AIAI The Enterprise Ontology

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The Enterprise Ontology is a collection of terms and definitions relevant to business enterprises. The ontology was developed in the Enterprise Project by the Artificial Intelligence Applications Institute at the University of Edinburgh with its partners: IBM, Lloyd's Register, Logica UK Limited, and Unilever. The project was support by the UK's Department of Trade and Industry under the Intelligent Systems Integration Programme(project no IED4/1/8032)

Conceptually, the Enterprise Ontology it is divided into a number of main sections -- these are summarised below.


The central term is Activity. This is intended to capture the notion of anything that involves doing, in particular including action. The concept of Activity is closely linked with the idea of the Doer, which may be a Person, Organisational-Unit or Machine. These terms are defined in the Organisation section and are collectively referred to as Potential-Actor s. Have-Capability denotes the ability of a Potential-Actor to be the Doer of an Activity (or Skill if the Doer is a Person). Actors may have other Roles in respect of an Activity such as Activity-Owner.

Also closely related to Activity is Resource, which is something used or consumed in an Activity. An Activity can also have outputs or Effects. An Activity is linked to a Time-Range (i.e. an interval), which is defined in the Time section. An Activity may be large and complex and take a long time. This may be represented as composition of many Sub-Activity s.

An Activity can obviously have happened in the past and may be happening in the present. The term can also be used to refer to a hypothetical future Activity. However, there is a need to refer explicitly to specifications or plans for Activities. This is provided by the term Activity-Spec. An Activity-Spec specifies at some level of detail one or more possible Activities. If the Activity-Spec has an Intended-Purpose, it is called a Plan. The concept of repeatability of an Activity or Plan is captured in the term Process-Specification.

Control of doing of Activities is important to enterprises. This is provided by the Relationship Hold-Authority denoting that an Actor has the right to perform the Activities as specified in an Activity-Spec.


Central to the Organisation section are concepts of Legal-Entity and ORGANISATIONAL UNIT (abbreviated as OU). Both of these refer to things which have a `gestalt' whether they are individual or composite. They differ in that a Legal-Entity is recognised as having rights and responsibilities in the world at large and by legal jurisdictions in particular, whereas Organisational-Unit need only have full recognition within an organisation.

Legal-Entity includes Person and Corporation. Larger Legal-Entities may wholly own other smaller Legal-Entities. An Organisational-Unit may be large and complex, even transcending Legal-Entities. Large OUs will normally be seen as being made up from smaller ones. The smallest may correspond to a single Person, in fact a particular Person could be seen as corresponding with more than one small OU.

A Machine is a non-human, non- Legal-Entity that may play certain Roles otherwise played by a Person or Ou (e.g. perform an Activity).

The Ownership of rights and responsibilities may only, from the legal point of view, lie with a Legal-Entity. Within an organisation, rights and responsibilities for Resources may be allocated to OUs. Therefore Ownership is defined to include this, with Legal-Ownership and Non-Legal-Ownership defined to enable the distinction where needed. OUs may be responsible for Activities.

Within an organisation the management structure is represented by Management Links. The term Manage represents assigning Purposes to OUs. An Organisational Structure will be defined as a pattern of Management Links between OUs. This can include multiple Management Links into any one OU with constraints on the different type of Purposes assigned through each link.


The central concept of the Strategy section is Purpose. Purpose captures the idea either of something which a PLAN can HELP ACHIEVE or that an ORGANISATION UNIT can be responsible for. In fact it includes any kind of PURPOSE, whether on a level of organisation and time scale which will normally be called strategic, or detailed and short term.

Like an OU, a Purpose can be composed or decomposed. That is, one statement of Purpose may relate to something which can also be seen to Help-Achieve some grander Purpose. By this means, a spectrum of widely used terms like Vision, Mission, Goal, and Objective can be represented without there being shared agreement on precisely how these terms are used.

Strategy is defined as a Plan to Achieve a high-level Purpose. Based on the concept of PLAN from the Activity section, the concepts key to Strategic Planning can be represented with the terms Decision, Assumption, Risk, and various types of Factor.


The central concept of the Marketing section is Sale. A Sale is an agreement between two Legal-Entities for the exchange of a Product for a Sale-Price. Normally the Product is a good or service and the Sale-Price is monetary, however other possibilities are included. The Legal-Entities play the (usually distinct) Roles of Vendor and Customer. A Sale can have been agreed in the past, and a future Potential-Sale can be envisaged, whether or not the actual Product can be identified, or even exists.

The Market is all Sales and Potential Sales within a scope of interest. The Market may include Sales by Competitors. The Market may be decomposed into Market Segments in many ways in many levels of detail. This can be done by any properties of the Product, Vendor, Customer, Sale-Price or of anything else associated with a Sale. These properties are Segmentation-Variables.

Analysis of a Market may involve understanding of Features of Products, Needs of Customers, and Images of Brands, Products, or Vendors. Promotions are Activities whose Purposes relate to the Image in a Market.


The following is a complete list of the terms defined in the Enterprise Ontology.

Activity Activity Specification, Execute, Executed Activity Specification, T-Begin, T-End, Pre-Conditions, Effect, Doer, Sub-Activity, Authority, Activity Owner, Event, Plan, Sub-Plan, Planning, Process Specification, Capability, Skill, Resource, Resource Allocation, Resource Substitute.
Organisation Person, Machine, Corporation, Partnership, Partner, Legal Entity, Organisational Unit, Manage, Delegate, Management Link, Legal Ownership, Non-Legal Ownership, Ownership, Owner, Asset, Stakeholder, Employment Contract, Share, Share Holder.
Strategy Purpose, Hold Purpose, Intended Purpose, Strategic Purpose, Objective, vision, Mission, Goal, Help Achieve, Strategy, Strategic Planning, Strategic Action, Decision, Assumption, Critical Assumption, Non-Critical Assumption, Influence Factor, Critical Influence Factor, Non-Critical Influence Factor, Critical Success Factor, Risk.
Marketing Sale, Potential Sale, For Sale, Sale Offer, Vendor, Actual Customer, Potential Customer, Customer, Reseller, Product, Asking Price, Sale Price, Market, Segmentation Variable, Market Segment, Market Research, Brand Image, Feature, Need, Market Need, Promotion, Competitor.
Time Time Line, Time Interval, Time Point.



Notes from Mike Uschold, Senior Ontology Consultant at at Semantic Arts on 3rd May 2017...

Work on the Enterprise Ontology was a group effort that I was the main editor for. By my recollection, the ontology never did make it into Protege. Instead, it was developed on the Ontolingua sytsem, which was developed by Tom Gruber and was one of the first ever Web applications.

May I suggest another resource to consider called 'gist'. It is an upper ontology for building enterprise ontologies, hence is very similar to the Enterprise Ontology. However it is in OWL, and benefits from the 10+ years of experiences at Semantic Arts in building enterprise ontologies for real companies. Is it freely available from the link below:

Here is a talk with an example of one of the enterprise ontologies we built using it:

(Last updated: Mon Dec 5 17:23:16 2022