Commercial-off-the-Shelf Software vs. Custom

Commercial-off-the-Shelf Software vs. Custom

Posted by on November 19th, 2011 with Comments Off on Commercial-off-the-Shelf Software vs. Custom

Implementing software of any kind can feel pretty intimidating. Indeed there are as many arguments that favor commercial-off-the-shelf software (COTS) as there are those that favor custom software solutions. What to do?

As an experienced IT consulting firm with both commercial-off-the-shelf and custom software consulting services, we are often asked to provide recommendations for the best-fit solution. Our broad experience with software evaluation, selection, project management and implementation, gives us valuable insights in the COTS software arena. Our in-house software engineering experience and enterprise-level custom solutions add the perspective – and the objectivity – necessary to give a credible recommendation.

Whether COTS or CUSTOM, there are lots of questions that must be asked, and many of these questions are relative to either solution. Here’s the short list:

  • Where do you start?
  • Will it satisfy your requirements?
  • Are your requirements valid now and moving forward?
  • Which solution is more cost effective?
  • How long will it take?
  • Will it be adopted by your employees?
  • What if you want to make changes in the future?
  • Will the software keep pace with the latest technologies?

With this many questions and so much riding on the outcome, professional IT guidance is a must – it is simply too big of a decision to go it alone.

“It is not logical to make a decision based upon so few facts, sir,” ~ Spock

Compass Consulting welcomes you to our 5-part series, “COTS vs. Custom”, where we will discuss the decision points and share our experience in answering these questions, and more!

Part 1 of 5: Two Examples

Consider these two actual examples …

  1. A large supplier of real and replica weapons to the entertainment industry is making a decision to buy or build a new rental software solution. Aside from a basic accounting software, this is their only other software system and it will be used exclusively for the daily business operation. They consider their method of operation to be unique in the industry, and it is driven by a very customer service-focused approach and related procedures. They currently use an outdated yet usable system and want a solution that will support the distinctive way they do business, which they feel keeps them competitive in the industry.
  2. A large, multi-store retailer is replacing their current timekeeping, payroll and human resources software. With existing systems that support thousands of union employees with complex pay rules, this will be a significant undertaking regardless of their choice to buy or build. With upcoming legislative changes that will be unsupported in the existing systems, they want to have a relatively short project deployment timeline. Whatever the new software, it will require extensive data conversion and integration into other legacy systems.

“Humans have a knack for choosing precisely the things that are worst for them.” ~ J. K. Rowling

The big question for these two companies – COTS or CUSTOM?

Before we answer the questions at hand, we will first have to further define COTS and CUSTOM.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of 5: “Defining the Definition”. By the end of this 5-part series, you will have a clear idea of how to choose COTS or CUSTOM, and where to turn for guidance.

To request more info, contact us at (805) 389-0229 or

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Compass Consulting - an Information Technology Consulting and Managed Services Firm providing expertise in network, software, storage, virtualization and cloud technologies, unparalleled customer service, and committed to the goals of our clients' unique businesses. Our long term clients appreciate that we listen, focus on the details, take ownership of projects and deliver excellence.

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