Does HP’s Autonomy Debacle Weaken the Case for Analytics?

Hewlett-Packard is having a bad week. In addition to some dark quarterly results—sales in virtually every business division declined, driven by weak demand for personal computers and other hardware—the company was forced to take an $8.8 billion writedown on Autonomy, the data-analytics firm it acquired in 2011.

In a Nov. 20 statement, HP accused Autonomy’s management team of using “accounting improprieties, misrepresentations and disclosure failures to inflate the underlying financial metrics of the company.” On top of alerting the SEC’s Enforcement Division and the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (Autonomy is based in the U.K.), HP will almost certainly fire off civil suits against any as-yet-unnamed parties it views as responsible for the fiasco.

Autonomy was a high-profile buy for HP, designed to give the tech giant a splashy entrance to the data analytics business. But now that the deal has transformed into the sort of messy implosion that keeps attorneys busy for years, does it also harm the broader case for analytics?

The short answer: Unlikely. While some have questioned the abilities of Autonomy’s core enterprise-search product—an unnamed source within HP told Forbes’ Daniel Fisher that it was “smoke and mirrors”—it’s unlikely that HP’s rivals will halt their collective rush to embrace Big Data and analytics tools. Indeed, analysts and pundits are framing the Autonomy situation as a straight case of accounting fraud, and not an indictment of Big Data—but that doesn’t spare HP from having to do some serious damage control.

“Right off, it’s imperative for the company to contact core customers directly and apprise them of the situation,” Charles King, principal analyst of Pund-IT, wrote in a Nov. 20 note to media. “The goal is for HP to be transparent about what’s going on and to address any issues or insecurities those clients might have.”

Indeed, nearly every research firm seems to agree there’s a growing need for data analytics. “The demand for big data is growing, and enterprises will need to reassess their competencies and skills to respond to this opportunity,” Gartner explained in a recent research note. “Jobs that are filled will result in real financial and competitive benefits for organizations.”

Companies ranging from SAP and Oracle to IBM are all rushing to fill those data needs. HP did its best to catch up in a hurry, with a big splashy acquisition, and landed flat on its face. And having tumbled so spectacularly, will HP have any appetite to jump back into analytics?


Image: Elena Schweitzer/

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