Saba Software: All about People (Cloud) - Part 2

Part 1 of this series introduced Saba Software, a public provider of what it calls “People Cloud,” which constitutes a new class of business-critical software that combines enterprise learning, talent management, and collaboration technologies. The post first described the vendor’s slew of industry rewards and accolades at the recent 2011 Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston and related events.

Then, I discussed the need for the “People Cloud” that transforms people-driven enterprises and analyzed a number of social software use case scenarios. My post ended with a description of Saba’s current state of affairs: 700 employees, 1,600 customers, and 23 million users worldwide (its solutions have been deployed in 195 countries in 30 languages).


How Did Saba Get Here?

Having developed its learning management systems (LMS) and talent management modules internally since its inception in 1997, in mid-2005 Saba acquired THINQ Learning Solutions, primarily for its install base. But the late 2005 acquisition of Centra Software was a technology buy: Web-conferencing software with a real-time engine.

With Saba Centra online collaboration capabilities and Saba Communities, the vendor has been serving marquee customers with real-time social technology since 2006. Thus, Saba is not exactly a newcomer to collaboration software, with customers including Yum! Brands, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Grant Thornton, FedEx, Allina Hospitals, Sanofi Aventis, and many major high-tech companies, banks, and global consulting firms.

Saba People Cloud embodies a single unified platform, information model, and process model, and includes modern collaboration technologies in each application service. As a result, Saba People Cloud delivers a consistent experience across all people actions and processes as well as offering major cost, upgrade, and speed-to-deployment advantages. Based on open standards, the offering allows simplified and flexible deployment, integration, and personalization options.

Saba People Cloud is comprised of the Saba People Cloud Applications and global services capabilities encompassing strategic consulting, comprehensive implementation and education services, and worldwide support. The Saba People Cloud Applications include multiple products such as the Saba Learning Suite, the Saba Performance Suite, the Saba Enterprise Social Networking Suite, and the Saba Online Collaboration Suite, all of which are available as a cloud offering.

Saba Learning Suite

The “mother” Saba Learning Suite is a solution that provides comprehensive management systems for formal and informal learning so that enterprises can identify, manage, develop, and measure the capabilities and knowledge of people throughout the organization and the supply chain, as well as empower employees to connect and contribute expertise. Built to support the people processes of the world’s most demanding organizations, this system drives new revenues, creates strategic alignment, and mobilizes people across the global ecosystem of Saba’s customers’ employees, customers, partners, and suppliers.

The Saba Learning Suite uses innovative technologies and mobile access to generate user engagement through mobility, ubiquity, and immediacy. The learning suite includes the following applications:

  • Saba Learning: Enables organizations to deliver and manage critical knowledge and skills to improve productivity and achieve business results, supports certifications with multiple learning pathways, provides flexible audit trails, and supports e-signatures to meet a wide variety of stringent regulatory requirements

  • Saba Learning Commerce: Provides support for optimized pricing, discounting schemes, marketing campaigns, branded certification programs, bundled training units and a variety of convenient payment methods for education businesses

  • Saba Content Management: Helps organizations capture, consolidate, organize, manage, share and reuse all types of learning content through a learning object repository and automated content and project-management processes

  • Saba Publisher: Allows users to create new courses or repurpose previous courses, and publish them in hypertext markup language (HTML) or standard learning formats such as AICC or SCORM quickly and efficiently

  • Saba Anywhere: Provides a mobile platform that lets people take their learning on the go by downloading, viewing, and interacting with standards-based courseware and knowledge content anywhere, anytime, regardless of network connectivity

In addition to formal learning workflows such as compliance with the SCORM/AICC standards used in Web-based LMS, instructor-led training (ILT), and Web-based training (WBT), Saba Social Learning supports a number of social workflows. Examples of the latter include automatic course groups, informal resources, real-time ad hoc meetings, finding experts, and structured and unstructured searches.

Saba Performance Suite

The Saba Performance Suite enables organizations to continuously align individuals’ activities with key organizational goals, collect real-time performance feedback from the social network, and establish a relevant performance review process that clarifies expectations, measures results, increases accountability, and identifies actionable improvements. The Saba Performance Suite enables organizations to establish a performance process that is proactive, collaborative, and relevant for each individual employee.

In addition, the Saba Performance Suite embeds a number of collaborative tools to foster connections with mentors and experts and enable cross-functional alignment of goals and activities. The Saba Performance Suite includes the following applications:

  • Saba Performance Reviews: Establishes a strategic, relevant performance review process to allow multiple raters to provide feedback on individualized goals and competencies to improve the speed, quality, and relevance of performance feedback

  • Saba Goals & Objectives: Provides real-time views into an organization’s progress against goals and plans, allowing it to easily make adjustments to respond to changing requirements

  • Saba Impressions: Delivers real-time feedback from the social network that is critical to rapid individual performance improvement

  • Saba Workforce Planning: Provides organizations with the visibility needed to proactively plan their future workforce, increase overall agility, and reduce risk

  • Saba Succession: Focuses on the identification and development of key employees to mitigate the risk of loss of institutional knowledge that can occur when talent leaves the company

  • Saba Compensation: Empowers managers with measures of employee success from various talent processes, both formal and informal, so that money is spent where it is needed most, and includes the capabilities to support base and variable compensation plan design, compensation eligibility, and compensation allocation

As does its aforementioned learning counterpart, the performance management suite features a slew of formal workflows, such as performance reviews, goals, 360-degree reviews, 9-box talent calibration, org charts, succession planning, and compensation. Moreover, in addition to the aforementioned impressions, there are social workflows such as contribution and reputation analytics, dynamic network analysis that leverages the people’s experience and expertise (see Figure 1), and virtual performance reviews with high definition (HD) video capabilities.


Figure 1

Saba's Enterprise Social Networking and Online Collaboration Suite

Saba’s enterprise collaboration solutions include integrated enterprise-class Web conferencing and real-time communication and advanced business networking capabilities. These products enrich the aforementioned learning and performance business processes in the enterprise and power real-time communication with presence, instant messaging (IM), video-enabled channels, voice over IP (VoIP)-enabled online meetings, and Web conferences. These collaboration solutions include Saba Centra Online Collaboration and Saba Social (formerly Saba Live), a new Saba product that was made generally available (GA) in mid 2010.

Saba Centra Online Collaboration Suite

Saba Centra Online Collaboration enables organizations to capture and share knowledge, as well as exchange information with customers, partners, prospects, and employees around the world in real-time. Saba Centra helps organizations increase productivity and efficiency by helping to incorporate learning and knowledge transfer into business processes. Conducting online training via virtual classrooms, engaging webinars, and online meetings can all be made easily.

The product works with Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh, and Linux platforms with a lightweight Web access client that works across all major browsers and accelerates mission-critical initiatives that involve learning, training, and general web conferencing. The suite is accessible through a rich participant interface on the Apple iPhone and iPad. Saba Centra Online Collaboration includes the following key applications:

  • Saba Meeting: Helps eliminate the difficulties of complex meeting coordination and reduce the time and expense of business travel

  • Saba Webinar: Equips the organization with an efficient and cost-effective way to reach and engage large audiences quickly

  • Saba Classroom: Enables live, interactive education sessions across many locations

Saba Centra Online Collaboration is integrated with the aforementioned Saba Learning Suite to provide seamless access to blended learning programs, knowledge assets, and important documents. For example, using Saba Centra together with the Saba Learning Suite makes it easier for organizations to capture knowledge from subject matter experts and share that information as needed. In addition, a unified search functionality enables users to search across all formal and informal learning content.

The combination of social tools and online collaboration functionality such as the ability to record, include integrated telephony and Section 508 accessibility for people with disabilities enables social workflows. Users can launch meetings quickly and easily using the “Meet now” capability, share their desktops, communicate using VOIP, text chat, stream HD video, and view video channels. In addition, the recording studio comes in handy for learning content creation and enables users to rank, tag, and bookmark Centra recordings.

Saba Centra Online Collaboration is seamlessly integrated with Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Office Suite, Lync, and Microsoft Messenger. The current Saba Centra 7.7 release offers a superior HD VoIP experience with a better voice quality than landline phones, even under heavy packet losses. Thus, HD VOIP works well for geographically remote teams, and is free of charge (WebEx, for example, charges US 7 cents per minute).

The release also offers a superior mobile HD VOIP experience by avoiding extreme packet losses on Wi-Fi networks and excessive background noise and echo in mobile environments (via acoustic echo cancellation, noise suppression, and automatic gain control). There is support for two codecs: iSACand and IPCMwb, whereby iPCM-wb codec is of higher quality than the industry standard G.722. Bandwidth settings can be adjusted during the meeting without the need to re-start the session. The host can observe the speech level indicator, emoticons, and perform microphone and speaker volume control. There are optional Voice Minutes upgrades for Toll Free access and “Call-Back” features.

Saba Social Suite

Saba Social is an award winning enterprise social networking solution that transforms the workplace by enabling rapid innovation, knowledge sharing, and highly connected communities of employees, partners and customers (see Figure 2). Saba Social integrates social business software features such as ideas, discussion forums, questions, video channels, expert location and social bookmarking with real time online collaboration features like chat and integrated web conferencing with rich HD video and audio.

Saba Social is designed to accelerate the following business processes/use cases for enterprises:

  • Rapid innovation to help bring new products and services to market faster

  • Connected customer communities to increase repeat business

  • Informed partner communities to accelerate channel pipeline

  • A social intranet that creates a culture of motivated and engaged employees

  • Decreased support costs and increased customer loyalty by crowdsourcing

  • Faster and smarter product development with direct feedback from customers

  • Faster on-boarding with social mentoring, recommendations and virtual job shadowing


Figure 2

Saba Social enablea a number of formal workflows, such as expertise location, content storage, integration with document management systems (i.e., Microsoft SharePoint via content management integration services [CMIS]) and Outlook, and security and governance. Saba Social workflows are similar to those of Saba Centra: Saba IdeaLab, Saba Social Forums, chat, wikis, web conferencing, video channels, conferences, profiles, unified search, blogs, IM, files, Web 2.0 plug-ins, analytics, etc.

The addition of social networking to web conferencing transforms the experience from a one-off, static meeting to one event in a continuously connected intelligent social relationship. For example, people you invite to a “classic” (i.e., “dumb” or static) webinar are typically there for an hour and then you may never connect with them again except for some (often annoying) follow ups through direct marketing campaigns.

With webinars conducted through Saba, one can stay connected with the community, which can interact with other participants during the webinar (and continuously as needed thereafter as part of the community). The same with the aforementioned "Saba Classroom" – instead of a virtual classroom session that happens over a day, the community of learners can now continuously interact in a social setting. And one can publish recordings to a group, share, rank, and tag them, making a recording as easy to discover and share as one does a video posting on YouTube.

The final part of this series will analyze the underlying product architecture that enables the rich functionality of Saba’s People Cloud. In the meantime, your comments, thoughts, suggestions or individual experiences with talent management, learning management, and social software solutions and use cases (see Part 1) are more than welcome.
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