Saba Joins The Crowded Social Business Software Market

March 26 2012 12:30:00 AM Comments Disabled
Last week, Saba held their annual user conference in sunny Miami Florida. I attended along with several of my Constellation Research colleagues to a) run an all day workshop on social software for 50+ Saba customers and prospects and b) attend Saba's analyst event to discuss the company's new announcements and roadmap.

For those of you not familiar with Saba, they have previously focused on e-learning and talent management software, but at the conference they announced their brand new offering, Saba People Cloud. This new platform represents a significant shift for the company, as they seek to define a brand new category of social software that ties together collaboration tools and people-centric HR processes.

They also announced updates to their talent management and learning products, the acquisition of HumanConcepts (for $23.5M) and a major update to their web-conferencing product Saba Meetings which was formerly named Saba Centra.

Scroll down to skip ahead to my point of view.

I had the pleasure of discussing Saba People Cloud (SPC) with Milind Pansare, Sr. Director of Social Cloud Applications and Ben Willis, Sr. Director of Product Strategy. They explained that SPC combines three functional areas: Collaboration, People-Centric processes and Analytics & Engagement. I've created the image below to represent how I view the platform:

Saba People Cloud

Saba's goal is to provide customers a single profile page for each employee, combining a person's contact information, their activity stream, links to items they have created (pages, files, bookmark, etc.) as well as HR-centric information such as courses taken and certifications earned. Profiles include a measurement called pQ, which is a number from 1-100 representing an employee's influence on the organization, based on the social activities they have performed. For those of you familiar with consumer services like Klout or PeerIndex, pQ is similar, and Saba says it provides incentive for people to be more active in the system, having fun as they compare themselves to others as they try to raise their pQ score.

The collaboration tools include all the things you'd expect such as a dashboard (supporting OpenSocial based widgets), wiki pages, file sharing, status updates, groups, ideation and more. SPC also includes built in chat and high-definition video and web-conferencing.

On the HR/HCM side of things, SPC provides tools for creating and tracking goals and objectives. Managers can access a view which displays how their entire team is measuring up against their goals, making it easy to identify which employees may require assistance.

SPC includes an excellent Social Analytics tool called Dynamic Network Analysis, or DNA. DNA provides several highly interactive visualizations, displaying things such as how people in the network are connected and the growth patterns of groups over time. What impresses me the most about DNA is the filtering capabilities which allow you to drill down into the data that matters the most to you. I would like to see filtering based on tags/skills/certifications, as this would provide a way to find specific expertise within your "Inner Circle".

Saba DNA - My Inner Circle

In addition to the pQ score mentioned above, SPC also provides a nice reward/praise system they call "Impressions". Impressions allow you to say thank you to a colleague and reward them a badge for a job well done. Badges are displayed on people's profiles and that information can be rolled up into reports for managers to use during an employee's review process. A simple but very useful feature of Impressions is that while you're rewarding someone, you can also enter feedback called "Even Better If..." which is visible to only the recipient.

People can belong to multiple networks, all of which are accessed via a single profile. That profile is accessible across multiple networks, so no switching IDs or keeping multiple profiles up to date is required. Therefore an employee could be working on an internal project with their peers then easily switch to an external network to collaborate with customers or partners. SPC's security takes care of displaying only the appropriate pieces of information for that network based on access control built into every item.

My Point of View

The market for social software is a crowded one, filled with startups and large incumbent software vendors each trying to carve out their own niche. Saba's approach of integrating collaboration tools with people-centric business processes enables them to leverage their existing expertise as they try to expand their presence beyond their current HR-specific silos. However, I spoke with dozens of customers over the three days I was at the conference and very few of them are currently using Saba for both Learning and Talent Management. That tells me that Saba's existing customer base is already accustomed to integrating multiple platforms together in order to achieve their business requirements. As these customers look to implement social software, they may turn to vendors like IBM, Microsoft, Jive, Yammer and several others who have already established solid reputations in "social". Also don't discount Google who's "social roadmap" seems to be more on track these days, and they certainly have considerable mindshare in the small and medium business market which Saba is hoping to expand into.

As for the Saba People Cloud product itself, there are many things about it I like. One of the most impressive features is the integration with Saba Meetings, which enables people to easily launch a web-conference, record the session, then publish it directly to a video channel for future viewing all within SPC. Second is search, which not only provides results in real time as you type (like Google), but also allows you to filter down results based on a series of categories such as conent type, author and date. Third, the Saba DNA (social analytics) module looks like a great tool for helping find people in your network. However, after a few days of testing the system I'm disappointed in the lack of "UI polish" and how basic some of the features are. Several "core social activities" such as sharing links and files are missing features or are harder to use than what I expect from a 2012 product. Saba Product Management tells me that SPC's roadmap includes many of the things I've noticed, so I look forward to following its progress as I believe all the building blocks are there to make SPC into a great social business platform.

If your company is looking for a cloud-based platform that combines collaboration, HCM features and integrated web-conferencing, Saba People Cloud should certainly be on your evaluation list. You can try it for yourself at