By Leslie Owens

Big news in the information management world today – Autonomy announced it will acquire Interwoven for $775 million.

Since 2005, Autonomy has acquired technology for search (Verity), archiving (ZANTAZ), and records management (Meridio). With Interwoven, Autonomy gains a technology foothold where it was previously weakest — at the point where digital content gets created, captured, and managed. Yet knowing Autonomy, it’s likely after Interwoven’s solid customer base in several niche market segments: law firms and customer-facing media, entertainment, and commerce Web sites. All of these Interwoven customers had better prepare for a knock on the door from Autonomy reps prepared to sell them on the virtues of extracting “meaning” from their digital information (using Autonomy IDOL, of course).

Enterprise search and enterprise content management are two sides of a coin. Both are necessary to create, manage, store, find and analyze information. Yet information workers still generate an enormous amount of content in word processing applications and distribute it via email. Content created in this way is difficult to manage and control as well as difficult to find. The high price Microsoft paid for FAST Search and Transfer last year was based in part on the expected value of combining the two sides of the coin — to tightly integrate search and classification capabilities at the point where content is created and accessed. Autonomy brings more sophisticated — and much needed — archiving and records management capabilities to this picture.

That said, enterprise search used to be the “Switzerland” of information management tools — a neutral mechanism to connect to and pull from a smorgasbord of databases and content silos. RiskAutonomy has built hundreds of connectors to content sources and has existing partnerships with other ECM vendors. But now that two of the top search vendors are aligned with specific content management vendors, there is a risk that the future will not be so cooperative. I’m concerned that the vertically integrated search platforms that Autonomy and Microsoft are building will be more closed than open, more unilateral than multilateral. If the former, customers will struggle to build the connectors they need or may be pressured to consolidate their content management choice with their search choice.

Finally, it will be hard for any information access vendor to meet the diverse retrieval requirements that arise at each stage of the content lifecycle, on spaces as different as corporate websites, intranets and extranets. eDiscovery-oriented search requires expansive recall, for example, whereas worker productivity search requires high levels of precision. For this reason, Forrester expects that the managers of Autonomy’s different product lines will need to negotiate the search and classification improvements to be developed for IDOL’s next release. Can IDOL’s conceptual, “meaning-based” approach to retrieval accommodate the distinct needs of all of its product lines and markets? In addition, Autonomy customers (and prospects!) cite ongoing difficulty working with its sales force. Autonomy leadership must address this last issue if it is to absorb and cross-sell Interwoven effectively and continue to grow in a tough economic climate.

What do you think this merger means for the search market? Please leave your comments here, or write to me at lowens@forrester.com.

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