Saba, Keeping Priorities Straight

Saba is keeping their priorities straight – with a focus last week in their Annual Saba Summit on people connections, learning, and relationships. There is no doubt that integrated talent management is important, I’ve studied the positive effects of true integration efforts for years – but many organizations underestimate the importance of Learning while focusing on the bigger picture. Somewhere in the last few years, the overall relevance of the market for developing and connecting people has been lost in the chatter about talent management and human capital assets.

I’ll be honest; this is also a bit of a personal struggle for me. At the center of my personal core is a belief in the importance of development. My father was an educator – but more importantly he is a teacher in every facet of his life. I grew up knowing that fundamentally we could change world through teaching, one person, one community, one country at a time. Over time I came to realize that as important as teaching was – people could only learn in an environment that supported their learning. This is where talent management, workforce management, content/information management, and learning management, come together and in doing so they create an environment that supports relationships and learning. Saba’s message last week was focused on transforming the work environment to do just that – support people relationships.

In the last year, announcements from the learning and talent technology front have been reaching a frenetic pace – every month another shoe drops or another company is acquired. Buyers are afraid to take a step forward, unsure of the changing landscape that lies before them – feeling like they are somewhere between Alice in Wonderland and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – and buyers are looking for some stability.

Saba’s announcements last week were blunt and targeted, with a focus on trying to clear the chaos, and offer a secure solution for today’s buyers. It took them four press releases and a summit to do this. They came close – But it would be nice to see some of the marketing language stripped away.

Bobby Yazdani, CEO of Saba, stated their intentions the best when he stated that their goals were to:

  • Dominate the Enterprise Learning Market
  • Expand in the Talent Management Market
  • Become a Top provider in the Social Market

Saba has approached these goals with a dogged determination, one step at a time. Over the last six years they have slowly been improving their core platforms, building a new socially focused cloud platform, and purchasing targeted systems to support their long term vision. They have also diversified their revenue mix increasing their focus on SMB sales along with vertical and regional markets, and created strategic partnerships with resellers and service providers. They have also embraced the cloud, stating that 80% of their clients are now cloud installations. Additionally billings were up 89% and revenue grew 64% year over year from the Cloud clients. Simply put, Saba has positioned themselves in a sweet spot for organizations looking to transition from SAP/SuccessFactors/Plateau and Oracle/Taleo/Learn – or those looking to upgrade from a traditional learning or talent platform, to a more socially enabled platform.

More importantly in my opinion, they have firmly stated their intentions to focus on the learning market. This is something we are not hearing as clearly from their major competitors– where the mixed message of integration and collaboration is not equating to focus. Saba has specifically put funding, marketing, and strategic efforts behind the learning community. In speaking with Bobby after the analyst event he commented that their Learning Products had double-digit growth in both customers and revenue in the last year – and they expected to see that trajectory continue. This isn’t surprising – based on Brandon Hall Group’s research we believe that the actual revenue opportunities in the learning technology space will outpace talent management dramatically in the next few years due to extended audiences. In our recent survey on relationship centered learning, over 47% of 600 organizations were involved in meeting the needs of an extended learning audience. The extended audiences range from channel partners to individual product consumers, and have increased many learning functions scope considerably in the last few years.
Beyond these strategic messages, there were a few highlights worth noting from the product upgrades and launch discussions as well.

Saba Enterprise Learning

  • Saba Unified Learning Platform, in their Saba Enterprise Cloud (SEC) environment saw improvements in their overall packaging and integration efforts. Specifically, I was pleased to see further integration with the Saba Meeting Tool.

Saba Meeting Tool

  • Updates to their former Centra platform, now called Saba Meeting. Based on the live demo given at the event I would recommend taking a closer look at this tool. With HD Video capabilities, mobile access, collaboration tools, and social media connections this update addressed almost all of our previous concerns with the old Centra product.

Saba People Cloud

  • The Saba People Cloud (SPC) platform – Although this new platform comes out of Saba’s previous work in Saba Social, it is a nice step forward in providing a more socially focused talent and learning platform. For the SMB market this platform offers basic performance, meeting, and learning tools, along with the social tools – but more importantly it doesn’t just mimic Saba’s traditional platforms. It re-engineers how data is captured, used, and processes would be accomplished in a more social environment.
  • Inside the cloud, Dynamic Network Analysis (DNA) – this allows users and leaders alike to understand and manage their organizations formal and informal networks, tracking them based on real time data. This is another tool that could be a great benefit for an organization, but it requires that the bulk of employees use it regularly to maximize its value.
  • pQ Scores – this is Saba’s version of Klout – an algorithmic generated score based on your profile, recognition, activity, and content rankings among other things in the Saba Social environment. It connections the world of Gamification, Badges, and Talent in a single application. Will it be used or is it valuable? I’m not quite sure about that, but it did spark the largest amounts of tweets and conversations at the Summit.
  • Sneak Peak, Recruiting – I also had an opportunity to get a sneak peak at the Recruiting functionality currently in Beta. Designed around how SMB’s tend to manage their hiring processes today – it connects almost seamlessly with social platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook and uses those repositories effectively in the process. For most SMB’s the traditional applicant tracking systems are over-kill, and this addresses that issue.
  • Sneak Peak, Developers Platform? There was talk of creating a platform as a service model with a developers platform for the Saba People Cloud (could we see a like app exchange in their future?).

Human Concepts Purchase

  • I’ll be honest I didn’t spend a great deal of time looking into this area. It seems like a good logical move for Saba, and will provide more analytics and talent transition power. If you’d like more detail, I liked Mark Smith’s write up on this acquisition from Ventana Research.

Saba’s solution set won’t be the perfect fit for everyone, and they still have some integration work to accomplish with their 2011 acquisition of Pedagogue and now the Human Concepts platform. Everything isn’t quite as seamless as the marketing looks. However, these integrations are less painful than the current integration efforts of many of their competitors. The one blatant item Saba’s suite lacks is a full recruiting tool – although they do have partnerships with Kognos and iCIMS. They also still have some gaps in their dynamic reporting and dashboard capabilities, and in-depth workforce analytics. For some organizations Saba’s platforms may still be beyond their requirements – but Saba has a plan to coax the hesitant with a 60 day free trial of the Saba People Cloud aimed at SMB’s.

The event looked like a success for Saba – but it was probably more of a success for their clients enjoying both good weather and an opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues in the industry. If Saba continues to stay focused and manages to diversify their revenue models they could end up in a very good position with all the changes taking place in the current market.

Stacey Harris
Brandon Hall Research Group

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