IBM Adopts Saba as its Learning Technology Partner


A IBM Sabavery important partnership was announced today: IBM announced a major commitment to Saba as its primary learning management technology partner.

Background on IBM's Learning Platform Business:

IBM has been in the corporate learning market for many years. In the 1980's, the company offered a wide range of corporate training tools and systems, including PC development tools, content development services, and mainframe-based training products. After the acquisition of Lotus, IBM expanded its corporate learning offerings with a series of learning management solutions including Lotus LearningSpace, IBM Workplace, and the Lotus Learning Management System. Lotus LearningSpace, which included technology purchased from Macromedia, was actually one of the industry's first enterprise e-learning management system which integrated collaboration into more formal online training approaches.

These products, which were never highly successful, have been actively sold and marketed by IBM for many years. We estimate that perhaps 400 companies have licensed and used Lotus products for learning management and more than 145 million users have licensed Lotus software for some type of corporate collaboration. For those of you who do not know the history of Lotus, the company pioneered the whole concept of collaborative software with Notes, a product which was far ahead of its time.

In the coming battle of software for corporate collaboration, Lotus is competing head-to-head against Microsoft Sharepoint and is likely to win a fair share of the market. The company already claims that half of the Fortune 1000 use Lotus software for collaboration. (I have no reason not to believe this.)

We all know well that corporate learning solutions today must include both formal and informal learning – and we define "informal learning" to include three elements: on-demand learning, social learning, and embedded learning. In fact, today the hottest part of the learning technology market is the need for integrated platforms for informal learning.

(Please review our new Enterprise Learning Framework to get a good understanding of how formal and informal learning fit together into what we call "Modern Practices for Corporate Learning." It is time to "formalize informal learning" and most companies are beginning to understand this now. Click here to view the framework now. )

What this all means is that IBM software sales and consulting teams are calling on thousands of companies who may consider using IBM software for some part of their enterprise learning infrastructure.

The New IBM – Saba Relationship

IBM and Saba have worked together for years. Almost five years ago Saba integrated IBM's middleware into its product so the companies could work well together, and today Saba supports the entire range of IBM middleware in its product set. IBM actually uses Saba internally as its formal learning management system for all 300,000+ employees. (IBM's informal learning is done in a far different way, which we describe in detail in our in-depth case study on IBM's Learning on Demand solution.)

Last year IBM's Global Business Services organization announced that its worldwide Human Capital Management Practice was offering an end-to-end solution for enterprise talent management solutions built around Saba. This offering, which is still relatively new, has taken hold and has resulted in many major new Saba implementations.

Now the partnership is going much further. Today IBM announced that the company is no longer selling the Lotus Learning products and that all existing customers will have the option of migrating their applications to Saba at no charge (provided they purchase support from Saba). This of course means that the 400+ Lotus Learning customers will become excellent sales opportunities for Saba.

But the partnership goes even further. IBM's software sales organization, which is responsible for $4.5 billion in software revenue in Q1 of 2009 (IBM is one of the world's largest software companies), will now directly sell Saba to its clients. These sales teams will receive quota credit for Saba software, essentially treating the product as if it was an IBM software product. Through the integration of Saba with Lotus Workplace software, IBM intends to sell an end-to-end Saba-IBM learning platform solution to its corporate clients.

What Does this Mean

For those of us who have lived in the enterprise software market, we know that this relationship has the potential to be very big. IBM has tens of thousands of quota-carrying software sales people around the world – many of whom have deep, long-lasting relationships with corporations in many industries. While the LMS market is somewhat penetrated in the US (almost 75% of large companies have some LMS), it is far from penetrated outside of the US and most companies are not very happy with their current system. (Our LMS 2009 research shows a significant amount of churn is taking place.)

Even though these sales professionals have many products to sell, we believe that if IBM and Saba work together to train and support these people, both companies could see tremendous new opportunities in this market. Remember also that IBM's Global Business Services organization has extensive experience in learning outsourcing, content development, and Saba Implementation (in both learning and talent management solutions). And through IBM's internal use of Saba, the company has developed a deep level of expertise in the real-world implementation of Saba's highly functional solution.

The LMS market will be over $800 Million in license and services revenue this year and we expect it to grow by 7-8%. We believe that the IBM-Saba relationship, if it is well managed and supported, has the potential to change the dynamics of the global LMS market.

Josh Bersin

Josh Bersin writes on the ever-changing landscape of business-driven learning, HR and talent management. His favorite topics include strategic talent management, creating high-impact learning organizations, and how organizations drive business change and competitive advantage through talent strategy and technology.

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