Saba Announces Enterprise-Strength Collaboration Platform

The new suite combines fully secure e-learning, Web conferencing, talent management, and social networking.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Jun 15, 2010
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California-based Saba may be the biggest little company you've never heard of . . . well, at least Enterprise VoIPplanet hadn't heard of until quite recently.

Saba numbers among its clients slightly more than 50 percent of the Fortune 100 (that's one hundred), the U.S. military, oodles of large banks, and most of the world's auto makers. IBM uses 350,000 seats of Saba's product to maintain its partner relationships.

So what is the product? At its core it is IP-based communications, but it's been adapted to support specific kinds of business processes.

According to Milind Pansare, Saba's senior director of product marketing, it breaks down into four basic lines of business: Enterprise distance learning, "talent management" (also known as "performance management," or sophisticated HR processes), Web conferencing and Webinars, and, as of yesterday—when the company announced the impending release of Saba Live—enterprise class social networking.

Now, social networking, in one form or another, has been taking hold in the enterprise for at least a couple of years now, but Saba has taken a more structured approach.

"The true opportunity for Saba lies in the integration of the business processes—for which we are the trusted vendor," Pansare told Enterprise VoIPplanet. "How do I make this immediately relevant with RoI for learning? How do I make this immediately relevant with RoI for performance management? How do I empower the VP of HR to become a true trusted advisor to the CEO, and not just the tactical executor of a once-a-year performance review process?" he elaborated.

Sticking with the HR piece, Pansare provided an example of the kind of application Saba is creating to enrich is base platform.

"A couple of months ago we rolled out a little product called Saba Impressions—an add-on to our performance management suite. It's a 'Twitter-like' app that lets a manager quickly document his evaluation of an employee's performance. "

Before the advent of Impressions, Pansare pointed out, there might have been an e-mail—and a good manager might have saved it for review—but the process was random, inconsistent, and, if it took place, often rushed in the context of pulling together the annual performance review.

"With Impressions, anyone can provide an Impression, but at review time, if you're using Saba Performance Management, you can see all these Impressions," Pansare explained. "HR will set policy, which can be as simple as 'All managers will look at it—all the way to 'Managers should give 20 percent (or whatever) weight to social input.'

"The traditional way that you measure the contribution of an employee in the organization is no longer adequate," Pansare continued. "The once-a-year performance review process is a little dated, especially if you're going to give more than lip service to succession planning and talent management in the organization and retention. It would be nice to be able to measure the social capital of your employees—the network that they bring, the sphere of influence they have, their true expertise—and make sure there are consistent policies in the organization to reward that."

Which brings us to Saba Live, the product yesterday's announcement unveiled to the public.

Saba Live sits on top of the company's core platform (utilizing its security and granular access control capabilities, among other things) and provides an environment that helps employees to do their work—together.

It is built around personal profiles, which, in Saba's case include both the traditional structured information, and the "softer, more socially-based information, generated by "informal processes" (which is one way to describe social networking).

Live harnesses all the unified communications tools with which we've become familiar over recent years: IM, chat, blogs, and, wikis.

It allows the formation of "groups," collections of people that can be ad hoc or permanent, project-specific or ongoing (like a user group). Some groups can be open to whoever wishes to join, others are by invitation only. Still others can be private or "stelth mode," if they concern business activities that are not public (such as merger and acquisition discussions).

It serves as a repository of "resources," which may be documents, videos, links, wiki pages, experts, or "learning channels." Any group member can add comments to any resource, and all can "vote" by adding a star rating to any item. All of this is fully searchable, and individuals can "bookmark" resources they've contributed, to make them more readily available to other group members.

Of special note is a function dubbed by Saba the "Innovation Lab, which facilitates the gathering of ides and the sharing of issues. Any group member can contribute ideas related to any group business in short, Twitter-like posts, and the group can winnow ideas by voting for the ones they like.

Even more high-tech is a tool called Saba DNA (dynamic network analysis) which maps relationships within the organization—who is connected to who to what resources, and provides an image of what the overall web of relationships looks like. This view of organizational dynamics is central to Saba's vision.

Also announced yesterday was Saba Collaboration Suite, which adds the strengths of Saba Live to Centra, the company's existing online learning and Web conferencing tool.

Saba Live, as announced yesterday, is still officially a beta product, according to Pansare. Although choosing his words carefully, he indicated that the official release would most likely be late summer or early fall.

Both Live and Centra will be available on an on-demand basis (hosted) or for deployment "behind the firewall," an option that heavy users find very cost effective. The on-demand product will be available first, followed by the on-premise version later in the year.

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