The acronym “COTS” is used to refer to commercially available off the shelf items sold in both substantial and commercial quantities in the market place. Such items can generally be bought or used under government contact in the exact form or structure as available to the public. For instance, technology related products such as hardware systems, computer software and construction materials all qualify as commercially available off the shelf items. Typically, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) based software solutions are commonplace for their timely and affordable provision of standardized functionality.

Purchasing commercially available off the shelf software is an alternative to in house developments. Such products offer both government institutions and many businesses the chance to make a considerable saving in procurement, maintenance and development of computer software systems.  Because COTS generally requires configuration that is developed for specific uses, its employment has been mandated across numerous business and government programs. Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) software solutions have become commonplace in many domains, including establishments such as the military, because they can provide standardized functionality with more responsiveness, a shorter time-to-market and at lower costs than custom made solutions.

The main motivation for employing commercially available off the shelf software’s for most businesses is the desire to cut back on overall system cost and development which is achieved since components can be licensed or purchased instead of being constructed from scratch.  Another big motivation for using COTS is that doing so reduces long maintenance costs. Some of the advantages of COTS software are:

- They are specifically fashioned for business, institution or organizational needs and can be tailored to fit respective individual needs.

- Commercially available off the shelf software’s are designed to have an easy interface with other software and as such allowing for a fully integrated IT infrastructure.

- Commercially available off the shelf software’s are intuitive, easier to use and do not contain unnecessary facilities.

In the 1990’s many software developers consider COTS to be the solution to cost and time reduction. However, the development of COTS came with a number of not so obvious trade offs. For example, although initial development time and cost can certainly be reduced, this is often at the expense of an increase in software part integration and a reliance on third party component vendors. Other than the above, because COTS software specifications are written externally, most government institution sometimes fear future alterations to the product may lead to incompatibility.

Though COTS also has drawbacks like any other thing in the world its advantages far out weigh its disadvantages. Businesses looking to reduce their overall system, development and maintenance costs should definitely consider commercially available off the shelf software as it has proven to be the silver bullet in the software development world. COTS software’s are certainly an investment in the right direction.  There are many sources of commercially available off the shelf software. A little research in addition to an understanding of your organization, business or institution requirements is enough to equip you with what you need to know when looking for COTS software.