Commercially-off-the-shelf(COTS) Product Assessment


Commercially-Off-theShelf (COTS) is a Product:

  • Readily available in the market
  • Can be used as-is
  • Sold under a perpetual or subscription based licensing model
  • Sold by the vendor for profit
  • Supported and maintained by the vendor

Example of COTS Product: SAP/Oracle for Supply Chain Management, Finacle for Core Banking, Cerner for Clinical Information System.

COTS Assessment Process

There are multiple COTS products available in the market to address the same set of requirements. For example, there are number of COTS products available in the market like Finacle, Temenos, Misys and so on to address Core Banking requirements. Hence, it is important to have an assessment process in place to shortlist the final product(s) from the list. Below diagram depicts COTS Assessment Process:

COTS Assessment Process

COTS assessment process can result in selection of one or multiple products. For example, while assessing COTS product for Hospital Information System, Hospital ABC can decide to go with Cerner for Computerized Physician Order Entry and Epic for Patient Administration System.

It is strongly recommended to include Build vs Buy as part of the evaluation process if not already done by the organization.

Build Vs Buy

Buy is buying COTS available readily in the market and Build is building the same system in-house (also called as custom development). From the organisation’s business goal, budget and timeline perspective, it is paramount that the pros and cons of build vs buy is evaluated either before or during COTS assessment process. Typically:

  • Buy (COTS) is recommended when there is:
    • Lack of skilled resources
    • Time to market pressure
    • A system that is readily available which satisfies all or most of the requirements
  • Build (Custom/in-house) is recommended when:
    • Requirements are unique
    • Budget is limited
    • Organization is looking to build or use in-house talent

Organisation can also decide to go with combination of build and buy. For example, Hospital ABC might decide to go with Cerner for Patient Administration System and in-house/custom development for Billing.

COTS Assessment Parameters

Consider an example where Hospital XYZ has decided to go with COTS product for their clinical workflows and has shortlisted 3 vendors (COTS product) i.e. Cerner, Allscripts, Epic.  In order to finalize on the COTS product, it is imperative to have data collected and compared against the standard set of parameters for graphical visualisation of how the product(s) is/are functioning in the market. Below diagram depicts standard set of COTS assessment parameters:



Defining the right set of parameters for COTS product(s) assessment coupled with assessment of pros and cons of build vs buy will enable organisations to take better decision on the final solution which in turn will help them to have a good start.


2 thoughts on “Commercially-off-the-shelf(COTS) Product Assessment

  1. Lakshmi, this is a very concise and a crisp article on COTS. I really loved your representation of the assessment parameters. The only comment I have is that you could have taken it one step further to also cover the evaluation process and a typical framework for evaluation of the different vendors. Good read!!


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