The literary world and beyond has been up in arms as of late regarding the use of the word ‘literally’. It seems that many are using the word literally when they mean figuratively. For example, if you say, “I literally split my pants laughing,” it would be plausible for one to look at your pants looking for a tear. Words are funny that way. When used to emphasize the action or outcome, some will take literary privilege. Enterprise is also one of those words that are used to convey emphasis often with disregard to the implied meaning.
When it comes to DevOps there has been a lot of debate about the modifier ‘enterprise’. Modifiers are supposed to add specificity to the noun it is modifying. Agreeably, enterprise is a horrible modifier for DevOps when used without additional modifiers representing scale. I have been, and continue to be, a big advocate of the concept of Enterprise DevOps. That said, I too have been remiss in my use of the word enterprise to further modify with the term ‘large-scale.’
I don’t remember exactly what triggered me to seek out if the word enterprise implied large, but when I did I was surprised to find that there is no implied meaning that enterprise means large and, in fact, can be modified with small-, medium- and large-scale to represent the appropriate size. As further evidence to the ambiguity of the use of the word enterprise, I worked for a company that divided their sales organization into enterprise and commercial accounts. Clearly, this organization believes that enterprise connotes large-scale since this group was responsible for selling to a specific class of customer that spent a significant amount of money with them. In this case, scale was identified by how much money the business spent with that vendor versus annual revenues versus number of employees. So, clearly, not only does the word enterprise not imply scale, but it also has different metrics that will determine the scale of an enterprise.
Merriam-Webster defines Enterprise as follows:
: a project or activity that involves many people and that is often difficult
: a business organization
: the ability or desire to do dangerous or difficult things or to solve problems in new ways
Obviously, none of these meanings relate to size or scale, but two of the meanings do indicate difficulty. Let’s put that in the parking lot for later.
Why is this important? With regard to IT, I believe there is a tendency to throw around the word enterprise with no modifiers when we mean large-scale. For example, “Enterprise Software” is a term that is often used to describe very expensive and complex software applications that are designed to operate at the scale of the entire business versus the individual. Typically, the software described by enterprise software is found in mid- to large-scale enterprises where they can afford to acquire, configure and operate this type of software. Likewise, “Enterprise Storage” is a way to describe compute data storage environments for large organizations.
Likewise, “Enterprise DevOps” is a term that that is often used to represent adoption of DevOps practices in large, complex organizations with many different stakeholders and sub-organizations making it much more difficult to coordinate efforts around efforts like continuous delivery and continuous improvement.
Interestingly, and I believe accidentally, implementing enterprise software and adopting enterprise DevOps are difficult projects. So, based on our Webster’s definition, enterprise works as a modifier for these nouns. But there’s still the issue that for small-, mid- and large-scale enterprises the challenges and hurdles associated with DevOps adoption vary enough that the constraints and bottlenecks require different approaches to remove. This is especially true of large-scale global enterprises where development exists in four continents, operations data centers exist in multiple countries on four continents and the business operates in six continents with a comprised IT staff of 120,000 people.
I for one will be very careful in the future to define what I mean when I’m using the word enterprise in the future. If I’m talking about large-scale enterprises, which I usually am, I will make sure that early on in my writings and presentations I specify that when you see enterprise going forward I’m talking about large-scale enterprises.