Getting COTS Projects Right

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You’ve realized that you need a new or different software application to help keep your business running as smoothly and efficiently as possible, and you’ve decided to find an off-the-shelf product to implement and customize if needed. You already know the benefits of a COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) implementation:

  • Faster implementation time
  • Lower initial costs
  • Software support and updates
  • A development team already familiar with the product

How do you go about assessing the available products and picking the one that’s best for your business? We have helped several organizations with this exact problem, and we’ve found that if you do these three things before you commit to a COTS system, you’re a lot more likely to succeed.

Determine your business objectives

Rigorously clarify and define your business objectives. You may be looking to reduce costs or increase revenue, or perhaps there’s something else your organization is trying to tackle. Business objectives allow you to keep your eye on the ball and prioritize which features you really need to achieve your goals. This helps you to determine which COTS system best meets your needs. You may even find that your existing system meets business needs with very minor updates. Either way, business objectives radically reduce waste and project risk.

COTS project evaluation

Document your business processes

In order to understand where you are going, you need to know where you are today. Document your current processes in order to identify what is and isn’t working in today’s world. You’ll be able to capture your requirements at a lower level and indicate what’s required vs. what’s nice to have. Once you begin analysis of an off-the-shelf system, you’ll be able to easily see how well the system meets your needs and supports critical current processes. Once you’ve selected a system, you’ll already be aware of the areas that will be impacted by process change and may require user training.

Prioritize process automation

Keep in mind when talking to your users about their processes, they often don’t consider what the current system is doing “behind the scenes” for them. Documenting system processes to get a thorough understanding of what is automated today can help you prioritize what needs to be automated in your future state. When you pair people and system processes, you will have a good baseline for understanding not only key current automations but also opportunities for improvement as well as areas where compromise may be possible for low volume, low value activities. 

Getting these three areas right in the beginning of the project will help avoid poor user acceptance, expensive customizations, and customer dissatisfaction. Even though no COTS system is a perfect match, if you know what’s most important to you, you can narrow your focus in your selection and implementation. This helps you cut through the hype and get the value you need from your software investment.

We’ve assisted a lot of clients select and implement COTS systems, even multi-national organizations with super-complex ecosystems and processes! Contact us if you’d like to talk about your project and the challenges you’re facing. We’re here to help.

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