Should I say ‘on-premise’ or ‘on-premises’ IT?

April 19, 2018 4:47 pm

Not every writer enjoys being a scold about grammar and usage. Here at Collective Content we’re willing to give the occasional pass for saying things like, ‘Every attendee should have their receipt on hand…’ (mixing the singular ‘every’ with the plural ‘their’) or ‘The data confirms that…’ (using the singular form of ‘confirms’ for ‘data’, which is the Latin plural for ‘datum’).

But even non-pedants have sore spots about certain bad writing habits, and here’s ours: describing information technology infrastructure as being ‘on-premise’. And we hear that a lot, given the main area where Collective Content operates is B2B IT.

According to the OED, this would suggest that your IT is on ‘a previous statement or proposition from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion’. And that, obviously, is doubtful.

No, when people write ‘on-premise’, the term they’re really looking for is ‘on-premises’. As in, the IT equipment is located on the site of a ‘building… occupied by a business or considered in an official context’.

We get it. ‘On-premise’ is shorter, quicker and a bit easier to say than ‘on-premises’. But it’s a usage that’s just a bit toowrong…, even when compared to other bad writing habits. For instance, some of us might snicker when we see business copy using ‘service’ as a verb (see definitions 2 and 2.1 for why). But the verb ‘service’ does have a legitimate alternate definition that means to ‘perform a service or services’. For now, at least, there’s no such alternative for ‘on-premise’.

Beyond being grammatically wrong, saying your IT is ‘on-premise’ is also imprecise from a technology perspective. And that’s not an impression any tech company should want to make. Customers seeking good, secure, up-to-date IT want highly specific things: 99.999 per cent uptime, laser-sharp focus on security, low mean-time-to-detect and mean-time-to-respond, and so on.

Even if just a few prospects are put off by something as wrong as ‘on-premise’, you could hurt your chance of winning new business.

The problem is, the use of ‘on-premise’ has become pervasive in some corners of the tech world… to the point it’s becoming standard. Before it’s too late to reverse this trend, could we suggest a few solutions?

First, just try making a point of saying ‘on-premises’. It’s really not that difficult or time consuming – certainly not for an industry that loves using ‘utilise’ instead of ‘use’, or ‘incentivise’ instead of ‘encourage’.

If not, perhaps a shortened form – ‘on-prem’ – might be better? It’s a variation that’s also appeared frequently in the tech world, and it avoids the whole ‘premise’ versus ‘premises’ problem entirely.

That’s a premise that works for us, no matter whose premises you’re talking about.

Tagged with