This week, Saba officially released People Cloud, a cloud-based bundle of applications that covers learning, talent, and social collaboration, as well as voice, video, and Web conferencing. Saba has been talking about People Cloud for months, but is now making it available as a $150-per-user-per-year subscription service.
"The center of this strategy is about people, it's not about information resources," Saba CEO Bobby Yazdani proclaimed at a Saba users group meeting in Miami Beach. As the volume of information becomes overwhelming, and mechanisms such as search break down, one of the best ways to find the right information is to navigate the network of people who have created it, commented on it, or shared it, he said. The People Cloud release came as part of a series of announcements about upgrades to the Saba product line, including the renaming of the former Centra online meeting product as Saba Meeting.
Although People Cloud provides some of the same functions as Saba's existing products for the human resources market, Yazdani said it is not merely a repackaging of those technologies but a new product designed specifically for cloud-based, social delivery.
Amar Dhaliwal, senior vice president of product operations, said the developers tried to make the product work and feel more like a consumer product than an enterprise one. "Facebook has a design pattern, Twitter has a design pattern, and those are the patterns we went for," he said.
As part of the People Cloud release, Saba is somewhat self-consciously courting controversy by building in a Klout-like PQ Score (for "people quotient") that shows how you rank as an employee within your company. Users can't pump up their score directly by posting lots of content, but their score will rise as other people link to, share, or comment on that content, Yazdani said. "It provides a level of clarity about the impact of an individual within the organization."
Saba gives individual users rather than system administrators the power to decide whether that score should be displayed publicly or be reserved for the individual to consult privately, as a measure of whether they are making an impact. For those with scores worth boasting about, it gives people a way of demonstrating their worth to the organization.
Part of the point is to get users to play the game of building their ranking, increasing their engagement with the system and the organization in the process, Dhaliwal said. Saba will continue to refine the algorithm behind the ranking to make sure it accurately identifies valuable employees, he said. "We understand that it's controversial, and it's provocative, but we think there's something interesting here."
In addition to supporting employee social discussion and collaboration in the mode of Yammer, People Cloud provides a mechanism for managers and peers to post public recognitions of good work--the kind of social "thank you" mechanism popularized by Rypple (now a part of Salesforce.com). In Saba's version, those posting kudos are encouraged to pair the public recognition with a private "would be even better if" message about how the individual could improve.
At the same time that Saba embraces these informal social feedback mechanisms, its major point of differentiation for People Cloud is that its employee social network also encompasses the more-structured human resources methods of tracking and nurturing talent. For example, when searching for expertise within the organization, People Cloud users will be able to consult employee profiles that include not only social kudos, comments, and recommendations but also information about education, certification, and official recognitions. "We combine the formal as well as the informal concept of the profile in one place," Yazdani said.
Saba argues this will lead to better decisions about how to deploy talent and ultimately more effective organizations.
In enterprise social networking, "Saba's strength is its integration of learning management and talent management," agreed Alan Lepofsky, a Constellation Research analyst who covers social software. Saba customers he spoke with thought the unified profile was important. The integration of Saba Meeting also provides a neat way of kicking off a video conference, recording it, and offering it for on-demand playback --all within the social collaboration context. That will be a differentiator for Saba over products from the likes of Jive Software that are more text-based, he said.
Lepofsky said he was impressed by other aspects of People Cloud, such as the ability for employees to switch easily between internal networks and external ones that include customers or partners who have been invited into an online collaboration. However, he doubts Saba will make a big dent in the enterprise social networking market.
"I see that gives them an advantage with their existing customer base, but I don't see them acquiring a giant new customer base with this," Lepofsky said. The organizations that are buying into social collaboration are choosing IBM Connections, or SharePoint, or Jive Software--leaving all the other competitors in this market to fight over scraps, he said. "I don't think the market out there is going to say, 'Oh, great, I've been waiting for Saba to have an enterprise social networking product.' "
People Cloud is only one piece of Saba's cloud strategy, given that the majority of its established products are also moving to being delivered as hosted software with subscription pricing. "In the last year, our cloud business has more than doubled," said Jeff Carr, president of global field operations for Saba. He said 80% of new bookings are for cloud services, with the percentage expected to reach 90% by next year.
With Oracle buying Taleo and SAP buying SuccessFactors, Saba is playing up its ability to deliver a cloud-based talent management product that is independent of the choice of a human resources information system or enterprise resource planning system, Yazdani said.
"The fact that the big IT vendors bought the independents creates an opportunity for us," he said.
In addition to announcing upgrades to its learning management and talent management products, Saba said it was acquiring Human Concepts, a specialist in organizational planning. The Human Concepts software demonstrated at the user event lets leaders visualize personnel competencies and reporting structures to help plan the need for additional training and identify managers who have been assigned too many direct reports.
Saba Meeting, formerly known as Centra, provides the Web conferencing and high-definition videoconferencing technology used to support online training as part of Saba's learning management system, but Yazdani said he also wants companies to consider it as an alternative to GoToMeeting and WebEx.
Although not offering a software review per se, the keynote speaker at the user conference suggested Saba was focusing on the right problem by focusing on the management of people. Jim Collins, author of a series of business books on enduring companies (Built to Last), break-out companies (Good to Great), and the decisions that lead to greatness (his most recent, Great by Choice), said his research shows one of the main things that makes a difference is "a commitment to developing people and how they work together."
Great companies put a lot of focus on "getting the right people on the bus, and putting them in the right seats," Collins said. Although good leaders might play hunches on who will be good in a role, great ones look for empirical validation and are willing to be brutally honest when someone is not working out, he said. "Tools are one way of getting at that empirical validation."
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