How COTS+ Solves the ‘Buy vs Build’ Conundrum

For most government agencies, the conventional approach towards enterprise software procurement has focused on two potential implementation approaches:


  1. Building your own custom solution bespoke to your exacting business requirements
  2. Buying an existing COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) solution that meets many, but not all, of your business requirements

While it’s tempting to oversimplify these two options as, “paying more to get almost exactly what you want,” vs, “paying less to get most of what you need,” the reality is each approach has its own distinct and well documented pros and cons.*

Projecting software lifecycle valuations (build vs buy)

In addition to considering the various organizational and project impacts of these two approaches, it is also imperative to gauge the projected ROI of buy (COTS) vs build (custom) over the entire lifecycle of each approach. Doing so elevates your procurement analysis beyond mere organizational and project requirements to establish the intrinsic value proposition for each of these solutions.


Is a picture worth a thousand words? The above chart certainly may be. Within this simple graphic, one can immediately grasp and compare the value propositions derived from our buy and build options. More importantly, these two divergent lines enable us to fully understand the projected ROI for each approach across the entirety of their respective product lifecycles. Let’s take a closer look.


  1. In the visual above, the Effort value serves a twofold purpose. First, it gives a clear sense of what we can expect from a project implementation and delivery point-of-view. Quite simply, the more laden our project is with complex business requirements, the tougher we can expect it will be to find a COTS solution ticking a large multitude of boxes. With simple to moderately complex requirements, buying a traditional COTS solution requires considerably less effort than the objective of designing, building and implementing a new custom built solution. Building your own enterprise software solution does not deliver true value from an effort expenditure point-of-view until your business requirements reach a medium to high level of complexity. At this crossing point, the level of customization required to modify a traditional COTS solution for an exceedingly complex set of unique business requirements drives the effort curve upwards rapidly and precipitously.
  2. Secondly, the Effort value provides a serviceable proxy for anticipated project expenditure in relation to our business requirements (i.e. expected project ROI). Through this evaluation lens, our traditional COTS solution gains immediate advantage from the onset as the better value solution for projects of simple to medium complexity. By contrast, a custom built solution begins its lifecycle as a substantially more cost inefficient approach and only truly delivers superior ROI if the agency remains sufficiently disciplined to develop the solution through an extended product lifecycle to a level of complexity commensurate with the most mature enterprise software solutions.

For many years, this A/B choice of ‘building custom vs buying COTS‘ has been the classic conundrum that government agencies have wrestled with in their deliberations over which approach will yield the best value for project stakeholders and citizens alike.  Each approach had it’s own distinct advantages; each had its own limiting trade offs contingent upon project, budget and staff constraints. This is now changing however with the ascent of the COTS+ solution.


What is a COTS+ solution?


Maintaining an industry unmatched 100% project success rate over 40+ years as a preferred provider of government software solutions, Computronix has been on the front lines through every evolutionary phase in the delivery and implementation of enterprise software. From in-house custom application development to commercial off-the-shelf software, we’ve built and deployed both custom and COTS solutions to meet the exacting requirements of our clients, in the process delivering government workflows solutions that yield true generational utility and return on investment. And, as the technology and our expertise has grown, we have identified and developed a new hybrid approach to software development that elegantly overcomes the tradeoffs inherent in conventional buy vs build analyses. It is an approach we call COTS+ 


Quite simply, a COTS+ Solution is the best of both worlds, providing the off-the-shelf feature maturity of a traditional COTS product with the underlying configuration flexibility of custom built software. COTS+ solutions, like those built on our proprietary POSSE Platform, leverage a powerful workflow configuration and business rules engine that empowers agencies to develop their own custom workflows and citizen services. This robust configuration toolset is seamlessly integrated with a range of mature and feature rich COTS+ solutions providing immediate out-of-the-box functionality for a range of traditional government agency applications (including permittingalcoholic beverage control, and more) WITHOUT the core configuration limitations of traditional COTS solutions. Utilizing our elegant low code POSSE development platform, government agencies can utilize business friendly drag-and-drop interfaces leveraging pre-built user interface (UI) functionality and designs, business processes, logic, and data models to build, test and deploy full-stack, cross-platform apps—in a fraction of the time required for complex code developments.

Best of both worlds: the value of COTS+


The value proposition for a COTS+ solution becomes readily apparent, once we overlay the expected lifecycle curve for our new COTS+ approach over our previous comparison model as per the chart above.


Given the complexity and scope of its underlying configuration platform, a COTS+ solution begins its project lifecycle with slightly more effort and expense to implement than a traditional COTS solution. Compared to a custom build however, the COTS+ solution requires substantially less effort to implement, providing more cost efficiencies than a custom built solution by a significant margin. As project requirements grow in complexity, a COTS+ solution tracks closely to the value curve for a traditional COTS solution until the project reaches a point of medium complexity. It is here that a COTS+ solution truly shines in comparison to both the traditional buy and build approaches. For all but the most complex software implementations, a COTS+ solution works elegantly to maintain project/cost efficiency throughout its lifecycle, avoiding the precipitous spike of traditional COTS solutions lacking underlying configuration flexibility, while also tracking significantly more efficient than cost prohibitive custom built solutions.


In this particular race to requirements, it is only in the latter stages of a significantly complex project implementation that the build your own approach offers the superior value proposition, but here it is worth emphasizing that only a small percentage of government agency implementations ever match the substantially complex requirements for this type of late stage lifecycle solution. The vast majority of government enterprise software implementations reside in the realm of medium to reasonably complex project requirements where the COTS+ solution value proposition truly excels.


Government software + lifetime value = COTS+


This powerful hybrid approach places COTS+ solutions in a procurement ‘sweet spot’ for government agencies seeking the product certainty and speed-to-market of an existing off-the-shelf solution in tandem with the extended lifecycle value of a low code development and workflow automation platform. In short, a COTS+ solution empowers a legitimate ‘best of both worlds’  procurement approach for government agencies keen to overcome the limitations associated with conventional buy or build models for enterprise software implementation.


*To help guide your evaluation of these and other considerations, please visit the link provided for additional information.


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