Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch is on the search for meaning

Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch is arguably the biggest star of the UK business software scene and yet when we meet for lunch in Soho, London, he walks in free of PR minders- or posse and apologises for being a few minutes late. He is unassuming, unpretentious and quite the opposite of the ego-crazed Master of the Universe types that run most modern tech giants. Instead he recalls - a little starry-eyed - having been photographed in the nearby legendary jazz club Ronnie Scott's for a profile piece that riffed on this sax-player's love of music.

He's a popular profile subject, of course, having set up Autonomy in the mid-1990s - the company now turns over more than $500m per year. Analysts love the firm so much that it has a premium market capitalisation of £3.5bn and Lynch has been lauded by fawning journalists - perhaps wide-eyed at his personal- holding - who make wild comparisons to Bill Gates.

You get the sense that none of this means that much to Irish-born, Essex-raised Lynch himself. He has always been confident about his company but overt marketing, hype and aggrandisement are foreign to him. When I ask him about the recent wave of market sentiment in favour of Autonomy, he bats it off.

"You can be lulled into the idea that it's always going to be like that. We went public in 1998 and not much happened," he recalls. But he is proud that his still-young company has reached one peak, having overtaken Sage as the most highly valued UK business software concern.

In part this is down to a smart segue from enterprise search (or "meaning-based computing" as the firm likes to describe its mission) to the hot sector of - e-discovery. Because of new demands for corporate governance, companies are having to stump up relevant information in the face of government, legal or industry regulatory probes and are seeking software to help them do so. Since its 2007 acquisition of a specialist in the sector, Zantaz, Autonomy has an solution in hand that is a nice source of income as many firms pull back their spending on less urgent matters.

In this world "FRCP [and similar rules] is the biggest problem for the CIO", Lynch contends, referring to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and adding that such governance strictures change the legal rules of engagement for businesses. The bottom line today is that organisations need to provide an audit trail of their actions - or have a very good reason for not doing so.

"The principles of discovery go back to the Romans," Lynch argues, adding that the more recently developed "computer ate my homework" defence is no longer valid. "Senior management wants all the boxes to be ticked and nobody wants to be on the board. [What is required is an] early case assessment and an ‘am I guilty' button."