Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

HP Says It Hasn’t Tried to Sell Autonomy to SAP

Executives at Hewlett-Packard are scratching their heads at a report in the Times of London saying that HP had tried to unload Autonomy — the British software firm that it acquired in 2011 only to write down its value by $5 billion — on the German software giant SAP.

The Times report quotes SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott as saying that HP had asked if SAP might be interested in buying Autonomy. The story isn’t clear on when the conversation between HP CEO Meg Whitman and McDermott took place, other than to say it was before Whitman visited London last month and said that Autonomy was not for sale.

I just got this statement from HP on the matter:

“Contrary to reports in the media, HP has no interest is selling Autonomy. During the past year, we’ve received inquiries from SAP about purchasing HP software assets, and time and again we’ve said ‘no.’ We believe Autonomy will play an important role in HP’s long-term strategy.”

I also reached out to SAP spokesman Jim Dever, who tried to walk back what the Times reported based on what he says McDermott actually said in the interview with reporter Nic Fildes:

“If you look at the quote, Bill doesn’t say anything other than we were aware when Autonomy was on the market. I was part of the conversation, and he never mentioned discussions with HP. In fact, he never said we were approached by HP.”

Sources familiar with the conversations tell me that since HP is such a big SAP customer — something its operational head John Hinshaw mentioned in a recent interview with AllThingsD — Whitman and other HP execs routinely meet with McDermott and his co-CEO, Jim Hagemann Snabe, CTO Vishal Sikka. She’s also met with founder Hasso Plattner, where they also discussed, among other things, HP’s naming rights to the HP Pavilion, home of the National Hockey League’s San Jose Sharks.

These sources tell me that the conversations on the topic of Autonomy potentially changing owners, if you could even call them conversations, were so informal as to be almost meaningless. “Autonomy was never shopped to SAP,” one source told me emphatically.

It’s not the first time chatter has emerged about potential buyers interested in taking Autonomy off HP’s hands. In January, there were reports that HP was getting “expressions of interest,” but HP quickly slapped them down.

And there is indeed a school of thought that Autonomy would have a more natural home within SAP. Former HP CEO Léo Apotheker had previously been a co-CEO at SAP, and before he was fired had steered HP toward becoming more of a software company. If SAP is trying to engage HP on the subject of selling Autonomy, it may be because it simply doesn’t like the idea of HP being in the software business.

HP is still a relatively new player in software, which accounted for a little more than $4 billion in sales last year, or 3.3 percent of HP’s total revenue of $120.4 billion. Small, but growing enough to constitute being considered a rare bright spot at HP. HP’s sales grew 43 percent from 2010 to 2012, though that includes the addition of the Autonomy business.

Update: After further reporting, I’ve updated the story above to reflect which SAP executives Whitman has met with. It turns out she hasn’t met with Jim Hagemann Snabe after all.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik