4 min read

COTS or custom?

By Dave Francis on Sep 10, 2021 4:15:37 PM

Topics: kinodb

You need a new business application - perhaps to replace a legacy or unsupported system, or to meet a new opportunity.  Do you look for an off-the-shelf system which is the best fit, or have something built?

Corporate IT often favour a COTS package, as it is perceived to be the lowest risk, but sometimes your business processes are so specific to your business that finding one can be difficult.

An alternative is commissioning a custom application to be built by a software house. But most software houses all operate in the same way; they use the same technologies and use the same delivery methodologies - so how can you choose one?

Another option is to procure a low-code platform and allow your business users to build their own applications, but this is not without risks of its own...

Let's look at these options, one by one.  We'll start with procuring a COTS package...

If you are part of the project team, maybe the solutions architect or the systems analyst, you will first need to understand the business requirements.  In fact, regardless of the selected solution, you will always have to start here.

After understanding the business problem and documenting both the functional and non-functional requirements, the next item on the to-do list is to research the market to see what out-of-the-box solutions exist.

If you have a commodity requirement that is met by a standard package, that's great, but if not, this is where the challenges start.  Any pre-built application will require a certain amount of configuration (to meet your business process), or worse (because it will cost more and will become more difficult to support when the application needs an upgrade), customisation.

This is where the proverbial square peg and round hole make an appearance.  To keep costs down, your strategy may dictate that you adopt the “vanilla” application with a little configuration.  But this may require your business process to be modified to fit the design of the IT system, which is far from ideal; your IT services should complement and enable your business process, not dictate it.

So, you procure the best possible fit; then a new challenge arises.

Some time has passed since the initial request and inevitably the requirements have now changed.  In a worst-case scenario, the solution is no longer fit for purpose.  In a best-case scenario it can be modified with some further configuration (hopefully avoiding the dreaded customisation).  But you cannot be certain that costs will not go up...

The second option was to get a custom application tailor-made for your business.  Whilst this will meet your needs, projects tend to be lengthy and costs can also get out of hand, especially if your requirements are a little bit loose.  And, selecting a vendor can be a challenge as they all use the same open-source code, host on the same underpinning technologies and deliver using the same methodologies - how do you choose one, when they all appear to be the same?

Often price is the only differentiator, with those that offshore development winning bids as they are simply cheaper. But cheaper, doesn't necessarily mean better.

The third option is to empower your business users to build their own applications using a low-code platform.  This also has risk; "citizens developers" tend not to understand things like data or business architectures.  Whilst they may well understand their specific business process, they will not necessarily appreciate the impact that their bespoke app may have on other parts of the business. 

Issues such with data, such as duplicate data entry, siloed data (where other business process cannot see this potentially useful data) appear, as well as having another app on the IT estate to maintain (most low-code platforms speed up the development of the app, but they still need to be complied, deployed and supported).

So, there are three options, all of which present risk.  What if there was an alternative approach...

datb are an IT services provider, but with a difference.  datb have their own development and deployment platform, kinodb.

A kinodb application can be built in weeks.  The same functional and non-functional requirements that you gathered for your out-of-the-box solution remain valid and these will form the basis for the development project.

A proof-of-concept covering core requirements can be delivered in just a few days to validate the solution, after which a series of iterations will refine functionality and deliver the solution to match your business process.

With an application built on kinodb, you’ll get exactly the application that you need as your product is custom to your business.  It will have exactly the functionality that you specified, it will do exactly what you need it to, and it can be changed as requirements change over years to come.

As kinodb applications are defined in metadata rather than as code, they don't go out of date.  datb constantly update the platform to ensure that it supports the latest IT services (databases, hosting, browsers, etc.) so that applications continue to work seamlessly; some customers are using systems that were built over 16 years ago!  These applications are running on the latest browsers, databases and devices (including mobile devices) that didn't exist when the applications were written.  This is the opposite of legacy software.

kinodb delivers applications that complement your business process, rather than change it.  They can be delivered faster than a “vanilla” application can be configured, and will always work.  They may cost significantly less, too.

The “alternative option” can deliver a far better outcome for your business.

Dave Francis

Written by Dave Francis