Should Autonomy customers head for the exit door? Should prospects stay away?

  • 26-Nov-2012

I’ll get into the nuances in just a bit but for those of you in a hurry, the short answers to those two questions are:

  1. Not necessarily, if your requirements are being met
  2. Not necessarily, but exercise extra caution

Now the Detailed Explanation

Let us first step back from the current controversy and examine what Autonomy really is.  As this graphic amply demonstrates, Autonomy is more like a software holding company that has a portfolio of products, the vast majority of which they acquired -- rather than built -- over the years.

Autonomy Web of Acquisitions

In fact, we evaluate Autonomy products in as many as five of our research streams. Here’s a very quick tour of our assessments - all published prior to the current controversy.

Evaluating the Bit Parts

Let’s start in the Enterprise Search stream. IDOL platform - has an extraordinarily large bag of tricks to offer a seasoned, well-trained development team, but a fully configured system comes at a dear price (both in license fees and implementation efforts)... Very complex architecture with many moving parts... Workaday search scenarios don’t merit the expense...

Onto Document Management. Autonomy’s iManage is a very distinctive product that fares well in particular circumstances... The company has had a mixed relationship with the stock market, going back to its early days when there were allegations that Autonomy deliberately misled the market. It is our opinion that Autonomy is a very viable firm but also a very turbulent one.

When it came to Web Content Management, we held that Autonomy is focused almost entirely on search technology and not upgrading the technical underpinnings of the TeamSite platform and that it’s become increasingly difficult to align Teamsite’s architecture with contemporary standards and performance expectations. We concluded after the HP acquisition... This platform historically brought much higher-than-average technology risk; now you face substantial vendor uncertainty, as well.

With respect to Digital Asset Management: In Virage MediaBin, Autonomy possesses a mature, highly evolved DAM offering but that the intense promotion and upsell of IDOL and “meaning based computing” detracts from core DAM value proposition and confuses buyers. 

Lastly, in Broadcast and Media Asset Management, we held that their MediaBin offering is worth a look if your use cases involve managing large numbers of short-form videos and you need to search video assets at a granular level. Overall, this is a complex enterprise system and you should be ready for some sticker shock. 

Stay or Go?

Let's return to the two key questions in our title.  

For existing customers the answer depends on which of Autonomy’s products you’ve been using, your long term requirements, and whether HP is able to support you in that journey -- independent of the current scandal. Of course, by now, based on your experience you’ll also have your own views about the extent of support and customer service you’ve been receiving. Your current mileage and future requirements determines your future course of action. 

For potential customers currently looking for enterprise technology: each of these marketplaces is reasonably mature and many viable technology options exist. If Autonomy products prove to be a strong fit with your use cases, exercise more caution in due diligence than before till the dust settles down on this controversy. Specifically, satisfy yourself about HP's version of the product roadmap, the pace of product upgrades and improvements, impact of any employee attrition on customer support and professional services. If the vendor continues to prattle on about "meaning-based computing," recognize it for the spin that it actually is.

In the normal course of affairs after the acquisition, I’d have expected HP to figure out in about 12-18 months which of the numerous products in Autonomy’s portfolio fit into their overall strateg, to identify which products receive new investments and which ones just get nursed alone (or worse). Now, expect that clarity to be set back by a few quarters at least. 

To wrap up, here is the 30-second summary of what we’ve said about Autonomy, even before the accounting scandal appeared on the radar:

  • Autonomy was more like a software holding company, and HP didn't change that
  • The crown jewel in the portfolio, IDOL platform, is powerful but complex, aging, and no longer unique.
  • Autonomy strongly believed in IDOL worship and sold that as the answer to all content and information needs of enterprises 
  • The motto of their customer support may as well be, “nice guys finish last” 

The recent controversy does not change the fundamentals of the Autonomy family of products nor the company DNA.

HP appears to be doing its due diligence after the fact. But as a potential customer, you’re well advised not to leave your due diligence until after your purchase.

Other Enterprise Search posts

MD