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Sep 15, 2003: Another Labeling Exercise

What does the term "enterprise" mean to you?

Yeah, I know that your first impulse will be to crack some joke that has to do with Kirk, Picard, or Seven of Nine. "OK, so a Romulan, a Ferengi, and an entire Borg colony materialize into a bar..."

But seriously, folks, I'm struggling with a labeling problem here. I've been teaching a seminar series called "Enterprise Information Architecture: Because Users Don't Care About Your Org Chart". The "enterprise" I'm talking about is a large, decentralized, messy organization--could be a multi-national corporation, a government entity, an academic institution. Whatever form they come in, enterprises cause headaches for information architects: too much content, too many user audiences, and what information architecture there is reflects the org chart, not users' needs.

I'm convinced that the enterprise setting is where the IA jobs are and will be for years to come; all those CMS, search engines, and portal installations are absolutely crying for help from information architects.

But I'm just not sure the term "enterprise" is the right one. Does it speak to you? Would you make more money and gain more respect if you said you were an enterprise information architect? Or would you just get blank stares in return?

I wonder if there's a better term; any suggestions would be appreciated.

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Comment: anonymous (Sep 15, 2003)

Along a vaguely related thread, I have been having a discussion in my office about the term "change management." As we all know, terms have different meanings in different circles. However, we assumed that when our president used the term, he would be using it in the way that most business school/fortune magazine type people would use it. Instead, he is using it as a euphamism for "I have made a change and this is how I will spread the news."

Bringing the story back to your question, I wonder out lod if "enterprise" might fall into the same euphamistic trap. Is the best solution to identify the environment of use and provide strict definitions?

- Anonymous as I mention my boss's boss in the text...

Comment: Dorelle (Sep 15, 2003)

Well Lou, even the term "enterprise" is loaded. I've spent the past year and a half on both an internet site and an intranet for a large (44,000 employees) corporation, and its been a struggle to find terms to describe this corporation that all involved parties agree upon. We couldn't use "corporate", because that also meant the corporate division. "Company" was no good, because this corporation is made up of many different companies. "Corporation" was nixxed too, since one corp owned another etc. So we finally settled on "enterprise," as in enterprise-wide communications...mostly because the term is so generic we thought it wouldn't offend anyone. Which is not the case, because they think it makes them sound too big.

Comment: Mike Steckel (Sep 15, 2003)

I actually like the term "Enterprise." It implies that the object being described is something with boundaries, yet is less-defined than "company." Often an "enterprise" can include relationships that include other companies or organizations. Similarly, it can be used to describe sub-sections of an organization.

I would also add that "enterprise" is commonly used elsewhere to designate similar entities, as in this book (http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/entservapps/), this book (http://www.managingenterprisecontent.com/), Gartner, etc.

We have enough trouble communicating "information architect" so I would be reluctant to move against what might be considered a standard term. Any blank stares you would get would come from the "information architect" part of the title.

Comment: Lou (Sep 16, 2003)

Thanks for the comments folks. To Anonymous' question about using terms more specific to a given environment: I agree, it'd probably be more meaningful to discuss IA for academia, or IA for governmental organizations. My problem is that my seminar is appropriate for academia, government, and large for-profits. So I'm grasping for something less specific.

It'll be interesting to track the term "enterprise IA" over time. I wonder if it'll be more commonly used in a year or two. As I said, I'm convinced that this is the land of opportunity for information architects and their fellow travelers. This is much in line with my perceived (though not validated) sense that IAs are now primarily in-house, not external consultants.

Comment: David (Sep 17, 2003)

It's a little boring, but how about something along the lines of 'IA for Large Organizations'?

I'm in the target market for your seminar (large NPO) and while enterprise applies I tend to discount it a bit as a buzz-word and evidence of a significant BS-factor. That could just be me, of course.

The tag line is perfect and speaks directly to my pain.

Comment: Lyle Kantrovich (Sep 17, 2003)

"Enterprise" works for me. To me, "enterprise" means the whole enchilada within one organizational hierarchy. Examples: GE, 3M, IBM.

The "parent" enterprise may or may not contain sub-organizations (corporations, organizations, agencies, product lines, divisions, etc.) Examples: GE Capital, Post-It, Lotus.

"Enterprise" as part of EIA implies big. While you can have small enterprises, size and complexity are what differentiate EIA from IA.

"Corporate" wouldn't work for government agencies and NGO's. ...and the CIA acronym is already taken...although it'd be cool to put on your resume or biz card. :)

"Whale" also comes to mind, but just doesn't have the same ring to it.

EIA as a label will never be self-explanatory, but then you knew that already. What's good about it is that it opens up a discussion around the unique IA needs of large enterprises.

I say go with it.

Comment: Chris McEvoy (Sep 23, 2003)

"Enterprise" - A walking tree with a crowbar.

Comment: Lou (Sep 23, 2003)

Hmmm. Sounds like something out of Ursula LeGuin.

Comment: David Locke (Nov 19, 2003)

"Enterprise" means a market separate from "Departmental" or "Desktop." It typically means an application that sells to the IT department at some astronomical markup. So if you do want to be EAI's charge about ten times more than you charge now.

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