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Autonomy: hidden in plain sight?

The explosive result of Hewlett-Packard's claim that the British software company Autonomy had indulged in 'outright misrepresentation' of its financial results has hit the markets - and HP's stock - hard. Autonomy had been one of the leading lights of British software, and its co-founder Mike Lynch one of the most luminous names.

business Updated: Nov 23, 2012 21:42 IST

The explosive result of Hewlett-Packard's claim that the British software company Autonomy had indulged in 'outright misrepresentation' of its financial results has hit the markets - and HP's stock - hard. Autonomy had been one of the leading lights of British software, and its co-founder Mike Lynch one of the most luminous names.

Yet after HP's announcement, many were quick to say that they had told everyone so - but held back for one reason or another.

As the deal was announced in August 2011, Leslie Owens of Forrester blogged that she had 'a few issues with the narrative of the company', and suggesting that the idea that its software could "manage unstructured information for competitive advantage" wasn't quite right: "Here's the wrinkle - Autonomy hasn't solved that problem," Owens wrote, querying the value of its IDOL (Intelligent Data Operating Layer) system.

But it's the accountancy - or the way that the company recorded its revenues and hence profits - that has exercised analysts for years. Because Autonomy's share ticker symbol was 'Au', the chemical shorthand for gold,many sceptics liked calling the shares "fools' gold".

At Forbes, Daniel Fisher was brutal: "With Autonomy, HP bought an old-fashioned accounting scandal," said the headline. Fisher said he had been told Autonomy "was vaporware writ large: an $11 billion software company with an overhyped flagship product that was literally being given away because customers didn't have a use for it."

He says his sources said there was "really sketchy accounting going on" and the tactic used by Autonomy was to book all the revenue in the present from contracts that would be continuing for years.

The Guardian