Autonomy: A Real Success. CMSWatch: Maybe Another Real Miss?

July 12, 2010

In Harrod’s Creek, I can easily spot the real squirrel hunters. They have food. Mostly laconic, these hunters have a big pile of dead squirrels as proof of their competence. There is also the smell of fresh burgoo wafting from their log cabins. I can smell ability from my goose pond.

Lousy hunters have empty gun belts and squirrels shot when snacking on store bought food used to lure the critters. That’s a real danger — cheap tricks or just shooting wildly, often putting bird shot in an innocent’s backsides or the face like the 2006 incident between Vice President Dick Cheney and Texas lawyer Harry Whittington.  Some faux hunters have just shot themselves in the foot. Ouch!

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Azure chip consultants is a synonym for “bad hunter” in my opinion. Source: http://api.ning.com/files/LCP2NCaWo-ptCqGncB3hGsX8vuh8dnDzSJ0iLnkibas_/18holeinhandG.jpg

One of my two or three readers sent me a link to a write up called  “Don’t Ogle Search If You Really Want Content Management”. In my opinion, the write up relies on insinuation, not facts. (I think that some folks are immune to facts, but I find facts useful.)  In the article’s headline, the word “ogle”, for example, is one I don’t associate with information retrieval. (The publisher of this “ogle” opinion piece caught my attention in July 2008 with its similar assault on Attivio. My response to that misleading article is here.)

Yet another example of factless criticism of a vendor appears in this segment of the “ogle” write up about Autonomy, one of a very small number of search and content processing vendors with a consistent track record of technical breadth, sales, revenue, and profit:

From an initial focus on enterprise search tools, Autonomy has become a roll-up vendor after acquiring a variety of other information management suppliers such as Interwoven. As a financial strategy this can be successful, and investors seem to cotton to Autonomy. As a technology strategy, vendor roll-ups are problematic. Autonomy’s technology strategy is to rip legacy search subsystems from acquired products, replace them with some pieces from its own IDOL toolset, and then promote its particular approach to search as a distinct advantage for you. Specifically, Autonomy will try to sell you on the value of “meaning-based computing.” Even if you can get your mind around what meaning-based means, you should remain skeptical that Autonomy has technically spectacular or original services here. More importantly, you risk getting sidetracked from your original goal of, say, creating a user-friendly repository for your 50,000 Office documents.

These statements are presented without verifiable foundation to support the allegations in my opinion.

Autonomy is on track to hit $1.0 billion by the end of calendar 2010. The company has a proven track record of improving the performance of the companies it acquires. Autonomy’s management has demonstrated its ability to integrate quickly its acquired products with IDOL (the firm’s integrated data operating layer). The result is Autonomy’s knack of transforming the acquired companies’ position in their markets.

But there are other data that shed light on Autonomy’s track record, which I have documented Autonomy’s technology in my writings such as Beyond Search (Gilbane, 2009), the Enterprise Search Report (CMSWatch.com, 2004-2006), and Successful Enterprise Search Management (Galatea, 2009). Here are three points that must not be overlooked:

  1. Autonomy has 20,000 plus customers plus around 1,000 licensees of its technologies for use in other enterprise software and systems
  2. Autonomy has made intelligent acquisitions that has given the firm a strong presence in eDiscovery, rich media, and fraud detection. Autonomy has recently pushed into online marketing using capabilities from Ineterwoven and its IDOL framework. My research reveals that Autonomy has acquired companies to bring its technology to new markets so more content can be understood.
  3. Autonomy has grown its revenues and generated a profit, making it possible for other UK based technology companies to ride the Autonomy horse in the race for government and venture funding.

In December a year or so ago, at the International Online Conference, in my for-fee, end note debate, I challenged Andrew Kanter (Autonomy), Charlie Hull (Lemur Consulting), and Dr. Charles Oppenheim (Loughborough University) about their views of search, content processing, and related fields. In front of an audience of about 300 search professionals, I pointed out that key word search was dead. I pointed out that most  search systems did not understand the meaning of processed information. Autonomy’s Andrew Kanter strongly and politely disagreed with me. As I recall, he said to the audience and me:

Autonomy IDOL is the only product in the market that can understand the meaning and concepts of all information in any language, including audio and video. This has big implications for the content management market as no other vendor can do this.

I demanded some concrete examples to support his position. Mr. Kanter without missing a beat gave me four concrete examples drawn from Autonomy’s work in intelligence, search enabled applications, fraud detection, and rich media.

What did I do?

I listened, considered the evidence, and I conceded defeat. Facts convinced me.

Despite the proliferation of marketing baloney, facts about search and content processing are more important than insinuations and unsubstantiated generalizations. There is no excuse for any one to venture into a technical jungle without adequate preparation and forethought. Take a short cut at Booz, Allen & Hamilton, and you would have bene fired when Dr. William P. Sommers ran the the firm’s  Technology Management Group. Furthermore, unsubstantiated assertions are the method of some high school journalists and third tier consultants in my opinion.

As readers of this blog know, I am no fan boy of any search and content processing vendor. Spend 15 minutes with me, and you will learn that I can and will point out fact-based strengths and weakness of the companies I monitor. (For a list of the firms I track, navigate to this link.) MBA double-talk and half-baked arguments create confusion. Verbal wild firing brings little benefit to those trying to understand the complexities of digital information.

Autonomy is on track to hit $1.0 billion by the end of calendar 2010. The firm has been able to acquire firms that add to Autonomy’s customer base and extend Autonomy’s meaning-based technology to new markets.  Its Zantaz acquisition expanded Autonomy’s footprint in eDiscovery, boosted Autonomy’s position in cloud computing, and was a spark that set off a wave of activity in the eDiscovery and online archiving sector. That’s how you kill real squirrels. Take aim. Bang. New revenue.

In the search and content processing market, Autonomy has been a leader in marketing and on target acquisitions. In my opinion, OpenText (the Canadian company competing with Autonomy in some enterprise markets) has had to follow Autonomy in a “me-too” fashion in an effort to try to keep pace.

For me, Autonomy continues to grow in a landscape littered with failures. The more important question is, “Why isn’t Autonomy like Delphes, Entopia, Fast Search & Transfer, InQuire, Siderean, STAIRS III, and many other search vendors which have run aground?

There will be no answers in an analysis which lacks facts and insight.

And there is another important question, “Why shoot wildly at Autonomy?”

I don’t know. Grandstanding like squirrel hunters with an automatic rifle and a bag of walnuts? Fun? Frustration with life, business, or traffic to the company Web site? A need to differentiate one’s business from a farrow of third-tier consultants?

My hunch is that some “experts” see an opportunity to make money by appointing themselves mavens or satraps in search and content processing. Grabbing for a brass ring from a carousel pony seems harmless enough. The logic could run like this: I use Google. Google makes search easy. Therefore, search is easy.

What better way to get sales leads than to make unsubstantiated claims about a company that in terms of customers, financial performances, and scope is arguably one of the world’s leading vendors in information retrieval and processing?

Anyone looking at search market facts should be able to figure out that unsubstantiated assertions have zero impact on a billion dollar enterprise. Wild shots and tricks call attention to the hunter, not the prey. And what is the point of the “ogle” write up in my opinion: Marketing hoo-hah or a need for attention?

I don’t know the difference between slander and libel. I will leave that to legal eagles.

I do know that Autonomy has happy customers. Autonomy has hundreds of OEM deals that continue from year to year. Sue Feldman, IDC’s search expert, recent analysis of Autonomy was fact-based and positive. Also, I know that Autonomy is growing. What some search dilettantes do not appreciate is that search start ups in the UK have a better shot at getting funding due to the uplift from Autonomy’s success.

And there is the matter of profits.

Outfits like Goldman Sachs and other market makers pay attention to companies that make money. With your job on the line in a search procurement, would you go with a struggling vendor or with an outfit that was a market leader?

Does Autonomy have weaknesses?

What software vendor doesn’t? My Overflight service had a glitch on July 7, 2010. My goslings had to troubleshoot a mistake I made in a script. Software is difficult to make perfect. You can ask Google how the Buzz code is working out. Why not chase down Microsoft and ask about the Kin? If you have a moment, get Larry Ellison on the line and ask, “How is SES11g working out for you?”

To sum up: Constructive criticism based on solid technical understanding and demonstrable evidence delivers real value. Here in Harrod’s Creek, when I want burgoo I seek out the real hunters who hit their target without resorting to unsportsmanlike tricks. You may want to avoid the faux hunters who take short cuts,  sport Travel Smith vests, and glittering generalities.

Stephen E Arnold, July 12, 2010

Freebie. If you think I work for Autonomy, chase down one of the officers and ask. I know one person at the company who would feed me to his pet fish.

Comments

3 Responses to “Autonomy: A Real Success. CMSWatch: Maybe Another Real Miss?”

  1. Charlie on July 12th, 2010 6:37 am

    I commented on the article you mention, and I said “I’m not sure ‘meaning-based computing’ actually means anything (until computers actually understand anything, which I’m sorry to say they don’t). ” I’m going to stand by that assertion until someone presents to me a computer that passes the Turing test every time.

    No-one is going to argue with Autonomy’s commercial success – the numbers speak for themselves. But “understanding meaning and concepts?”. Yes, you can do statistical analysis on huge numbers of terms, you can apply Bayes or Shannon’s theories, you can even throw NLP at it if you like, but however you slice it this is still a search engine.

  2. Jennifer on July 12th, 2010 8:41 am

    While Autonomy’s enterprise search is impressive, how much of that IDOL goodness is baked into the Interwoven products over time remains to be seen. So far not seeing much of it.

  3. John on July 12th, 2010 9:13 pm

    >>Autonomy’s management has demonstrated its ability to integrate quickly its >>acquired products with IDOL (the firm’s integrated data operating layer).

    really?? I would argue that they have only demonstrated their ability to market things that don’t exist. But perhaps you understand what it takes to integrate better than others…