HP plus Autonomy equals Buyers Beware

  • 19-Aug-2011

I cannot say that the acquisition by HP of search giant Autonomy bodes well.  Taking the parties' past histories into account, this simply doesn't seem to be a good long term match.

Hence my advice is, "buyers beware."

Autonomy was the darling of the UK tech sector.  And the darling of investors, too, since from humble beginnings the firm has grown to just short of a$1 Billion in revenue, while consistently profitable.

Buyers of its technology though have been less enthusiastic, regularly citing a firm that is arrogant in its dealings with customers, confused roadmap messages, and technology (particularly the core IDOL platform) that is overly complex and expensive to use.  Moreover the firm has grown primarily via acquisition of various overlapping products, followed only weeks later with boasts that the new product has been "integrated via the IDOL platform." That common statement that has been the root of many a joke within the IT community. If only integration were that easy!

In reality, HP has bought quite a mixed basked with Autonomy, from Records Management (Meridio and CA) to Document Management (iManage), Web Content Management (Interwoven) to DAM (MediaBin) and more, plus of course the core search engine IDOL that Autonomy is best known for.

On the other side of the equation is HP, a hardware and services firm that has had very little success with software.  On one hand, I can see the appeal from HP's point of view: some new technology and an interesting customer base made up of regulated industries with a particularly strong underpinning organizations involved in defense, intelligence, and law enforcement.On the other hand, HP's acquisition of records management vendor Tower a few years back resulted in the software dropping off buyers' radars.  Add to this HP's past history of severely rationalizing the workforce of acquired vendors and I am at a loss to see where the enthusiasm comes for this deal.

For potential buyers of Autonomy's many product offerings it makes good sense to take pause and wait until things have thoroughly quieted down and the full fall-out from the deal becomes clear. For those already invested in Autonomy products likewise I advise you to tread with caution and watch carefully which products will continue to get the love, and those that look set for longer term neglect. As for those invested in IDOL specifically, there is a chance that this technology will find a future enhanced by the input of the famed HP Labs, and that "meaning based computing" could ultimately get realized in practice, and not just marketing sheets. But that will take time, and is far from assured.

The key factors to watch in the meantime will be in terms of account management and technical support -- neither of which were Autonomy strong suits in the past, and both likely change in the coming year.  I don't take pleasure issuing such a negative viewpoint, but from a technology buyer's perspective it's hard to see the positives.