Posted: 04 Mar. 2020 5 min. read

Cornerstone acquires Saba: A suggestion, a question, and a friendly provocation

Posted by David Mallon and Julie Hiipakka on March 4, 2020.

Last week, Cornerstone OnDemand announced that it’s acquiring Saba.1 This will bring together two of the largest companies in the learning and talent space and create one of the largest cloud-based providers in business software applications overall. The acquisition is further evidence of heightened urgency around addressing workforce skills needs and elevating workforce talent experience. This urgency is contributing to more market opportunity, more competition, and more excitement for talent-related technologies.

Cornerstone’s recent acquisitions—first Clustree2 and now Saba—set up Cornerstone to offer a strong potential answer to that urgency. The Saba acquisition, according to Cornerstone leaders, will fuel innovation through the combined company’s reach and cash flow.3 What does this acquisition mean for workforce technologies overall? On the ground, how could it impact Cornerstone and Saba clients as well as workers inside the two organizations? Since it’s too early to make predictions, we offer a suggestion, a question, and a friendly provocation.

Suggestion: With Cornerstone’s new reach comes the responsibility to its end users.

The combined company’s tools will be available to more than 75 million workers in over 7,000 companies across the globe.Saba recently introduced a more employee-centric philosophy and experience, which aligns with Bersin’s research that organizations can win by creating an efficient and effective experience for their talent.5 The larger combined R&D team provides an opportunity to leverage that philosophy across all tools as Cornerstone and Saba integrate. The organizations’ combined size and resources could lead the market toward greater innovation. This could help improve the learning organization maturity6 of their customers and, in turn, the learning and talent development experience of a substantial number of workers.

Question: Will the integration create chaos?

As we write this, it isn’t clear yet how the different tools will be combined or what the migration plan will be. Saba was already a composite of several recent acquisitions with still distinct product lines. If the products are synthesized, customers of both companies—but especially Saba—may have changes coming they weren’t expecting or planning for this year, a concern not unique to this particular transaction. If the products aren’t synthesized, then Cornerstone’s team has many different products to manage—a tricky proposition in any circumstance. Cornerstone would do well to integrate through a clear vision for corporate workforce development, an underlying framework to guide the new, combined experience of the solutions it can now offer.

Friendly provocation: Can conditions ever become more important than content?

While we might be a little aspirational in our thinking, this is an opportunity for change. Many L&D functions continue to view learning as a consumption activity and themselves as producers and curators of content. They often struggle to articulate their function’s value beyond engagement or activity metrics that tend to be more appropriate for media companies and streaming services. These L&D teams misguidedly see the path to driving greater organizational impact as simply a matter of attracting greater numbers of employee eyeballs via ever-more-entertaining and high-production-value content. Many are not yet capable of—or don’t yet see the value in—trying to bring learning and work together, reach an adequate understanding of the work itself, simplify work, and guide workers to learn.

The problem is not in learning technology. In the market primer7 for our Learning in the Flow of Work Solutions market landscape series, we explain four ways technology can bring learning and work together. The vendor profiles article8 in that same series assesses the types of support offered by providers that participated in our research.9 As the figure below illustrates, a fair amount of the solution providers that we surveyed are creating opportunities to bring learning into the flow of work.10 The challenge is whether and how that technology is adapted and used.

Bringing learning experiences to where work happens

We see some buyers fail to use the full power of the technologies available to them, either due to lack of capabilities or aspirations—or both. The lack of product adoption becomes clear as we witness so few hands go up when product managers ask “Are you using feature X?” in customer conference breakout sessions.

Many L&D functions still struggle to make the connection between learning and work. Not enough functions partner with their organizations to design for performance and identify what growth in the flow of work really means. They’re not in the work enough to use feedback loops with their organization to push data that could guide continuous adaptation. They often can’t find or see opportunities to influence the operating models in their organizations toward cultivating values in iteration and experimentation that can accelerate evolution. In short, L&D teams have significant shifts to make.

Closing thoughts

Cornerstone’s acquisition of Saba is both a foundation and a call to action for pushing the market up the maturity curve. Cornerstone, with its expanded reach, could help its many clients close these gaps. The collective expertise in the customer success teams of both Cornerstone and Saba could be leveraged to help their customers along their journey toward driving greater value. This is, of course, a two-way proposition. Cornerstone can help customers reach higher by educating them on the “art of the possible.” But customers must also turn their heightened aspirations into palpable demand by asking for help and doing the hard work to evolve. The expanded development team created by the integration of Cornerstone and Saba generates a great opportunity to push the future of learning for workers and organizations through the product roadmap and to help connect learning and performance data in a way that is effective and efficient for teams and individuals.

The opportunity to elevate the worker experience and realize the promise of learning in the flow for organizations is real. We see this acquisition and the subsequent integration as an opportunity for customers and Cornerstone to help each other on that journey. We hope both sides take advantage of it.


David Mallon is vice president and chief analyst at Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Julie Hiipakka is a vice president and the learning research leader at Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP.


1“Cornerstone to Acquire Saba,” Cornerstone, February 24, 2020,
2“Cornerstone Acquires Clustree to Build Leading AI-Powered Skills Platform for People Development,” Cornerstone, January 16, 2020,
3“Cornerstone to Acquire Saba,” Cornerstone, February 24, 2020,
4“Cornerstone to Acquire Saba,” Cornerstone, February 24, 2020,
52019 Global Human Capital Trends: Leading the social enterprise—Reinvent with a human focus, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Deloitte Insights, 2019.
6For more information about learning organization maturity, see the articles in the High-Impact Learning Organization: Maturity Model and Top Findings series.
7Learning in the Flow of Work Solutions: Market Primer, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP/Mackenzie Wilson and Julie Hiipakka, 2019.
8Learning in the Flow of Work Solutions: Vendor Profiles, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP/Mackenzie Wilson and Julie Hiipakka, 2019.
9Both Cornerstone and Saba are profiled in our Solution Provider Landscape Research.
10Learning in the Flow of Work Solutions: Market Findings, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP/Mackenzie Wilson and Julie Hiipakka, 2019.

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David Mallon

David Mallon

Vice President and Chief Analyst

David, a 10-year veteran of the organization, led the research teams at Deloitte for six years. An authority in all areas of human resource, talent, learning, and leadership, David brings an integrated perspective to organizations seeking to solve their significant workforce challenges. He is adept at shaping operating models and key roles to improve employee experience and productivity, and is a thought leader in organizational culture, learning, and talent development. A former steward of the learning and development research practice for Deloitte, David developed the team's work in continuous learning and learning cultures. He holds a master's degree in digital media from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a focus on computer-aided distance learning, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Emory University.

Julie Hiipakka

Julie Hiipakka

Vice President | Learning Research Leader

Julie leads learning research for Deloitte. Julie has more than 20 years of experience in learning and development, talent management, and recruitment in consulting and in-house roles. Her practitioner experience includes creating global onboarding programs, using peer-created learning within leadership training, multiple mergers and integrations, and leading a globally distributed team. Julie helps organizations create business impact by connecting learning, talent, and organizational change efforts to organizational goals and strategy. A certified professional in Learning and Performance, Julie holds a master’s degree in communication from Florida State University.