HP, Autonomy, and the Fears of Information Governance Hipsters

HP is back on the front pages again with a high-profile changing of the CEO (already?) The mainstream business press seems to really like covering HP. Perhaps this because HP is widely perceived as a consumer products company, although its personal computer division produced only about a third of its overall revenue in the last quarter, and the company is dumping that business and killing its tablet computer line. With that in mind, it has been amusing to see writers who normally cover mainstream business or technology try to describe what the hell Autonomy does.

As you know, last month HP announced it was acquiring Autonomy. It is HP’s third largest acquisition ever, and was priced 64% above Autonomy’s market value (around $10 billion). A very significant buy for HP.

However, I think it is even more significant for the future of Information Governance. To date, Autonomy is the largest information governance-branded software company to be purchased. And, not only purchased, but purchased at an incredible premium. And not just at an incredible premium, but also by the biggest technology company in the world, in a transaction that some have called a “bet the farm” move that signals the future direction of the entire company (although this future may now look different with the replacement of Mr. Apotheker by Ms. Whitman  and apparently new CEO, Ms. Whitman, is “excited” to close the Autonomy deal).

Although some analysts (and perhaps certain HP board members) viewed the Autonomy transaction as evidence of an out-of-touch CEO, I believe that it’s evidence of something else entirely.

The Autonomy acquisition demonstrates the growing awareness that there is a vast fortune awaiting anyone who can even marginally improve an organization’s ability to control and capitalize on their information. Worldwide, information continues to grow at an incredible pace, both in volume and complexity. And, our data centers are filled with dirty secrets; secrets like the stunning volumes of duplicate and outdated information that we needlessly store because of simple information governance incompetence (over 50% according to our own surveys, and others).

So, the Autonomy deal puts information governance on the map in a big, new way. This is a great thing, but it also is a little weird to see the non-IT press talking about our corner of the world. It’s kind of like your uncool colleague coming into work one day and raving about “discovering” a new band that you have been a fan of for five years (Arcade Fire, anyone?). Will Information Governance hipsters ever recover from the mainstreaming of their world?

Well, if it’s any consolation, the business press still has a long way to go. Surveying the various ways they describe Autonomy proves that. In some ways, I can’t blame them, because I would be utterly confused by Autonomy too if I only had a couple of minutes to scan their website. It’s kind of like a parody of a software company website –  with separate Solutions, Technology, Products, and Functionality sections. (No, I don’t have any idea how those sections are distinct either – perhaps Autonomy should sick IDOL on its own website.)

So, what does the business press think that Autonomy does?

  • Wall Street Journal“it makes enterprise software, just like SAP” (Yes. And Harley Davidson makes personal transportation devices, just like Toyota)
  • TechCrunch: “European infrastructure software company” (Right, an infrastructure software company, so pretty much the same as VMWare, I guess?)
  • Bloomberg: “develops search software” (true, but unhelpful)
  • DealBook (NYT): “searches and keeps track of corporate and government data” (adding “keeps track of” to “search” is actually getting pretty close)
  • Reuters: “cloud search-software specialist Autonomy” (Reuters added “cloud” for the sex appeal and SEO)
  • BBC: “specialises in pattern-recognition technologies” (probably the most accurate description of the functionality at is most generic)
  • HP:  “enterprise information management software company” (Uh, okay. Shouldn’t there be a little more passion and romance – or at least specificity –  when you are making a major purchase? This is like saying “We finally purchased our dream house! We like it because it has places for us to sleep, eat, and go to the bathroom.)

I have spent quite a bit of time over the last year thinking and writing about the definition of Information Governance (check the blog for several posts on this). Sometimes I wonder if this level of analysis is necessary. But, the HP and Autonomy transaction reminds me that clarity of definitions matter. They define the scope of massive internal programs. They define careers. And, they define markets and the valuations attached to those markets.

Update: And now even the scientists are talking about the deal.

Update 2: And the deal is done.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s