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August 6, 2012

Enterprise Software Versus Consumer Software: What’s The Difference

If you work in an office, you probably hear about “enterprise software” at least some of the time. While, in the past, some people derided the whole concept of enterprise software as nothing more than marketing fodder, it’s actually evolved into something that’s actually concrete and tangible. Today, it has actual meaning to people, especially those in the IT departments of medium and large businesses.

What Is Enterprise Software?

Enterprise software are applications used in businesses to solve problems that are unique to larger enterprises — the kind that will rarely be an issue for individual or small businesses. Enterprise email, for instance, satisfies a different need than what a person who uses an email client for personal requirements. Why? Because while an individual only needs to worry about the email client correctly collecting, archiving and backing up his mail, large businesses need to worry about how every single one in the organization will use it, from the CEO down to the floor staff. How do you synchronize between the individual computers and the servers? How do you implement security, considering some emails will contain highly-sensitive company information? Should you give employees access to their emails from their home computers or only on vetted company machines? And so on.

Consumer Software

By definition, consumer software are packages meant for installation in home computers. While some people will use the same software for their individual businesses¬†(e.g. a freelance accountant can use a home accounting package for work with their clients), they aren’t designed for that. As such, their feature sets tend to be limited to single-machine home use.

Enterprise Software Requires Extra Consideration

As you can tell from the above, enterprise applications require additional consideration that wouldn’t otherwise be issues when it comes to consumer packages.

1. Enterprise software has multiple, concurrent users. Most enterprise applications are sold with multiple licenses for a reason — they’re meant for use by multiple users, often in a concurrent and collaborative form. They can also be installed en mass, sometimes from the background, without any work on the end user’s part. The more users an enterprise implementation can support, the better the software is.
2. Enterprise software is collaborative. While some commercial software will integrate collaboration as extra features (e.g. Microsoft Office Home Edition), enterprise software requires collaboration as a core function. As such, they tend to have more advanced collaborative and group-contribution features, reducing (sometimes eliminating) bottlenecks in information flow between individuals and teams.
3. Enterprise software needs to interface/integrate with other enterprise applications. One of the reasons that enterprise software is so expensive is the fact that it’s built to work seamlessly with numerous software items that businesses also employ. An enterprise security system, for instance, cannot interfere with a shipping company’s tracking software, especially the data transfer between the main satellite and the numerous satellite sources.
4. Enterprise software needs to work with a variety of hardware systems used in business. Most enterprise software entail a huge investment, so many of them will be used past the duration of existing servers and employee hardware. Commercial software, on the other hand, will be often be used in the same machine until the user upgrades. Some licenses even restrict a specific package to just one computer — something you won’t see in enterprise software. With the current growth in usage of tablets and smartphones, we’re seeing a lot of enterprise systems serve these platforms as well, all while commercial tools tend to remain either mobile or desktop-based in nature.
5. Enterprise software needs heavy security. Most consumer software use no security beyond storing its data in basic encrypted form. After all, it’s just one person on one computer using it at any one time. Setting up a firewall, installing an antivirus and all other security measures are up to the individual users. Enterprise software usually come with a lot more security built in, including higher-level encryption, user and device authentication, access restriction and levels of authorization.
6. Enterprise software needs to adapt to business models. Different businesses using different business models will use the same software in different ways. Enterprise software needs to account for this, so they can be used across the different subsidiaries in the organization, each of which often has their own operation guidelines.
7. Managing enterprise software requires specialist knowledge and expertise. Most consumer software will have a learning curve, but should be easily operable after going through the basic wizards and a couple pages of the user manual. Enterprise software, on the other hand, tend to be more complex, requiring backgrounds in networking, security, user management and more. The work isn’t limited to one machine, after all, but how the rest of the organization will be using the software.
8. User features and customization can be limited centrally. The administrator can set limitations on features and customization for each installation, rather than giving the end user free hand in everything, as is the case with off-the-shelf commercial software. This allows the company to control the user experience for employees, restricting them to features they’ll actually need for the job, instead of giving them free access to everything.
9. The main goal for enterprise software is to satisfy business needs, rather than individual user preferences. A premium is put in satisfying business requirements and supporting the company’s day to day operation. As such, many enterprise tools require some learning curve for users in order to maximize productivity, often more so than consumer applications in the same category and niche.
10. Enterprise software has built-in facilities for enforcing behavior. Most commercial software lets you do what you want. Enterprise software, on the other hand, will often have built-in rules that force users to make use of the software in ways that comply with existing laws and regulations in order to better protect the business. Basically, it’s a lot tougher for end users to do malicious things with enterprise programs deployed on their machines, compared to off-the-shelf retail copies.
11. Enterprise software often have detailed, exhaustive reporting systems. While some consumer software will have some reporting functions, this blows up a whole other level with enterprise tools. Those meetings can’t function without gobs of reports, after all. Kidding aside, businesses require accountability information and detailed reporting much more so than individual home users.

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