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COTS and SaaS

Success factors for selecting and implementing COTS or SaaS software

Posted by: Berte Verhoeven
Category: Business
Firstly, let’s take a closer look at the differences between ‘Commercial-Off-The-Shelf’ and ‘Software-as-a-Service’ systems. After that, we talk about how to successfully implement them within your organization. This will help your organization make informed software purchasing decisions for years to come. 

‘Commercial Off-The-Shelf’ (COTS) as well as ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) products are ready-to-use software systems. Often configured or customized to meet business needs, and integrated with existing systems. In general, they serve some specific business needs or support core company functions. 

Differences between COTS and SaaS 

Commercial or Custom Off-The-Shelf

COTS products are packaged, ready-made software systems, that run on premise. They become increasingly popular alternatives to custom or tailored in-house development or bespoke software. When it comes to functionality and customization, developing solutions in-house or with an external company is ideal. But it leads to a lot more maintenance and developer costs than buying ready-made COTS solutions. 

Besides that, it is possible to extend the functionality of COTS products using custom development. But this decision should be carefully considered given the long-term implications for support and maintenance. The COTS vendor does not support such customized functionalities, so upgrading the COTS product poses its own challenges. 

The benefits of choosing COTS

Although many SaaS vendors offer solutions with privacy features built in, there are still legal or regulatory restrictions that prevent certain sectors or companies from using publicly accessible solutions.

 Pre-existing infrastructure
Companies with a skilled and sufficient IT infrastructure may find it more effective to use COTS tools. Rather than building the software from scratch, they expand the IT department’s responsibilities to accommodate the new software. 

Software as a Service

SaaS products are cloud-based software systems that can be accessed easily. All you need is an internet connection and a browser to access them. 

SaaS solutions offer flexibility and cost savings. They are hosted and managed off premises by SaaS vendors who handle all the technical tasks like installing, managing and updating software. So no physical hardware is needed to use them. Meanwhile, your employees can focus on other priorities, and you won’t have to rely on your in-house IT team. 

Since businesses become more comfortable with the cloud, SaaS solutions gain popularity. It is possible for some organizations to self-provision SaaS technology. Others may need a third party to help them with integration, customization, and security.  

The benefits of choosing SaaS:

Supporting and configuring COTS solutions requires IT infrastructure and staff. Besides that, maintenance can also be a concern. SaaS offers the same functionality as many COTS options, while abstracting away all maintenance. As your business grows and changes, SaaS can be scaled along with it, reducing upfront costs. Pricing structures based on pay-per-use enhance this effect.

While COTS tools work well in isolation, they are rarely guaranteed to be compatible with all the other tools in your organization. Businesses have a difficult time shedding light on their data because of data silos and many obstacles when trying to connect it to analytics. For example, as SaaS tools reside in the cloud, their data and functionalities can be accessed by a wide variety of machines, systems, and hardware.  

Issues when using COTS and SaaS systems

COTS and SaaS are more widely used due to their significant cost savings in procurement, development, and maintenance. However, they are not without their drawbacks.

Even though the initial cost and development time are significantly reduced, organizations should be aware of the increased integration work, vendor dependency, security issues, and incompatibilities arising from future changes.

It can be difficult to find the right solution that meets your needs before you purchase it. The upfront costs are relatively high since these systems are essentially one-off purchases or leases, in some cases. Therefore, choosing the wrong solution can result in a significant loss of money without actually solving your organization’s problems.

Success factors for COTS and SaaS systems 

COTS or SaaS solutions are a good choice for your organization for many reasons. Nevertheless, there are a few things to consider to ensure success. With this list, we provide you with helpful hints for selecting, purchasing, and implementing COTS or SaaS solutions. You’ll save your company a lot of time and money by paying attention to this.

What functionalities are you looking for? What integrations do you need with your own systems? What non-functional requirements do you have? Is it necessary to migrate your current data?

How much configuration/customization is required? If you have too much customization, then upgrading is expensive and time-consuming (maintenance, regression testing). You should modify your business process to match the package rather than vice versa, or maybe not consider these kind of solutions for strategic business processes/capabilities.

Demos are less important than customisation scenarios. You want to evaluate a solutions’ modifiability by providing several customisation scenarios and seeing how vendors are able to respond.

For typical solutions such as CRM/ERP, the main features tend to be uniform, which means you need to focus on other factors, such as those listed in the following criteria (vendor alignment, cost, modifiability, testability, etc).

What do you think you will need later? What is the vendor’s roadmap, including the release frequency? How much say do you have on this roadmap? How simple is it to request for new features, changes, or bug fixes? What are the SLA’s and KPI’s for these?

How easy is it to abandon this technology? Is the data exportable or transportable? Choose a solution with the least amount of commitment (e.g. hosted service) over a completely perfect solution with high commitment (e.g. big initial investment and cost for migrating data).

What platform is required? How difficult is it to integrate with your existing systems? Are there hardware scaling issues? Are there single points of failure? How simple is it to migrate my existing data? Is it you or the vendor who handles the actual technical implementation, installation, and integration?

What training options are available? What about consulting, documentation, release notes, the vendor’s community? How stable is the vendor? How easy is it to get support? What are the SLA’s and KPI’s for support? How culturally aligned are you if the vendor is also intended to be an integration partner?

Who is monitoring the project from the vendor’s and your side to ensure that scope, budget, planning and process agreements are followed and everything runs smoothly?

How much will it cost to implement (license, hosting, initial customizations/configurations), maintain, upgrade (frequency?), modify (new features/changes/bugfixes), and get support? How expensive is it to abandon this technology and vendor?

Will customization be done through APIs (good) or by modifying internals (bad)? How difficult is it to automate installation, configuration setup, and build processes (wizards are bad, scripted APIs are good)? Is it difficult to integrate version control with your existing configuration management system? How will the COTS/SaaS solution and any future versions be delivered? How does the release management process work, and how do testing activities fit in?

How difficult is it to test the solution (especially in an automated manner)? If the solution is an appliance (such as Microsoft Word), it needs to work. Initial selection and subsequent upgrades may rely more on manual, exploratory testing. However, as we begin to introduce customizations and configurations, the importance of being able to setup automated testing (along with other development features) grows.

Is it clear who is responsible for testing the functionalities, customizations/configurations, and integrations with your internal systems? Which testing activities are the responsibility of the vendor? What kind of test results do you get of the vendor?

Do you have a system in place for managing requirements, tests and bugs? Can it be integrated with vendor’s tool?

Are there manual or automated regression test sets available on existing and new functional flows, customizations/configurations, and integrations? How frequently are they executed?

Who is responsible for your internal testing? Do you have a team of dedicated (automation) testers?

Which test environments do you use to run your tests and who configures them? Are they integrated with the vendor’s testing environments?

How simple is it to create or access test data? etc…

More information?

Contact Thomas Peeters, our Sales Lead, for more information on these criteria and/or determine whether your COTS/SaaS implementation project is going to be a success.

Written by Joke Gijsbrechts

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