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In software, why do we talk about line-of-business applications (sometimes abbreviated to LOB)? Why not just business applications?

So it's useful to distinguish between general software (like email or word processing) and mission critical software specific to the business.

But how did "line of ..." come to be used for the latter?

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6 Answers

A company's line of business is a more generic term for what would be known as a product line or product line-up in a manufacturing or retail business. This itself comes from the days when a typical retailer had only a roadside still, with wares lined up in front of him.

This is also where we get the terms sideline and top of the line from.

Line of Business Applications, like many IT buzzwords, has drifted a little from it's literal meaning. It's most frequently use for those applications which are those most critical to the running of the main business of the company, but also for those which are unique, bespoke or specific to that business or industry too (as opposed to say email software or web servers).

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Line of business has a number of meanings, but in computing it refers to any of a set of critical applications for running an enterprise.

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What’s an “enterprise”, Captain? –  tchrist May 2 '12 at 12:55
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"Line-of-business" in a computing context has taken on a meaning synonymous with "mission-critical". So not all business applications are line-of-business applications.

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OK, but why "line of"? –  hawbsl Feb 11 '11 at 9:29
    
@hawbsl: It's an expression meaning the fundamental kind of business one is in. –  chaos Feb 11 '11 at 14:45
    
@chaos - Saying "it's an expression" does not answer the question. Has is asking for the etymology not the meaning. (-1) –  dave Jul 25 '11 at 20:03
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Business applications is a broader term. Often used to refer to generic applications such as email, whereas Line of Business applications are more specific to business, or the type of business.

Some examples of types LOB applications

  • Customized E-Commerce Systems
  • Workflow Management Systems Support
  • Tracking Systems Knowledge and
  • Document Management Systems
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What's the origin of "line of?" –  hawbsl Feb 11 '11 at 9:29
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If your company's line of business is selling insurance, apps related to selling insurance are LOB for you. If you sell cars, the little app that calculates prices and commissions is LOB. For both companies, email, word processing etc are not LOB, because they're not specific to those companies. The same app can be LOB for one company and not for another - for example something to calculate your energy usage might be a diversion for you, but for a "green-consultant" it would be bread and butter.

"Line of business" is a really old phrase (wiktionary says early 19th C and on) that might refer to "your product line" but might not. Think of "line of sight" as an analogy, or the old game show "What's My Line?"

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While I don't actually know, I did some digging and found one interesting theory over for it here at the Online Etymology Dictionary, specifically:

Meaning "one's occupation, branch of business" is from 1630s, probably from misunderstood KJV translation of 2 Cor. x.16, "And not to boast in another mans line of things made ready to our hand," where line translates Gk. kanon, lit. "measuring rod."

Just reading some alternative translations however, it looks like the general consensus for that line when they've tried to rephrase it is "...not to boast about what another man has done..."

(have a dig through a couple of versions at the Bible Gateway if you're curious, for example, the Common English Bible version of that line)

Unpacking the process, it doesn't look particularly crazy, the KJV is quite an influential text for a start and the passage in question looks like it has been translated oddly if the modern translations are correct(er). If that was the case back in the day, I'd not be surprised since the verbose explanation of the passage would pretty much be talking about the things someone is doing (or more pointedly - his work) and the existing meanings of 'line of' would need to be augmented for the sentence to make sense (hence, a new layer of meaning).

If the theory is correct (and it sorta makes sense to me, but again, grain of salt since I'm not doing particularly deep research here) the usage you're talking about could've come from this as line-of-business refers to what you actually do, so your mission critical software almost by definition is what falls into that category whereas your ancillary software might not.

If I had a time machine to go back and tweak it to "...not to boast in another mans area of things..." we could see. Lacking such a machine though I'd need to do some proper digging to move this theory past the 'crackpot, uneducated loon' stage. I'm hoping someone else might have more insight or suggested sources - particularly if I could nail down an upswing of the phrase in this usage about the time of the publication of the KJV bible + a couple of decades, I'd feel a lot more confident.

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