Enterprise vendors are converging on a vision of social networking inside the enterprise from several different directions. Salesforce.com's starting point for Chatter is enabling salespeople and service and support representatives to talk about customers. Jive Software's first products were focused on managing external customer communities; its inside the firewall social networks also tend to be biased towards sales and marketing. Cisco and IBM are more likely to frame the conversation in terms of unified communication and collaboration, where social media is just one more means of connecting people in addition to voice video and email. Saba is approaching the market from its base in online training, learning management, talent management, and performance management.
"We feel we're uniquely positioned to help with many functions within organizations," Saba CEO Bobby Yazdani said in an interview. Because Saba has built its collaboration capabilities around the way organizations hire, train, and evaluate employees, it has a good start on building meaningful social profiles for those people, he said. Saba already has a foothold in some very large organizations, such as McDonalds, Proctor & Gamble, and Intel, and the average customer manages more than 25,000 employee profiles, he said.
"What we've done very, very well is essentially going into these large organizations, helping them enable training and, capturing the 'people profile' as the first step to understanding who they are, and what they do, and how they are organized," Yazdani said.
Saba's customers are not really limited to human resources specialists, Yazdani said. About 50% of contracts are funded out of sales and marketing, 30% from the HR or IT budgets, and 20% from compliance, he said. That makes sense if you consider that sales and compliance represent some of the biggest needs for corporate training.
Saba's next-generation collaboration platform, known as the People Cloud, is still officially in beta, or limited production--but with more than a 100 firms, including some of Saba's biggest customers, actively using it today, Yazdani said. Saba plans to put it into full production by the end of the year, he said.
The People Cloud includes many of the same features as other enterprise social networking products, like Facebook-style status updates and discussion threads, group collaboration, and brainstorming collaboration for generating business and product ideas. But it also mines employee profiles to more intelligently recommend other employees users should connect to, as well as training opportunities that match their professional development paths.
Saba already has bragging rights in the social software world, albeit primarily in its niche. In June, Saba won a People's Choice Award at Enterprise 2.0 in Boston for its Saba Social Learning product. Saba's training and learning management software also made our list of 8 Great Collaboration Tools For HR. With the acquisition of Centra Software, completed in 2006, Saba added Centra web conferencing to its product portfolio. The product is a core element of Saba Classroom, one of the company's corporate learning products, but can also be used to support general online meetings and webinars.
Yazdani said he believes Saba has "beaten Cisco to the punch" by achieving tighter integration between Centra and the People Cloud than Cisco has with WebEx and Quad. For example, the process of organizing a Centra meeting can take advantage of social context - if a user initiates it while browsing an interest group in the People Cloud, by default the invitation will be sent to all the members of that group.
Other product strengths come back to the employee profile. Consider that one of the most widely promoted applications for enterprise social networking is locating experts on demand, based on contextual clues from their profiles and posts. "We can do a very narrow and targeted experts search, and that sets us apart lot of other social vendors out here," said Ben Willis, senior director of product strategy at Saba. "We're not just relying on community identified expertise, through searching and tagging, but on real expertise like certification in a particular area."
The architecture behind the product also represents a major shift, as Saba moves away from offering on premises software. "As a statement of direction, we are moving more and more to the cloud - we believe the tipping point has already happened," Yazdani said.
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