* Autonomy software structures messy world of information
* Group rode wave of information explosion
* Client list includes government, major companies
* 18th century scholar focused on probability of potential
LONDON, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Autonomy, a British software
group at the heart of an accounting storm with owner
Hewlett-Packard, applies theory from the 18th century to
extract meaning and value from a modern world swamped with
unstructured information and data.
Its founder Michael Lynch, 47, and a former student of
mathematical computing at Cambridge University, developed a
system to impose order on information from the chaotic
avalanches of emails, audio, video and social media.
The software provided by Autonomy, which lists clients
ranging from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and NASA
to Boeing and the BBC, aims to deliver strategic,
commercial and security advantage to its customers.
"About 90 percent of all data is unstructured," Alan
Woodward, a visiting professor of computing at the University of
Surrey, told Reuters. "Autonomy was one of the first companies
to come up with a way to search that unstructured data in an
Other big groups, including IBM, Microsoft
and Oracle, have interests in search and information
management systems but analysts say Autonomy was ahead in
applying these techniques to the messy universe of unstructured
information across a wide range of formats.
Autonomy applications range from a system that suggests
answers to call centre operators to one that monitors television
channels for national intelligence agencies.
"The characteristic that makes human information
unstructured is its form - it does not fit neatly into the rows
and columns of a database, but exists in various formats
including books, email messages, surveillance video, chat
streams, and phone calls that occur across networks, the web,
the cloud, and numerous mobile devices," Autonomy says on its
"Growing at a rate three times that of structured data, the
increasing deluge of unstructured information makes up
approximately 90 percent of all information. The challenge for
the modern enterprise is to understand and extract value from
this rich sea of human information," it says.
"CREST OF A WAVE"
Woodward said Autonomy's modern roots go back to work done
on relational databases in the 1960s that made information
quicker and easier to search.
"The point is that in the nineties they cottoned on to a
crest of a wave," said Woodward. "The amount of information that
has been created in the last 20 years is more than has been
created in the whole history of mankind."
Lynch, who has been referred to as Britain's Bill Gates,
managed to commercialise statistical techniques that go back to
the 18th century when the Reverend Thomas Bayes studied how to
estimate the probability of potential outcomes.
Bayes' efforts centered on calculating the probabilistic
relationships between multiple variables and determining the
extent to which these relationships are affected when new
information is obtained.
Autonomy developed the relatively simple techniques behind
keyword searches, like those done using Google, and applied them
in more complex areas like scene detection in video.
Its 65,000 customers worldwide span government, education,
energy, law, investigation, healthcare and retail.
If a user is looking for video about rockets, for instance,
the system will look for other material linked to rockets, like
warheads, and offer it up ranked according to relevance.
As well as responding to queries, the system can send out
alerts when it spots a pattern and it can learn to refine its
monitoring from the history of tasks it has been given.
Hewlett-Packard Co has levelled a charge of dodgy accounting
at Autonomy and is taking an $8.8 billion charge. HP said on
Tuesday it had discovered "serious accounting improprieties" and
"a wilful effort by Autonomy to mislead shareholders" after a
whistleblower came forward.
It alerted regulators on both sides of the Atlantic.
Lynch, who led the firm he had co-founded when it was sold
to HP last year for $11.1 billion, has denied wrongdoing and
blamed mismanagement by its new owners for shredding its value.
Whether HP paid too much for the British company, or whether
its value was improperly inflated, it is entirely possible that
any investigation into HP's allegations might well make use of
Autonomy's own products.