How is it that the blockbuster deals for acquiring software companies that rank highest in their markets spaces seem to end up smelling bad several months into the deals? The latest acquisition to take on taint was written about in the Wall Street Journal today, noting that HP Reports $8.8 Billion Charge on Accounting Misstatement at Autonomy. Not to dispute the fact that enterprise search megastars Fast (acquired by Microsoft) and Autonomy had some terrific search algorithms and huge presence in the enterprise market, there is a lot more to supporting search than the algorithms.

The fact that surrounding support services have always been essential requirements for making these two products successful in deployment has been well documented over the years. Hundreds of system integrators and partner companies to Microsoft and Autonomy do very well making these systems deliver the value that has never been attainable with just out-of-the-box installations. It takes a team of content, search and vocabulary management specialists to deliver excellent results. For any but the largest corporations, the costs and time to achieve full implementation have rarely been justifiable.

Many fine enterprise search products deliver high value at much more reasonable costs, and with much more efficient packaging, shorter deployment times and lower on-going overhead. Never to be ignored is that enterprise search must be accounted for as infrastructure. Without knowing where the accounting irregularities (also true with Fast) actually lay, I suspect that HP bought the brand and the prospective customer relationships only to discover that the real money was being made by partners and integrators, and the software itself was a loss leader. If Autonomy did not bring with it a solid service and integration operation with strong revenues and work in the pipeline, HP could not have gained what it bargained for in the purchase. I “know” nothing but these are my hunches.

Reflecting back on a couple of articles (If a Vendor Spends Enough… and Enterprise Search and Collaboration…) I wrote a couple of years ago, as Autonomy began hyping its enterprise search prowess in Information Week ads, it seems that marketing is all the magic it needed to reel in the biggest fish of all – a sale to HP.

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