Friday, January 12, 2018

What is an Enterprise Application?

When I tell people who are not in the I.T. industry that I develop enterprise applications, I am typically facing a gentle nod and a blank stare. Sometimes I get the same reaction from people who ARE in the I.T. world. I think Enterprise Application is one of those terms that people think they should know... but don't.

So, I thought I'd share what I mean by Enterprise Application. Of course, it will differ than other people's definitions because we all work in different places with different technologies etc.

According to Wikipedia:
Enterprise software, also known as enterprise application software (EAS), is computer software used to satisfy the needs of an organization rather than individual users. Such organizations would include businesses, schools, interest-based user groups, clubs, charities, or governments.[1] Enterprise software is an integral part of a (computer-based) information system.
Ok, but what does that really mean? Let's start with the word "enterprise". No, it's not the starship on a 5 year mission. An enterprise is a large organization... like a big company or government agency. We (almost) all know what an application is. It's the term we used before it got shortened to 'app' (also known as a program or software). So, an enterprise application is an app for a company or government agency (or department, office, bureau, ministry etc.) or some other type of large organization.

How is that different from any other kind of application? It is unique in at least two ways:
  1. It is not meant for general public use. It belongs to the organization to help them do their business, whatever that is, and is specific to that organization - either because it was specifically developed for the organization or it is an off-the-shelf product that has been configured for the organization.
  2. It is typically used to get data into and out of a database. So, it is not usually for creating images (like Photoshop) nor connecting drivers to people who need a ride (Uber, Lyft) nor is it used for creating complicated documents (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, although reports are typically involved). 
Large organizations typically need to keep track of all kinds of data, usually with databases. Sometimes it is very general stuff that many organizations use; such as contracts, invoices, bills, checks, employee records etc. For these applications, there are often commercial off-the-shelf  (COTS) systems that can handle it. Examples include accounting, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), and HR software.

Another common case is the need for something very specific to the organization. For example, a government agency that regulates pesticides may have a database of different pesticides and companies that produce pesticides etc. Since this is so specialized, there are probably no off-the-shelf systems to keep track of it. A custom developed enterprise application for this agency would facilitate the data entry and reporting on this data to meet business and/or regulatory requirements.

Other common properties of enterprise software include:

  • Security - It should use the enterprises default authentication mechanism (but doesn't always).
  • Density - May have more dense (more stuff per square inch of screen space) and look busy. Consumer applications try to not look too dense because it scares people off. In an enterprise, the users are typically forced to use the application even if it looks scary. What's more important is that it uses the screen efficiently.
  • Maintainability - Should be easily maintainable by the I.T. department.
  • User load - Probably doesn't need to handle a high user load like GMail although certainly some applications in very large organizations will face a high load.
  • Style - In consumer applications, arguably, form is more important than function because it has to sell. So, a lot of work goes into making a consumer application look good. For an enterprise application, function is much more important. That doesn't mean an enterprise application HAS to be ugly. I certainly try to make them look good... but I'm no artist.
  • Predictable network - An enterprise should have a reliable LAN and an enterprise application will probably take advantage of that. Usually it doesn't need to work over a dial-up connection or cell phone so there may not be as much effort put into network efficiency. Although I certainly try to make my application efficient. I assume that someday they will have to work over a public network subject to slowness and outages.

I build Enterprise Applications and I make them network efficient, good looking, maintainable and scale-able, just in case they become very successful and end up with millions of users.

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