Autonomy: Empire Builders


A few months ago, Autonomy announced its plans to acquire CA's (formerly Computer Associates) Information Governance assets. These consist primarily of two main products: CA Records Manager and CA Message Manager.

This was a surprising acquisition from two angles: first that CA saw so little value in this division that the company decided to dump it, and secondly that Autonomy, which has overlapping technologies, felt the need to buy still more overlapping technologies. In total, Autonomy now lists 30 products in its portfolio, the majority of which have come from a 5-year acquisition spree.

The message from the firm is that these are all "integrated via the IDOL platform," but the reality is that they remain separate code bases, designed by different people, that continue to be developed and supported in the main by different groups. Autonomy is looking more and more like a holding company.

Best known for its enterprise search technology, over the past few years Autonomy has been building a more substantial presence as a GRC (governance, risk, and compliance) vendor. However, if the company hopes to build an integrated ECM solution with all these moving parts, then that is going to be a mighty task that will take many years to complete.

That said, CA had two decent products that essentially provided a two-level approach to compliance. (At Real Story Group, we evaluate them both in our ECM research.) Message Manager employs a general and very practical bucket-style approach to retention that could have Records Manager added to it for those with a need for more granularity. Interestingly, both were CA acquisitions.

Records Manager was from the MDY acquisition in 2005 and had previously been called "FileSurf." Message Manager was from a firm called iLumin that was also acquired in 2005 and, at the time, was a market leader in email management.

Neither acquisition really gelled at CA. At first glance, it seems CA did not really appreciate what it had or the strategic value it could provide to its overall data management practice.

Autonomy, though, already has records management systems (from Meridio and Interwoven) along with archiving from the ZANTAZ acquisition. Now add another two disparate elements to the melting pot.

From an investor's standpoint, this will be seen as good news. From a technology buyer's perspective, the news is far more mixed. For though Autonomy has grown its presence as a GRC vendor, it remains a firm that is tightly controlled by one man: Autonomy's founder, Mike Lynch. Though Autonomy certainly doesn't lack ambition, it has thus far lacked execution. For whereas Oracle, IBM, and EMC ruthlessly and efficiently absorb acquisitions into the whole, Autonomy has not done so well. It has lost many of the best people at the acquired firms, and conversations with Autonomy employees and its customers reveal a lack of goodwill and frustration at the way acquisitions have been administered, customer support delivered, and sales processes executed.

Further, the likes of Oracle, IBM, and EMC do, when necessary, commit huge amounts of resource to technically integrating acquired assets. Autonomy, on the other hand, tends to claim that newly acquired assets are "integrated via the IDOL platform," a story that might wash with some, but leaves the technically savvy wary and unconvinced. All that being said, Autonomy has taken this abrasive approach to business for a long time now, and it is unlikely to change. From Autonomy's perspective, it has an enviable presence in highly regulated and controlled environments, such as government and intelligence, and meets or even surpasses investor expectations.

From a buyer perspective, you need to use a great deal of caution when considering Autonomy as a "suite" vendor for the foreseeable future. You need to ask questions about support, development, and product road maps-and be sure to get solid, documented responses.

The market continues to consolidate, yet at the same time new opportunities arise and new firms enter in. Autonomy has a particular path: It wants to follow that of GRC, and we applaud firms that focus and try to do one thing well. It has bought a number of very good products and made some smart moves over the years, but Autonomy has reached a point now where it either remains a holding company with a marketing-level integration story or commits to the hard work of building out a holistic business, one that is more than the sum of its parts. We'll keep watching ...