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HR Technology Column

When Will They Ever Learn?

The learning management vendors, now solidly selling talent management, are bubbling these days. Cornerstone OnDemand has announced its intention to go public; Plateau has shucked off its heritage of selling installed systems in favor of SaaS; and Saba (already public) is pioneering collaboration tools for corporate use.

Monday, November 15, 2010
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Life was less hectic when the fall HR conference and user-conference season neatly ended soon after HR Technology® in October. But now it has pushed into November and December.

Despite all those extra days, two leading learning vendors turned talent management suppliers -- Plateau and Saba -- managed to schedule their annual user conferences (though happily not their analyst days) on the exact same dates on the top and bottom of the East Coast.

(Competitors Kronos and Workforce Software managed the same trick in different locations the next week. Happily, this has zero effect on customers, who rarely use both competing products, just on camp-followers like me. Since this isn't a blog, I won't go into the travel agonies.)

Other than conference timing, the thing Plateau and Saba have most in common is their continued lack of a recruiting application. As I've said before, recruiting has always been one of the two, great big honking apps that bookend the talent management suite. The other is learning.

No vendor targeting big companies that started with one app has ever written the other, although Taleo recently purchased Learn.com.

So both Plateau and Saba continue going to market without recruiting -- while both build out their workforce planning capability -- the process that should properly occur before recruiting! Makes no sense.

At its analyst day, Plateau finally announced it is actively looking to buy an applicant-tracking system, though without the sourcing component, which has become the competitive discriminator of an increasingly commodity business.

Cornerstone OnDemand also still uses a partner for recruiting (Virtual Edge, owned by ADP). In the run-up to its IPO announced in September, Cornerstone's partnership with ADP has frayed a bit in a dispute over ADP's rights to buy warrants to purchase new stock in return for re-selling Cornerstone products. Now operating under the SEC-imposed quiet period, official financial documents are the only place you'll read anything about that company until CEO Adam Miller gets to ring the bell opening NASDAQ trading.

Plateau CEO Paul Sparta is also reaching for the bell (actually a construct in NASDAQ's Times Square office building since it is a completely computerized stock exchange with no people together on a trading floor). He seemingly couldn't be happier with his company's performance, and if that continues, he says an IPO in 2012 is a "strong possibility."

He has reason to smile.

Plateau has around 400 people now with plans to double the sales force (mostly by hiring overseas reps) from 16 to 30 by the end of next year. Plateau has officially partnered with Workday since June, closed one deal together this summer and has seven or eight more in the pipeline.

In addition to being profitable, Plateau has finished its six steps to application integration, and the one application it bought, rather than built -- Nuvosoft for compensation -- has been rewritten and is on the same single code base as all the others.

Plateau has 90 percent of new customers taking delivery by SaaS, rather than buying a perpetual license for on-premise installation, often still required by federal customers. Some on-premise customers are moving to SaaS, Sparta says.

Do any customers buy all the applications from a single talent management vendor? Absolutely, but it's still rare enough that companies trumpet it when they do.

Thus is the case with Sabre Holdings, the father of all online airline-reservation systems, which bought it all from Plateau with plans to implement learning and performance first, compensation next year and then succession planning.

More than four in 10 (43 percent) Plateau customers buy multiple modules (two or more), while 57 percent still come for learning only.

In its spring software release (one of two a year), Plateau will offer its first capabilities in workforce planning. They will include establishing assumptions for each job and modeling scenarios by adjusting those assumptions about growth, internal movement, retirements and other job-related variables.

While Plateau has hitched its wagon to Workday's rising star, Saba still sits happily on the shoulder of the colossus of IBM, which uses its learning management system both for outsourcing clients and as part of its Global Business Service talent management offering.

CEO Bobby Yazdani makes it clear that Saba is sticking to its knitting for sales targets. While its new slogan "People Systems" is clearly running away from the often-abused talent management label, he says his customers are still HR, training and IT -- and not the C-suite so sought after by competitors SuccessFactors, Taleo and Kenexa.

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"We will continue to sell from the bottom up, not from the top down," says Yazdani, "not to CEOs."

Saba has 31 percent of its customers on SaaS and half of new customers picking that delivery method.

The company has used its ownership of Centra -- an online-meeting application similar to WebEx -- as the centerpiece of a group of applications confusingly called either Saba Live or the Saba Collaboration Suite. Just released in August, it could make some waves in HR departments that love to talk about social media but are very slow to use any.

Of course the appeal -- as opposed to market-leading stand-alone applications such as Jive -- is that the Collaboration Suite is set up in advance for the end-user. "It's pretty close to flip the switch," says Ben Willis, senior director of product marketing.

In addition to Centra, the suite includes Saba Impressions for gathering performance-management comments, Saba Social Learning, employee profiles, blogs and wiki pages, expert locators (based on integrated learning and performance data), chat, instant messaging, video and possible connections to Outlook and e-mail.

All well and good. But Willis agrees with a point I made at length recently: that the next step is re-inventing HR and learning processes to include social functionality.

Having a social network sitting off to the side is great ("Who knows about California's lunch-break work rules?" "Who's up for volleyball in the parking lot at 6 p.m.?"), but until it's integrated into the software used for work, it will remain a nice-to-have, rather than a must-have.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 14th Annual HR Technology┬« Conference & Exposition, October 3-5, 2011 in Las Vegas. More than 70 blogs about this year's event are posted on the website. You can comment on this column at the Conference LinkedIn Group , which does not require prior attendance to join. He is also host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show┬«. He can be reached at bkutik@earthlink.net .  

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