Jeremy Smith's blog

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The Term "Enterprise" and How It is Applied to Software — Technical or Social?

This is one of those items that has been floating in my head for a long time but I never took the time to formalize it into direct thoughts and words. Luckily, I don't have to! Somebody did it for me. (Don't you love it when it's like someone finally said something you've always wanted to — like they took the words right out of your mouth.) "'Enterprise software' is a social, not technical, phenomenon."


"enterprise software" doesn't necessarily work, although sufficient effort can usually make it work. An up-front $50 000 price-tag makes it seem more reasonable to spend $1000 or $10 000 to customize it to your needs before you can use it. In extreme cases, such as [removal of offending company names. — ed.], keeping the software operational requires a team of expensive, specialized full-time employees.

The nontechnical background of many managers, in addition to the perverse incentives in many managerial structures, often allow enterprise software to sell well even if it does not work at all, no matter how much effort is applied.

"enterprise software" is surrounded by consultants who will sell you the service of making it work... In some cases, these ecosystems of consultants are competent and highly skilled. In other cases, such as the case of [removal of offending technology name. — ed.], many of them are spectacularly incompetent, vociferous in their ignorance, and prone to attack competing systems... Managers who aren't technically well-informed enough to select the software in the first place will also not be well-informed enough to distinguish between competent consultants and incompetent consultants, so both competent and incompetent consultants will flourish...

although I had previously had the opportunity to observe most of the pieces of the puzzle, I had clung to the idea that "enterprise software" was technically better in some way from the software I was used to using. It turns out that the differences are entirely social, not technical, and one of the major differences is that "enterprise software" is under much less pressure to have any technical merit.

I don't really buy into all of this. I think that there is a quantifiable difference that makes something "enterprise." However, I do completely agree that the term "enterprise" is becoming a wash as the salespersons and marketers keep selling it to nontechnical managers who parrot the term without basis.