Saba held its annual People 2013 customer and analyst conference recently in San Francisco, with approximately 700 customers in attendance. At the conference the company provided analysts a perspective on its progress over the last year and its product roadmap. My colleague Mark Smith wrote about Saba’s acquisition of Human Concepts last year; today Saba says it has 31 million users and 2,100 customers, including names such as Yum Brands, ADP, Proctor & Gamble, Intel and Five Guys Burgers and Fries. The analyst event featured speakers from NetApp and Kaspersky Labs, who discussed how their use of Saba products helps their companies achieve their development and business objectives.
The conference launched with several presentations by key executives discussing Saba’s vision and direction for 2013. Interim CEO Shawn Farshchi discussed the changing nature of work and technology. He said the next generation of employees is a learn-by-doing generation, and, being native to social technologies, wants to use social technologies seamlessly throughout their workday. Our benchmark research on social collaboration and human capital management found that the top two ways organizations are using social media are for identifying new talent pools (81%) and improving their competitive advantage (75%).
Shawn Farshchi and Jeff Carr, president of Saba global field operations, closed by described the three key elements of Saba’s technology vision: the People Profile, a single source of information for employees; People Process, the different processes that make up standard HCM activities; and People Engagement, the social tools across the platform that engage people at every step to be more collaborative.
Saba’s product strategy for 2013 focuses on a new cloud-based social learning and talent management platform called People Cloud, whose core elements are learning management, performance management, development planning and succession planning. People Cloud also includes one the industry’s more advanced sets of learning and development social tools, which interoperates with each of the applications to help users collaborate with one another. Saba’s social tools won our 2012 Technology Innovation Award for Business Collaboration. To compete with other human capital management offerings, Saba has developed technology and reseller partnerships with several vendors. Specifically, Saba has a certified cloud connector to Workday Release 18, which lets People Cloud interoperate with Workday’s HR management and payroll system, and a reseller agreement with Kronos, which enables the company to offer a workforce management solution as part of its solution.
Saba rounded out the session with an announcement of a major new release of its enterprise learning and talent management product. Improved capabilities in Release 7 include a new user experience across the application, a mobile learning app (detailed in one their blog posts) and an improved testing and assessment engine. In the discussion surrounding this release at the conference, Saba reiterated its commitment to support enterprise customers who use this platform for 2013 and beyond.
While at the conference I got a demonstration of People Cloud. The product has most of the same capabilities as enterprise learning and performance product, with well-thought-out social collaboration capabilities. For instance, a Facebook-like wall lets users “follow” coworkers and see all the content they contribute. A feature called People Quotient scores each user based on how often content that user posted is forwarded and commented on by others in the system; those who have content commented on or forwarded more frequently are scored higher. Other features include a help system that guides users step by step through to the process of executing a given task, as opposed to just listing the steps out in help documentation. This could scale much better for system training in some cases than the classic training offered for many enterprise systems. Other features include Google-like predictive search that covers social and structured content and allows users to share items they find with other users. Overall, Saba’s People Cloud product includes a strong set of social features which, combined with the core learning and talent management capabilities, make it a strong offering. These advancements are part of unifying social collaboration with talent management which our research finds that the value is knowledge sharing (49%), collaboration (37%) and learning management (34%).
Saba faces some operational challenges despite its strengths in product and innovation. The first of these came to a head on March 1 when Saba announced a change in leadership. Saba’s CEO and founder Bobby Yazdani stepped down, and COO Shawn Farshchi stepping in as interim CEO, likely as a result of the financial restatements of the prior period results currently underway. This is a hard chapter for all involved. Yazdani helped foster a culture of innovation, and Shawn Farshchi will now try to move Saba’s people and products toward a strong future.
Overall, Saba Software provides one of the human capital management industry’s leading learning and talent management products blending in social collaboration as part of the applications. Its plan for 2013 focuses on areas where it can differentiate the company from other vendors. Its challenge is to continue to advance its product roadmap and educate new customers while addressing the operational challenges that the next few months will bring. Saba’s products and new technologies are well worth evaluating as organizations look at human capital management systems to help them achieve their business goals.
VP & Research Director