What does "the enterprise" mean?
November 29, 2006 7:46 AM   Subscribe

I often see in business/technology articles references to "the enterprise". Presumably, the enterprise refers to a subset of business organisations in this context - which ones? Also, why the definite article? Why is it "the enterprise" rather than just "enterprise" or "the enterprise sector"?

An example of this usage (and the straw that prompted this question):

It isn't newsworthy when a Windows users[sic], formerly biased against Macs in the enterprise, changes his mind...

Is there any meaning to this, or is it just some lazy hack journalistese meme?
posted by nowonmai to Writing & Language (11 answers total)
They just mean in a company or corporate environment.
posted by willnot at 7:54 AM on November 29, 2006

"enterprise" is simply a synonym for a business or a company, but a) sounds fancier and b) is sometimes used to distinguish large or complex business from small ones. You hear companies talking about "enterprise grade" products.

Think of replacing it with "the home" or "the family-owned business".

Having said that, it is trite and over-used.
posted by GuyZero at 8:05 AM on November 29, 2006

I usually hear "enterprise" or "enterprise-wide" when someone is referring to an entire corporate organization. That is, not just a certain office or a certain division, but the entire top-level business entity. It's often used when referring to a decision, policy or license. A software license might be enterprise-wide, or a policy regarding reimbursement of travel expenses might apply across the enterprise.

"Enterprise sector" refers to large corporate organizations, maybe analogous to the Fortune 500 or Fortune 1000. I don't hear it that much.

I don't really see enterprise used with a definite article, except when grammar requires it. In the example you cited, it's used because a specific enterprise is referred to.
posted by jcwagner at 8:07 AM on November 29, 2006

The company I worked for until earlier this month made enterprise software. Enterprise is not just big business but REALLY big business. If you need your systems to have 99.999% uptime because you have thousands of people around the world relying on them, you are an enterprise. If there's ever a good time to take your systems offline for maintenance, you are not.

Enterprise-targeted servers tend to have multiple tiers (i.e., database, business logic, presentation) that run on separate hardware, so that each tier can have multiple hosts, both for capacity and so in the case of hardware failure the system stays up.

Fortune 1000 is not a bad way to define it. Companies outside the Fortune 1000 may need those features too, but it's a sure bet that the Fortune 1000 do. If you are making products for the Fortune 1000, then you are targeting the enterprise.

Big companies tend to have grown through acquisition. Each acquired company had its own information systems. Thus, another distinguishing feature of enterprise systems is that they tend to have ways to tie other systems together. A user directory is a business product; a metadirectory (a software product that unites several standalone directories into a single virtual directory) is an enterprise product.
posted by kindall at 8:19 AM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

In most of the circumstances I've encountered the phrase, it's a euphemism for "big, rigidly, possibly even viciously, centralized IS and IT environments in large companies."
posted by majick at 8:21 AM on November 29, 2006

In my example, "the enterprise" does NOT refer to a specific enterprise, but rather to enterprise in general, and it is this usage that I am asking about.

Further examples are to be had in hits 2–6 of this Google search. See also many of the stories and headlines that are unearthed by this Google News search.
posted by nowonmai at 8:27 AM on November 29, 2006

It sounds like "in the enterprise" refers back to some previously mentioned business or subset of the business world. Sounds like an antecedent problem—the writer isn't making it clear what "the enterprise" originally refers to in the piece.

I'd assume that wherever you see that, it should refer back to something earlier in the piece—again, either a previously mentioned business or subset of the business community.

So it may be the writer's lack of clarity (people seem to have a hard time properly setting up and then referring back to antecedent nouns with clear pronouns/synonyms)—or you may just need to reread the piece.
posted by limeonaire at 8:28 AM on November 29, 2006

Ahh, sorry, didn't preview.

Anyway, in those instances, they're using "the enterprise" as the generic, singular version of "big enterprise-level corporations," as defined by others earlier in this thread. It's like all those articles you see talking about "Sexual Harassment in The Office," where "the office" refers not to one specific office, but to your generic, average office environment.
posted by limeonaire at 8:32 AM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

That sentence you cited is absolutely terrible, though, esp. if that instance of "the enterprise" is meant to refer to the big corporate world at large—'cause the writing certainly doesn't make it clear that it is. Hackneyed language and ideas, there...
posted by limeonaire at 8:35 AM on November 29, 2006

cf. the concept of the small office/home office, sometimes referred to as the Soho market.
posted by kimota at 9:11 AM on November 29, 2006

They don't call it "the SoHo" though, thank goodness.
posted by nowonmai at 10:53 AM on November 29, 2006

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