract renewals. In this social partner relationship management (PRM) process, there would be the following steps: a NPI preparation, partner forum updated, partner validation, partner certification, new product released, go-to-market assets shared, partner feedback, best practices shared, and channel reviews.

Needless to say, support and service departments can benefit from customer support forums, whereby a community answers to support questions (so-called “crowdsourcing”). Faster ticket resolution, fostering customer conversations, and improved customer loyalty are some potential benefits. In this interactive service and support process, there would be the following steps: a critical customer issue emerges, a support ticket opened, a question created in the forum, an answer comes from community, certify the answer, add to the support frequently asked questions (FAQ), the support ticket closed, recognize the contributor, and delight customer.

To enable social processes Saba has created a social core layer within all of its applications. This layer contains the abilities to create dynamic people profiles, to comment, rate, and tag objects, and to share and follow objects. There are also activity feeds, microblogging, and Saba forums capabilities. The Saba People Cloud approach is not about one particular way of running an enterprise, i.e. top down or social (bottom up).

It is rather about transforming the workplace fundamentally so that even while the formal top-down strategic goals are being achieved, companies can use enterprise social networking infused throughout the process to get better grassroots motivation, engagement, and continuous feedback and performance improvement. Saba enables formal workflows (e.g., certifications, skills, etc.) for executive visibility, social workflows (e.g., interests, contributions, etc.) for employee engagement, and analytics and intelligence for trading partners and the entire value chain.

For example, the social performance management process from Saba complements the formal once a year performance review with continuous instant constructive feedback. For its part, the social strategic on-boarding process from Saba helps complement the formal on-boarding process that is much more meaningful to line of business (LoB) managers.

For example, an engineer joins the company, gets a social mentor, instantly connects over social networking technology to his formal team, and creates an informal support and peer group. Social tools enable an easy discovery of knowledge via documents, links, recordings, videos, and more importantly, connection to peers and subject matter experts, all powered with an intelligent recommendation engine. In this interactive on-boarding process, there would be the following steps: new hire starting day meeting, orientation meeting, social profile creation (see Figures 3, 3a, and 3b), social mentor determined, peer connections established, recommendations produced, expert coaching conducted, social bookmarks made, and the new hire quickly becomes fully integrated and productive.


Figure 3a


Figure 3b


Figure 3c

What Is Saba Software Today?

Founded in 1997 and currently with 700 employees worldwide, Saba is a provider of what it calls “The Saba People Cloud,” which, as said earlier, constitutes a new class of business-critical software that combines enterprise learning, people management, and collaboration technologies. Saba’s People Cloud enables leading organizations (i.e., 51 of Fortune 100) in several industries (automakers, aerospace & defense, food & beverage, banks, oil & gas, military forces, and pharmaceuticals) to mobilize and engage their people to drive new strategies and initiatives, align and connect people to accelerate the flow of business, and cultivate, capture and share individual and collective knowhow to effectively compete and succeed.

In total, Saba has approximately 1,600 customers and 23 million users worldwide (its solutions have been deployed in 195 countries in 30 languages). The company had US$116.7 million in revenue in fiscal 2011. Saba has long been focused on consistent and profitable growth, and is one of Forbes’ most trusted companies. Saba is currently headquartered in Redwood Shores, California, with offices on five continents. Saba’s solutions are available in the Public cloud and as a Private cloud solution, and are underpinned by global services capabilities encompassing strategic consulting, comprehensive implementation and education services, and worldwide support.

Part 2 of this blog series will analyze Saba’s genesis and current offerings. In the meantime, your comments, thoughts, suggestions or individual experiences with talent management, learning management, and social solutions are more than welcome.
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