Saba Software helps companies build a transformative workplace. The vendor began by enabling companies to transform enterprise-wide learning, and now provides them with the tools to transform the way people do work in general. This is done by enabling more rapid innovation and faster product development with direct feedback from customers to increase revenue and decrease time to market, by fostering informed partner communities to accelerate channel pipeline, and by enabling social recruiting to source and onboard the right people to fuel growth. This workplace transformation leverages the advent of social networking in business and the ubiquity of mobile technologies to empower an organization’s most mission-critical assets—its people.
Founded in 1997 and currently operating with more 850 employees worldwide, Saba provides people-centric enterprise solutions, representing a new class of business-critical software solutions that combine enterprise learning, talent management, and collaboration technologies. Saba’s people-centric systems enable leading organizations (i.e., 51 of Fortune 100) in several industries (automakers, aerospace & defense, food & beverage, banking, oil & gas, military forces, public sector, and pharmaceuticals) to mobilize, inspire, and engage their people to develop new strategies and initiatives, align and connect people to accelerate the flow of business, and cultivate, capture, and share individual and collective know-how to effectively compete and succeed in the marketplace.
In total, Saba serves more than 2,100 customers (large and midsize enterprises) and 31 million users worldwide (its solutions have been deployed in 195 countries). The company reported $116.7 million (USD) revenue in the fiscal year 2011. Saba has long been focused on consistent and profitable growth, and is one of Forbes’ most trusted companies. The vendor is currently headquartered in Redwood Shores, California, United States, with offices on five continents, data centers around the globe, and support in 30 languages. Saba’s solutions are available both on premise and in the cloud, and are underpinned by global services capabilities encompassing strategic consulting, comprehensive implementation and education services, and worldwide support. In addition, Saba has more than 100 global Saba partners, distributors, and resellers.
Latest Acquisitions in Learning and Talent Management
Saba has lately bolstered its testing and assessment capabilities in its well-established learning management realm with the 2011 acquisitions of Pedagogue Solutions and Comartis. In March 2012, at the Saba Global Summit 2012 conference in Miami, Florida, Saba announced the industry’s most advanced Enterprise Learning Management suite that unifies learning management system (LMS), social learning, virtual classroom, content authoring and management, testing and assessment, and mobile learning. The use of social tools has resulted in a slew of Social Learning capabilities such as managing skills, certifications, formal learning (courses and curriculums), informal learning, intelligent recommendations, social bookmarking, and social video channels.
At the same conference, Saba announced the acquisition of the visual organizational planning software provider HumanConcepts, a company with about 100 employees and 500 customers (some of whom were also customers of Saba). HumanConcepts’ drag-and-drop visualization tools for workforce planning and budgeting have improved the value proposition of not only Saba’s LMS suite (where the vendor is the market leader), but also Saba’s Talent Management suite (where the vendor strives to become a leading best-of-breed provider).
Intuitively visual and color coded, HumanConcepts’ orgcharts and graphs can help managers identify gaps in their employees’ career advancement, succession, and other plans, which can then be addressed. These acquired capabilities can be combined with Saba’s existing social employee performance capabilities, such as Goals and Objectives, Coaching and Mentoring, Instant Feedback, Badges and Influence Scores, Tasks and Activities, Group Meetings, Formal Performance Reviews, Approvals and Workflow, and Social Onboarding.
Also at Saba Global Summit 2012 was the unveiling of Saba People Cloud (SPC, formerly Saba Social), the first social enterprise platform to combine a unified enterprise people profile with a system of record such as a Human Resource Information System (HRIS) and LMS, as well as with a social profile and analytics. In other words, a unified Enterprise People Profile combines the formal profile, social profile, and analytics to provide comprehensive people insight into a company’s entire people network. The goal is to provide Saba customers with a single profile that contains information about an employee in a single repository. An employee may belong to multiple networks, all of which can be accessed via a single profile, without the need for switching login IDs or entering new URLs. Thus, an employee could work on an internal project with his/her colleagues, and then easily switch to an external network to collaborate with customers or trading partners. Internal and external groups can also be public, private, or hidden.
Profiles are the core of the system, and are created by combining a person's contact information, his/her activity stream, tag clouds, links to various pertinent items (pages, files, bookmarks, wikis, ideas, issues, etc.) he/she has created with human resources (HR)-centric information such as courses taken and certifications earned. (Saba has partnerships with Workday and Kronos in the administrative HR space.)
SPC resembles LinkedIn but appears to be more powerful in its capabilities, and includes an influence measurement score—pQ, which is a number from 0–99 that represents an employee's influence on the organization, based on the social activities he/she has performed. This Klout- and PeerIndex-like pQ measurement allows employees—based on their interactions within SPC—to monitor their influence, reputation, and overall impact on the organization in real time and proactively effect changes. While the pQ score is the first groundbreaking, patented technology to measure and be able to improve employees’ impact at work, it is considered controversial, and for now, an employee can choose whether to display his/her score (influence) in SPC. But as the true added value of public kudos (where employees can also gamify the system) is still questionable to some and the concept of pQ differs by industry, work type, and corporate culture, it will take some time for pQ to gain general acceptance.
It is important to clarify that there is a major difference between Saba Enterprise Cloud (SEC) and the Saba People Cloud (SPC). Both solutions are delivered as software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings in the cloud, but they hold different value propositions. SEC offers full-fledged learning and talent management capabilities for companies that are looking for functionally comprehensive best-of-breed LMS and integrated talent management solutions. SPC offers a subset of talent management capabilities with a social enterprise platform flavor for companies that are looking to inherently transform the way they work. In a nutshell, SPC combines social collaboration and visionary real-time integration with built-in chat and Web conferencing, and modem people processes that combine formal and informal learning and employee performance capabilities.
At the same conference, the vendor also unveiled Saba Meeting (formerly Saba Centra), a unified social, mobile, and video collaboration platform—enabling users to record and view (replay) high-definition (HD) video across webinars, virtual meetings, or classrooms on any device. And performing all this does not reduce the organization’s bandwidth owing to Saba’s satellite server-based architecture (whereby more satellite servers can be added as required) and its ability to leverage Akamai’s Content Delivery Network (CDN). The impressive scalability of the system is evidenced by Saba’s reported installations in one enterprise with two million users without any bandwidth issues.
The Centra purchase in 2005 was a strategic acquisition for real-time cloud infrastructure, rather than software per se. Therefore, Saba Meeting can be consumed in many ways. When used as a virtual classroom solution in combination with Saba Learning (or another part of the SEC suite), the solution provides the most comprehensive and advanced enterprise learning system in the market today. Additionally, when combined with the social capabilities and embedded people profile of the SPC suite, the solution enables users to collaborate and share knowledge and documents in real time with other employees, customers, and partners. Complete unification with SPC offers a seamless blending of synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, featuring presence, HD video meetings, chat, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), desktop sharing, Web conferencing, one-click publishing to YouTube, and activity streams.
In addition to being an integral part of Saba’s broader talent management and social cloud platforms, an extensive set of open application programming interfaces (APIs) are available for integrating Saba Meeting with third-party enterprise applications including customer relationship management (CRM) systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, other LMSs, portals, and marketing automation systems. Certainly, with Cisco WebEx, GoTo Meeting, Microsoft LiveMeeting, and the like, Saba is not necessarily the first brand that comes to mind in Web conferencing. However, Saba’s collaboration solutions—meeting, webinar, and classroom, plus its social enterprise platform—are gaining a reputation as possibly the most innovative and unified solutions in the market.
Saba Management Discussion
The overarching message of Saba Global Summit 2012 was that people are not mere human resources, but are rather critical assets in the innovation and success of today’s organizations. Saba’s top management was upbeat during the analyst breakout session given that enterprise learning, Web conferencing, talent management, and social platforms are seen as growth markets. Saba dominates the eLearning market, is expanding to the human capital management (HCM) realm, and has introduced new product lines—Saba Meeting and SPC.
Saba’s espoused goal is to acquire 100 million users by 2015. How does it plan to achieve this lofty goal, which is more than triple its current figure of 31 million users? The vendor believes that the strength of its social enterprise platform will help create networks of employees, customers, and trading partners—multiplying the adoption rates. Additionally, the recently acquired testing and assessment solutions are expected to bring new users to the platform. Saba’s core learning solutions continue to gain market share, and Saba’s footprint in talent management continues to grow. SPC is expected to replace Microsoft SharePoint, and travel and expenses (T&E) solutions with its equivalent social intranet functionality. Saba’s offerings have a powerful Solr-based search engine, which not only provides type-ahead results in real time (like Google does), but also allows users to filter down results based on a series of filters (faceted search engine enhancements).
Saba’s fiscal year 2012 cloud revenue were reportedly 80 percent of the company’s total revenue, which overcame the natural initial decline in license revenue (after the company shifted to recurring subscription revenue reporting in 2009/10) and still grew year over year. Currently, Saba draws 79 percent of its revenue from large enterprises (and expects that figure go down to 60 percent by 2015), 17 percent from the mid-market (companies with 2,000 to 7,000 employees, and expects that figure to increase to 40 percent by 2015), with the remainder from small businesses (hoping to increase this figure to 10 percent by 2015). Currently, 35 percent of Saba’s revenue comes from the so-called rest of the world (China, Brazil, Russia), and expects that to increase to 50 percent by 2015. Saba’s partners currently influence 25 percent of the company’s revenue, and Saba expects that figure to rise to 35 percent by 2015 (but the cutoff demarcation lines between direct vs. indirect sales have yet to be drawn).
As many customers appear to be flummoxed by SAP and Oracle’s respective acquisitions of SuccessFactors and Taleo, Saba sees an opportunity to be a best-of-breed cloud HCM alternative to these competitors, which are now owned by large ERP vendors. Saba’s management said that chief information officers (CIOs) think of IBM, Google, salesforce.com, and even Oracle and Microsoft before they think of SAP as a cloud force (it remains to be seen how the impending Ariba acquisition will change this perception). According to Saba, even 86 percent of SuccessFactors customers are non-SAP customers (many are ironically Oracle customers), whereas only half of Taleo customers are Oracle ERP customers as well. Moreover, once a major LMS competitor, Plateau has now lost lots of talent after two mergers, first with SuccessFactors and then SAP.
Saba sees an opportunity to target these potentially dismayed customers, but this is a double-edged sword. Namely, not many Saba customers concurrently use Saba’s Learning and Talent Management offerings, which might create an opportunity for the remaining pure-play HCM providers: Kenexa, PeopleFluent (which recently merged with SocialText), Cornerstone OnDemand, Infor, SumTotal, and Ultimate Software.
Social Process Management
After attending Saba Global Summit 2012, I was still not quite clear about Saba People Cloud’s true value in social networking. To be fair, there were many likeable and impressive pieces of functionality, but it was not clear to me why anyone would opt for SPC and not for a more established social platform such as Jive Software, SocialText, IBM Lotus Connections, Salesforce Chatter, and Neudesic Pulse. These competitive products have snazzy user interfaces (UIs) and several "no-brainer yet default social activities" such as sharing links and files.
But after attending Saba’s keynote presentation during the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston in June 2012 (at which time Saba also announced the general availability of Saba Meeting 8.0), the message was quite a bit more refined and clearer. Namely, SPC is aimed at enabling Social Business Processes, such as the following (also see figure 1 below):
- Social Collaboration—Connect an enterprise’s team and extended community and innovate faster.
- Social Meeting—Go from a one-off meeting to an engaged continuous community with persistent recordings, social profiles, and groups.
- Social Performance—Provide a new way to motivate, develop, and improve the performance of teams with instant recognition, badges, sentiment analysis, team tasks, and formal goals and objectives and reviews.
- Social Learning—Use a modern learning solution that combines the best of social learning with the ability to formally track skills, development, and deliver online training.
The social collaboration tools include all those expected features such as a dashboard (supporting OpenSocial-based widgets), wiki pages, file sharing, activity streams, status updates, groups, ideation, tag clouds, and more. Social meeting processes include built-in chat and HD video and Web conferencing, all of which came from the former Centra. But the real added value comes from social collaboration and meeting being the underlying pillars for the social talent management processes involved in engaging, developing, and inspiring people.
Engage Your People
SPC can facilitate companies to engage their people (see figure 2) in the following ways:
- Undertake enterprise activity streams
- Start discussions, share ideas, and resolve issues
- Organize groups—public, private, or hidden support for cross-functional and organizational teams
- Have presence icons for one-on-one or group chats
- Conduct HD video meetings with VoIP, whiteboards, desktop, and slide share
In addition, SPC is able to make intelligent recommendations, such as the following:
- Which people to follow
- Pages, files, and videos shared with you
- Meetings you should be participate in
- Top ideas to speed up innovation
Develop Your People
Moreover, SPC can facilitate companies to develop their people (see figure 3) in the following ways:
- Conduct unified searches to obtain up-to-date information
- Provide social bookmarks—social job shadowing
- Find experts—personnel with specific skill sets
- Align teams with goals and objectives, and track progress—managers can access a view that displays how their entire team is measuring up against their goals, to identify which employees may require help
- Assign and track tasks
- Assign learning programs and track certification
- Provide social recognition, badges, and impressions
Impressions, a social recognition capability, allow employees to give praises and performance feedback to a colleague and reward him/her with a badge for a job well done. Badges are displayed on people's profiles and that information can be rolled up into reports that managers can use during an employee's performance review process. A simple but useful feature of Impressions is that while you're rewarding someone, you can also provide him/her feedback called "Even Better If . . .", which provides additional personal information not displayed publically on the individual’s profile. SPC also has lightweight sentiment analysis capabilities to discern the meaning of social recognition statements. The offering is the first social enterprise platform that transforms social collaboration with social engagement features, drawing from the best of gamification, social dynamics, and social rewards.
Inspire Your People
Last but not least, SPC can facilitate companies to inspire their people (see figure 4) in the following ways:
- Provide pQ scores—to improve an employee’s impact at work
- Share ideas with everyone in the extended people network
- Align an employee’s goals with the “bigger picture” mission of the organization
- Publish inspirational video and pages to channels and workspaces
- Provide Dynamic Network Analysis (DNA)—to understand how teams work and identify the most influential people in a network
DNA, a social analytics capability, provides highly interactive visualization scenarios of relationships, influence, and reputation in the people network. It can display social analytics with filtering (drill-down) capabilities, such as how people in a network are connected and the growth patterns of group activity over time. When used in conjunction with orgcharts, DNA becomes a great visual knowledge/influence graph in an enterprise.
The market for social software is filled with startups and large incumbent software vendors all trying to carve out their own niche. Saba's approach to integrating collaboration tools with HCM business processes is worth noting. SPC is currently the first and only social enterprise platform for supporting modern people processes that transform social and formal learning and traditional talent processes. Only time will tell how successful Saba will be in marketing and selling the solution. Companies looking for a cloud-based platform that provides collaboration and social HCM features should give SPC serious consideration.
References and Recommended Reading:
Free Trial of Saba People Cloud
TEC Blog. Saba Software: All about People (Cloud) – Part 3. September 7, 2011.
Constellation Research. Saba Joins The Crowded Social Business Software Market. March 25, 2012.
Saba Blog. Saba Announces the General Availability of Saba Meeting 8.0. June 18, 2012.
TEC Blog. SAP Seeking Cloud Success via SuccessFactors Buy. December 5, 2011.
Saba Global Summit 2012 Announcements (Press Releases)
Saba Announces Availability of Industry’s Most Advanced Enterprise Learning Management Suite. March 20, 2012.
Saba Announces Revolutionary Social Enterprise Platform. March 20, 2012.
Saba Unveils Breakthrough Video Collaboration Platform. March 20, 2012.
Saba Acquires Leading Organizational Planning Provider Human Concepts. March 20, 2012.