Solving HP's Software Puzzle

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By now, you've heard all about Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) putting its market-leading PC division out to pasture along with what remains of the $1.2 billion Palm purchase. You may also have noticed that HP is paying more than $10 billion for an obscure British software firm called Autonomy. But you may not have figured out what HP will do next -- even though all the signs are in place.

One big mistake?
Fellow Fool Eric Bleeker cast a wary eye at the Autonomy deal, mostly because HP had been considering big-ticket buyouts of Teradata (NYS: TDC) or Tibco Software (NAS: TIBX) in Autonomy's place.

"While Tibco, Teradata, and Autonomy all target the enterprise, their technology is very different," Eric wrote. "It looks like HP's strategy amounts to 'find a high growth software company and worry about the details later.'"

And that's where I beg to differ. I think it's obvious that HP is being recast as a software company that happens to sell a little bit of hardware rather than the other way around. As such, I think HP was only deciding where to start buying software businesses -- not defining its entire strategy in one bold move.

The first step of a long journey
Autonomy's strength lies in cataloguing large amounts of unstructured data. The cutely named IDOL technology lets you run fast searches over massive data stores and even find related items starting from a hand-picked example.

Aside from organizing large data warehouses, the technology can also be used as the underpinnings for enterprisewide search services, Web publishing frameworks, and data analysis.

If that wide range of use cases reminds you of IBM (NYS: IBM) WebSphere or Microsoft SharePoint, you're on the right track. What HP just bought is a framework around which the company can build a vast range of enterprise-class software packages.

What's next?
So what else can HP buy and bolt onto Autonomy, in order to continue its quest to become even more like software arch-rivals IBM and Oracle (NAS: ORCL) ? I have a few ideas:

  • Tibco CEO Vivek Ranadive reportedly told his board that he could bring Tibco shares up to "the high $30s" (or nearly double today's price) without a buyout premium. But just because Tibco turned down HP's first offer doesn't mean that Apotheker won't come back with an even fatter deal. The in-memory data management and analysis software would dovetail nicely with Autonomy and give customers a powerful all-in-one package indeed.
  • Likewise, Teradata could be a nice plug-in down the road. However, this one is less likely than a Tibco double-dip because Teradata's product lineup overlaps more with Autonomy -- there's less add-on value here, even though Teradata is bigger than Tibco.
  • Timely Rule Breakers recommendation Informatica (NAS: INFA) , on the other hand, would instantly turn the Autonomy acquisition into a WebSphere competitor up and down the line. Where the first purchase brought in analysis and search tools, the second one would complete the big, blue ball with a common data format and information lifecycle management policies.
  • Given Apotheker's SAP background, you'd also have to consider some good old business intelligence or customer relationship management tools, like CRM specialist salesforce.com (NYS: CRM) . Yeah, that ticker is a dead giveaway. Plugging Salesforce into an Autonomy backend with HP's global reach and financial strength would cause an epidemic of acute migraines across Oracle, IBM, and the new SAP leadership.

Patience, young grasshopper
Of course, these moves will have to wait until the Autonomy buy closes and until HP's coffers get refilled by the PC segment's exit strategy. But it's never too early to size up the potential targets. It's smart to load up your watchlist right now so you can make some moves when Apotheker starts to tip his hand. Get started in just a couple of clicks:

At the time this article was published Fool contributorAnders Bylundholds no position in any of the companies discussed here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Oracle, Microsoft, and IBM.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Informatica, salesforce.com, Teradata, Microsoft, and Tibco Software. They have also recommended creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft and shorting Salesforce. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. You can check outAnders' holdings and a concise bio, follow him onTwitterorGoogle+, or peruseour Foolish disclosure policy.

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