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Global CIO: Autonomy, Part II: Multivariant Testing And Killing The Hippos

In the second of a two-part series on Autonomy, find out how companies are putting its software to practical use.
Against such demands, the old-fashioned approaches of hunches, guesswork, and uninformed trial and error just aren't enough. Instead, Shreier said, she and her colleagues running Allstate's Web operations need to build upon tools that offer three key capabilities: control, flexibility, and adaptability.

The control feature is critical because what the sites offer and how they offer them and the combinations those offers come in change so rapidly that the old model of running it through the IT project labyrinth would kill the company; so simple and highly flexible tools are essential.

Then there's flexibility: "As consumers tighten their belts, we need to change our messaging online very very quickly and ensure that we're delivering more-relevant content to consumers constantly based on what their actions – their keystrokes and clicks – are telling us are most important to them. That could be discounts, options, etc., and it all has to happen within a matter of minutes. And now we have the ability to test multiple variables with Optimost to find out which one consumers are finding to be most engaging."

The adaptive part stems from the reality that a brick-and-mortar company, regardless of its burgeoning web prowess, will still throw up plenty of unintentional roadblocks and obstacles that online business units must find ways to overcome in concert with or sometimes around the backs of IT. "I've been here 2-1/2 years, and since the day I walked in, I told the IT guys I don't want any specific things, I just want an open box that I can keep changing as fast as our customers change. And I finally have it," Schreier said. "The Autonomy suite allows me to do as much as I can without getting IT involved."

Here's a third albeit very brief customer perspective -- on the Optimost Web site, a rotating set of customer testimonials includes this one from Delta Air Lines: "Delta uses Optimost as a verb -- when we're unsure about a decision, we say, 'Let's Optimost it.' "

The brevity of that comment is almost a match for the available commentary about the company from financial analysts, despite the fact that it has become a very high flier during a period of time that's been absolutely brutal to most tech-companies' financial performances and stock prices. One of the few I could find was written several weeks ago on SeekingAlpha.com and has two industry analysts and one financial analyst speaking glowingly about Autonomy as the company's market cap jumps past $4 billion and its share price hits an all-time high in spite of the global recession.

You can find a few more here at Alacra's Street Pulse, but the emphasis is peculiarly steered away from Autonomy and more toward an enterprise-search company recently acquired by Microsoft.

And that, I think, underscores the real story about Autonomy and why in this two-part series I have elected to call it the world's hottest enterprise software company: because it's not about enterprise search, although it does that very well; it's not about content management, although it does that very well; and it's not about indexing or tagging or compliance or regulatory tracking, although it does each of those quite nicely also.

Rather, Autonomy represents the new face of enterprise software companies, which for years were heads-down obsessed with the plumbing that goes on inside companies and only marginally aware of the revenue-driving opportunities that keep those companies alive. If I may torture the plumbing metaphor a bit more, for too long those enterprise-software giants seemed oblivious to the sources of water their plumbing systems were designed to manage: their customers' customers!

That's what Autonomy has done singularly well, and that's what it should be known for and that's why it has 20,000 global customers and why it's growing when other big software companies are stumbling. But analysts and the media remain fixated on old models ("Whose enterprise-search engine is faster?"), old comparisons ("Microsoft is much bigger than Autonomy so now, with Fast, it will dominate the field"), and old analyses ("Will Oracle buy Autonomy??").

What they're missing is the very neat head-fake and pivot Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch has executed, through which he's indicated that yes indeed he'll be happy to slug it out in the plumbing wars but only with that infrastructure serving as a stalking horse to the real battle: helping big businesses connect more intelligently and productively, and engaging with their customers primarily online but also via any other medium they choose.

And I think the moral of the story will be this: If you're going to win an enterprise-software plumbing fight, you better bring a whole lot more than a plumber's wrench. Because the fight is moving very rapidly out of the basement.

GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at [email protected].

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