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At its annual user conference in Boston, Saba provided insights to industry analysts on its progress over the last year and its direction for 2011. Best known for its learning management system (LMS), collaboration and more recently its talent management applications, Saba now has more than 19 million users in 1,400 customer organizations that are mostly in the public sector, have 5,000 or more employees and are based in North America, although it operates in 28 languages in 195 countries. Now the company is refining its mission. I analyzed the first indication of this shift in focus to business social networking in 2008 (See: “Saba to Innovate Workforces with Business Social Networking”); that started a movement that Saba communicated more clearly this year in describing its focus on providing “people systems.” That term means it wants to enable businesses to have people collaborate through open dialogue and its collaboration software and human capital management applications.

Saba set the tone by having esteemed American management expert Gary Hamel as a keynote speaker at the conference. He eloquently described the invention of business management as the most important advancement in the last 100 years but one that now could stifle companies out of business. As examples of people and collaboration he spoke of major brands Apple, Google and others that allow their people to innovate and break out of conventional wisdom in management science and in doing so have proven this approach can dramatically increase the net value of both a business and individuals. Gary also cited companies that are not household names, such as Be Bold, Question Dogma, Find the Fringe and Experiment.

On the product front, Saba presented innovations in the Saba Collaboration Suite, which is comprised of Saba Centra for Web conferencing and Saba Live. Introduced as a concept and beta project in 2008 for providing collaboration, Saba Live has evolved into a range of business collaboration capabilities that resemble those of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook but are available to the enterprise in trusted software as a service (SaaS) cloud computing. Saba Live is a breakthrough whose simplicity matches that of rival salesforce.com Chatter but can add more value through its integration with Saba Learning and the Saba Performance Suite applications. Now Saba must work to build an ecosystem of application partners and integration to other enterprise systems to reach its full potential. Saba Live appears to be gaining traction as the vendor announced over 500 customers that are interacting within the community. Saba has also advanced its efforts in business social collaboration and learning management through Saba Social Learning.

The company has enhanced its talent management applications in the Saba Performance Suite, which include many applications supporting goals and objectives, performance reviews and feedback, compensation, succession planning and workforce planning. I find the performance applications to be the strongest of them. The rest of the applications are fairly new to the market, and Saba will need to make more investments in them to succeed in the heated competition that our benchmark research in talent management has found to be part of the new buying agenda in human resources.

Beyond some improvement in talent management, Saba needs to power up its offering for workforce analytics, which is rapidly becoming of critical interest; 89 percent of organizations in our workforce analytics benchmark research said it is important to make these analytics simpler to use. Saba does not currently offer an analytics application as part of its suite though it has embedded analytics in many of the applications. Adding such an application will be required to compete in the market with Plateau, SuccessFactors, SumTotal Systems, Taleo and others. Also at the conference Saba announced its expansion into industry-specific systems by working with partners.

The company has been growing through making its applications available in software as a service and claims to have some 4.7 million customers using this Internet-based rental approach, which represents more than 30 percent of Saba’s total business. At the same time Saba Anywhere enables use of its products in offline and disconnected mode. These are all steps forward and will help further differentiate Saba’s efforts and expand the user base beyond human resources and training professionals to reach the organizations that actually manage the bulk of a workforce, such as field service, customer service, sales and manufacturing, distribution and fulfillment.

While IT support remains important for some organizations that choose to install and deploy Saba on premises, these employees are becoming less important in the direct evaluation and buying process. I heard many of the IT-centered industry analysts and associated firms do not see the demand for collaboration and mobility, which is not surprising since they are not serving anyone outside of IT, and many of them are not engaged with the details of this technology. I spent hours evaluating the Saba applications and then on my Apple iPad to see how Saba Centra actually works in the real world for collaboration and learning across shared connections, with good results. The Saba Centra clients for iPhone and iPad work well with Saba Centra 7.7, which is a Web conferencing solution that is simple to use and integrated with other Saba applications.

Saba realizes it cannot talk convincingly about the need for people to collaborate and introduce change unless it is willing to do so itself. In the last year, Saba has brought in eight new executives for products, marketing, alliances, sales and even a chief people officer to instill its own message more pervasively in the organization. Saba has made great efforts to advance its people technology platform to support a new set of capabilities in collaboration and learning and to help people manage people and empower them to be more engaged in business.

Let me know your thoughts or come and collaborate with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & EVP Research

Mark Smith – Twitter

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