COTS vs. Custom, the Pros & Cons

By:  Bernard Morneau Ι May 27th, 2020 Ι Custom Development Ι Decision Making

As a solution provider for the OSIsoft PI System, we are often asked about commercial off the shelf software (COTS) vs. custom development.  It is a good question. Here are our thoughts:

A COTS approach is good if:
  • It supports your “must have” features/functions. This can be checked via a scripted demonstration.
  • Most of the adaptation to requirements should be achievable via configuration with minimal coding or scripting.
  • If the application supports and implements industry standards (eg. IEEE 762, ISA TR18.2, etc.), COTS is often a good avenue.
  • It must “fit in place” in your technical environment with minimal integration effort.  This includes reporting system, business process integration, business intelligence, notification systems, etc.
  • Depending on the criticality of your requirements, you may also decide to align with the COTS especially if the COTS is mature. Mature COTS have received the feedback of many customers and implement industry best practices.
  • In a COTS you are paying for all the features and functions and if you use only a few, you would be paying more than what it is worth at the moment but the future value may be significant. End users/customers are the judge on this.
The benefits of COTS are:
  • Implementation methodology is proven, lowering the risk and getting the customer faster to benefits
  • It is usually possible to run a pilot or a proof of concept of a COTS which goes a long way towards proving the solution and making the business case. This is important because the upfront of a COTS may sometimes appear superior to the initial cost of custom development.
  • Since COTS have a broader set of functionalities, it can be an opportunity to leverage additional features and functions down the road.
  • When a customer buys COTS, they buy into the vision and the roadmap of the COTS developer. It is important to have this discussion to make sure your goal, objectives and requirements are aligned with the direction of the COTS development roadmap.
  • Buying a COTS also means benefiting of the influence and experience of other customers across all industry domains. A good example is the- OSIsoft PI World, formerly known as the PI User Conference, which has become a yearly happening where customers of all industries present and exchange ideas.
  • Buying a COTS minimizes the IP exposure by making you more immune to staff turnover in your company.

In summary, COTS makes a lot of sense in many situations, especially when applications are mature and based on industry standards.

At Omicron, when the context is right, we believe in maximizing the use of COTS and filling the integration gap using state of the art and open methods and techniques.

Bernard Morneau

Bernard Morneau

Manaing Director, Omicron Development LLC
+1 415 349 1281

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