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Saba Gets Social With Software for Networking

November 4, 2008

In the latest attempt by HR software firms to tap the Web 2.0 trend, Saba Software is touting a set of social networking tools for business.

The vendor in late October introduced its Saba Social product, saying the software will allow businesses to engage in a wide range of cutting-edge team¬work methods including blogs, wikis and tagging—the informal labeling of content. But there are questions about the wisdom of social networking in businesses and whether HR software can anchor collaboration at companies.

Larry Dunivan, vice president of global human capital management products at software vendor Lawson, says it’s a challenge for tools designed for HR functions to serve as the foundation for cooperative efforts in organizations, since collaboration touches so many aspects of a company.

"It would take HR to a new place," Dunivan says.

But Maksim Ovsyannikov, senior director of product strategy at Saba, foresees incremental acceptance of a larger HR role in collaboration. And he is bullish about corporate adoption of Web 2.0—interactive technologies that typically got their start at consumer sites like Facebook.

"Social networking is huge," Ovsyannikov says. "People management will increasingly move from formal practices to more of a fusion of the formal ones with informal processes."

Saba plans to release its new product in mid-2009 and has not yet determined pricing. But it has spelled out coming features, including "comprehensive social networking tools" and employee profile data such as certifications to help identify mentors and advisors. Saba also plans to tie the new software to its Centra Web conferencing application.

The Centra-Saba Social connection will allow an organization to take a Web conference recording among engineers, label it and store it as part of Saba’s learning management system so others in the organization can benefit from it in new ways, Ovsyannikov says.

For example, a junior engineer could subscribe to a veteran engineer, and anytime the senior engineer posts a Web conference recording—or contributes other kinds of content—the junior employee would be notified.

Saba is unusual among HR software firms in selling a Web conferencing product. But social networking tools are becoming de rigueur in the growing field of talent management software, which refers to applications for key HR tasks such as performance, learning and compensation management.

SuccessFactors, for example, sells an application called Employee Profile that allows people to describe their capabilities and interests akin to profile pages on Facebook. By tagging themselves with labels such as having an interest in Japan, employees can connect around mutual goals or passions, says David Karel, senior director of product marketing at SuccessFactors. The software can help companies become more transparent and adapt to Gen Y’s work style, he says. "It can be culture-shifting stuff."

Not everyone, though, is sold on corporate social networking. Katherine Jones, principal at HR tech advisory firm Independent Consulting Services, says the very name "Saba Social" raises the specter of workers not working. "How much is productive use of employee time compared to chitchat?" she asks.

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