Saturday, June 23, 2007

Customized or COTS software ?

Some of my customers don’t quite understand the difference between customized software and Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) software.

Customized software is a software that is built to cater to a particular customer’s needs. Normally, the process involved would be requirements gathering / analysis, software/system design, coding, integration, testing, deployment, etc. Due to the details of customization, customized software usually cannot be transferred between projects, though some components may be reused. Such project would normally be charged according to the number of man-hours / man-months. For example, let say a certain customized software project required two engineers to work on it for a total of three months, the number of man-months required would be six. If the total cost of one engineer is S$4000 per month, the cost of the project would be S$24,000.

On the other hand, COTS software is developed without the intention to meet specific customer’s needs. Such software is normally built to fulfill the basic needs of majority of the customers in the target sector. Thus, the price of COTS software is normally much lower than customized software, except for some very specialized COTS software. The downside is, you will have to accept whatever the COTS software provides you. Some example of COTS software would be Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, etc.

Sadly, some customers that I met want the best of both worlds. They want the software to be customized to their specific needs (with functionalities that are normally not present in similar category of software), yet compare the price with COTS software like Microsoft Office when we talk about the customization charges. In cases like this, I would have to patiently and painstakingly explain to them the complexity and effort involved in implementing the customization they required, and the man-day charges of my company.

Customers are not always right. Sometimes, they also need to be educated.

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