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Where Were Your Thinking Caps? Shame On All Involved in HP and Autonomy Mess

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison could very well be driving around in his US$ 445,000 Lexus LFA right about now, laughing uncontrollably.

Shortly after HP bought Autonomy last year, he not only told the world that the enterprise software company wasn’t worth the US$ 11 billion that HP paid for it, but that his lieutenant, former HP Chairman and President Mark Hurd, had considered it to be overpriced, when it was allegedly pitched to Oracle, at US$ 6 billion earlier in the year. 

In case you don’t know, last week HP announced that it would be writing off more than 5 billion dollars related to its purchase of Autonomy and that it was thinking about legal action related to “serious accounting improprieties.” More than 15 different financial, legal and accounting firms were involved in (and blessed) the transaction, according to Reuters.

Whether Autonomy cooked its books, or not, something else needs to be considered; paperwork aside, does a 5 billion dollar company look like an 11 billion company?

I don’t think so.

At least not to people with their feet on the street; and though I’d put Ellison and Hurd on that list, I’d also include others who are less likely to be considered experts. Take for example, salespeople who recently left the company, journalists who cover the beat, account executives whose companies sell complementary products, headhunters who specialize and know which companies are engaged with what technologies and what people are saying about them and so on …

My guess is that many of them, like Ellison, would have seen a problem with Autonomy’s US$ 11 billion price tag and possibly even with the purchase in general. Was Autonomy actually in mega high growth mode in its fifteenth year in business? Was it compelling enough a technology to revitalize HP or to turn it into an enterprise software leader?

The Problems Run Deeper

Though not every enterprise company is my customer, many, if not all of those who are, talk to me about e-Discovery, Information Management, ECM and Big Data constantly because my company specializes in identifying and placing top talent in these areas. The interesting thing is that few of them (even those who own it) have been talking about Autonomy very much over the last five years. (Until now, that is.)

This wasn’t the case 10-15 years ago when Autonomy was new, or 7 years ago when it bought Verity, or 3 years ago when it bought Interwoven. The latter two increases in “chatter” were generated by news of the acquisitions versus actual interest in buying anything from Autonomy.

And it’s not just that that’s problematic, but many of the big law firms who once raved about Autonomy / Interwoven have said that they were starting to explore other solutions and other options. I can honestly say that I don’t remember any of them saying that they were looking to move to the product. In contrast, they did ask about what solutions their competitors were using.

The same can be said for other customers, in other verticals; there was buzz going around about Google’s Enterprise Search. Microsoft’s FAST and Vivismo, which IBM recently bought, also caught their attention. These vendors can reportedly handle data in motion and at rest. I needn’t remind you that these are the days of Social and Big Data.

Forrester Analyst Leslie Owens would likely agree that Autonomy’s problems (and therefore HP’s) go beyond screwy accounting. She said this to the NY Times:

They (Autonomy) didn’t invest in R&D; they didn’t have regular software releases; they weren’t transparent with a road map of where they were going; they didn’t seek customer feedback. Customers complained, but the promise of managing all their information and making better decisions was so attractive. They bought more.”

Not only that, but Forrester asked for a demo of Autonomy’s new IDOL software and has yet to receive it. 

Another Weak Link

HP, from my point of view, has another problem with the Autonomy purchase as well; namely former HP boss, Leo Apotheker, who made the recommendation for the buy.


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