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Thought Leaders in Mobile and Social: Interview with Bobby Yazdani, Founder and CEO of SABA (Part 5)

Posted on Saturday, Feb 2nd 2013

Sramana Mitra: If you are trying to get a European sales team to bond around a sales training module and enhance that module with their own live learning and web conferences, that requires a level of moderation. Somebody needs to orchestrate that behavior. It is not clear to me from an organizational adoption point of view whether these moderators already exist in organizations as formal roles.

Bobby Yazdani: For that reason we need catalysts and advocates to fuel these communities in many regards. We have a set of servicers and “best practice”-rs whom we train and offer to our customers. Technology has to allow bottom-up adoption rather than a top-down adoption. But you also need to have top-down best practices. I can give you an obvious but profound example: the naming convention for groups. How do we name our groups such that people can find them easily? Because when you are dealing with enterprises, they need to be searchable. Remember the early days of e-mail systems when we had distribution lists. How did we find the right distribution list? What was the governance model of those distribution lists? What is the security model? Who can do what?

We have done a lot of work from the point of view of the governance model. How can we enable our customers with best practices and augment these with technology that enables policies? Take groups, for example. We have different types of groups. We have invitation-only groups, private groups that are not searchable, public groups, groups that are hybrid – customer and employee groups. Then you have a variety of security issues you have to manage, like which documents can be touched, viewed, or accessed by members in this group. These are the early days of this space.

SM: In your experience, which companies are true thought leaders and early adopters of the kind of use model you are talking about, and who is proactively making efforts to institutionalize cultural change and take advantage of this kind of learning?

BY: I think both social and mobile. Mobile is a big part of it, because you interact with that sort of environment with your mobile device. The great examples I have seen include what Deloitte is doing. They partly distribute their [learning materials], they talk about it publicly, and they have done a lot of work in that area. IBM and Cisco have also done a lot of work. In the life sciences area, we have a number of interesting companies such as healthcare providers in North America. Kaiser [Permanente] has also done a lot of interesting work, as have a number of Blue Cross Blue Shield entities in the U.S. There are pharmaceutical companies as well: Sanofi and Bristol-Myers [Squibb] are doing a lot of interesting work in that space. They are making good efforts in the life sciences. I also see interesting work that we are doing in government defense [and oilfield services]. It is very broad. Look at Baker Hughes or Halliburton, for example. I have seen work being done by all of them.

SM: Would you say that the interesting work is happening in 20 companies, 50 companies, or 100 companies? Where is the action, and how broad is the action today? I am talking about a sophisticated level of work.

BY: I have interacted with maybe 50 large customers over the past 12 months, and these customers are thinking about leveraging this technology as an enabler in their businesses. I think that some of the work we are doing is to not only come out and talk about the technology, but come out and talk about best practices. How do you [make these] technologies part of operations?

SM: That is the issue. Technology can do a lot of things and has been able to for a long time. But adoption in business processes and policy takes a lot of time. It takes longer for behavior to change than for the technology to be available.

I would like to switch topics a bit and ask you another question. Everything we have talked about so far, all of those trends, came out of the consumer world and got into enterprises after they became mainstream among consumers. Whether it was social media or mobile, they came from consumers first, and then they entered enterprises. There is another major trend, especially in the area of online learning, which in the last couple of years has become significant and visible. I am talking about massive open online courses.  What do you make of that trend, and what is the corresponding enterprise reaction to it?

BY: B2C and B2B are very different. As you know, there are quite a few up-and-coming companies that are enabling formal education in a B2C model. There are a number of brand-name universities like Stanford or Harvard that use these technologies to extend their physical worlds to virtual ones. I think those trends are quite real. Bill Gates talked about this quite a bit, that we have a limited view of how education will happen in the future. The entire education system needs to be revamped in many regards because of the velocity of knowledge. There is a lot of discussion in the U.S., and a lot of lead thinkers are coming up with different theses around how structured and formal education is going to become much more unstructured in the future. The format and modality of learning will have to be challenged, and they will be changing in the future. There is no question that learning will no longer stop after you finish your formal education, it is going to morph and evolve. It will be structured differently by the use of technology.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Thought Leaders in Mobile and Social: Interview with Bobby Yazdani, Founder and CEO of SABA
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