Web Design & Dev

Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) vs Custom Software Development

Firoz Irani 2 May, 2023

In this rapidly changing technology, businesses and their software requirements have also transformed. However, there are many software options present in the market, it’s still a huge question that which option is better than the other. Mainly the confusion arises of Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) vs Custom software development- which one to choose?

COTS framework offers in-built solutions that are easy to implement. In contrast, custom software development gives customized software solutions for businesses with unique requirements. Choosing the best alternative will affect the whole software development. In this article, we will learn more about Custom software development and COTS, their pros and cons, and much more. So, let’s begin.

What Does Commercial Off-The-Shelf Mean?

COTS or Commercial off-the-shelf technology products are easy to purchase and can be used rapidly by the customer or business. COTS software is created by third-party solution providers and not according to any particular business’s unique needs. This software applies to common types of businesses, which makes it quick to integrate and implement this system into their existing systems.

What Does Commercial Off-The-Shelf Mean?

There are several benefits of COTS, and some of them are as follows:

  • Commercial off-the-shelf solutions are more cost-effective than custom software development because multiple customers share the cost.
  • COTS software is a proven and tested solution in the market. Hence it minimized the chances of errors and bugs in the software.
  • It’s a type of solution developed to be user-friendly and easy to understand. Also, the structured documentation makes implementing and learning about the software easy.

With advantages, certain cons of COTS cannot be ignored:

  • COTS is not a good alternative for businesses that require custom functionalities.
  • Sometimes additional software is required to supplement COTS software, ultimately increasing the budget.
  • Security threats prevail at times.

Overall Commercial off-the-shelf solutions have their own pros and cons. If you are sure that your business project has no unique requirements, then COTS is the best alternative for your business project.

What is Custom Software Development?

Developing custom software is a procedure for creating a project that is explicitly fulfilling the unique requirements of the client’s business. Unlike COTS software, customized software is built from scratch using different development tools and programming languages.

One primary benefit of using a custom software development process is that it helps businesses to build solutions that are made according to their needs. It means that you can develop software that fulfills the unique functionalities of the firm.

examples of commercial off the shelf software

Another benefit of developing a custom project is that clients will have control over the processes, like determining functionality, features, and software design. This results in developing more efficient, effective, and user-friendly software than the COTS solution.

Along with advantages, there are certain drawbacks too of using custom software development. It can be sometimes costlier and more time-consuming than COTS. As in custom development, the project needs to be developed from scratch, it is more time-consuming. Hence, if you need immediate software for your business, custom software might not help you with that requirement.

It is an effective alternative for organizations that need specialized software. Developing customized software will help the business improve productivity, efficiency, and other benefits of their markets.

Commercial Off-The-Shelf vs Custom Software Development: Primary Differences

Here we will discuss the 5 main differences between COTS and custom software. These differences will make your decision almost clear whether you want to go with COTS or Custom app development.

Flexibility and Scalability

When one needs one custom application, one can quickly change and adapt your business preferences. As it is initially made according to your requirements, you can scale and change the app per your needs.

On the other hand, making changes in the COTS software is difficult. As a COTS app is made for standard business use, specific customization isn’t available.

So, custom apps are more flexible than COTS apps. A custom app will be a better alternative when you require an app according to specific requirements.


Commercial off-the-shelf solutions are pre-made apps for a broader audience; hence they cover a wide range of functionality. However, not all features are helpful for everyone.

While custom software is made according to your specific needs, adding more features will be costly and even time-consuming. So, there are comparatively fewer, or let’s say, only the required amount of functions in customs apps.

So, COTS solutions are richer in functionalities than custom apps.

Long-Term Support and Maintenance

Many COTS products come with long-term and reliable support and maintenance. If it is a well-known app by a famous company, you can be stress-free and ask for their assistance anytime you need it. Their team will help you in all possible manners.

Customer Support

Custom apps also provide support as long as you use the product. However, you have more control over custom products than COTS. Hence, both frameworks provide long-term maintenance and support until you use the product.


When comparing different software costs, there are more factors to consider other than initial expenses. These factors include scaling, future updates, support, and maintenance.

When a custom app is made from scratch per your requirements, it can be more expensive. However, if you want to save resources like effort, money, and time, commercial off-the-shelf solutions are for you. This solution is initially cost-effective.

Charges are per user, and that too on a monthly or yearly basis. Hence, the lifetime cost of COTS will be higher than custom applications. So, choose wisely from COTS vs custom software development.


It is always an easier and quicker process to purchase a ready-made product than a product that has to be built from scratch as per your needs. Some customers prefer speedy delivery by implementing an agile process. But still, custom software is more time-consuming than COTS solutions.

When you need a speedy solution with common requirements, COTS is a better alternative.

Commercial Off-The-Shelf vs Custom Software Development- When to Choose What?

Punch-In and Out App

There are certain situations in which you can choose COTS rather than custom software development and vice versa. In this portion, we will discuss some primary situations about the same. Let’s see when to pick COTS and when to choose custom development.

When to Choose COTS?

Here are the primary circumstances when COTS will be a better alternative for your business.

  • When the ready-made app fulfills your business needs:

There are chances that you might find software that perfectly fits and fulfills your business requirements. If you find such solutions, you can purchase them directly and start implementing and using the app for your business.

  • When there are no plans for growing or updating your requirements for definite future years:

Commercial off-the-shelf has less flexibility and scalability. Hence, if you need frequent updates in your app, COTS will not be sufficient. But if you are sure that your business app will not require frequent updates, COTS is a better and cost-effective option.

  • When you have a fixed budget to spend:

COTS software has fixed or at least predictable pricing. Choosing a COTS app can reduce the cost of maintenance and also minimize primary software support and sustainment expenses. Both costs are now the COTS development team’s responsibility. They also deduct the overall expenses.

  • When you need a COTS solution in your software system:

If you feel that your business solution needs integration of a commercial off-the-shelf app then pick COTS as your software solution.

When to Choose Custom Software Development?

Here are the primary circumstances when custom development will be a better alternative for your business.

  • When you follow strict workflows that can not be changed or adapted:

Custom development is for the specific requirements of any organization. The project is built for assisting the customer to avoid specific workflow challenges and provide an accurate solution for their needs. While COTS involves workflow adaptations and changes.

  • When there’s no suitable COTS option for your business that requires specific features

A creative advantage of creating your business software is that it is fully customizable. No user experience or functionality is out of the box. If you didn’t find a COTS solution for your business, you will have to choose custom software development to build a business app for your organization.

  • When in the future your business might need new software:

Developing one custom-built solution is a better alternative if you yourself are into the software-building business. Additionally, you can avoid unforeseen and constantly growing costs if you hire in-house developers to conduct regular modifications and maintenance. While investing time and other resources may be important, you can also pay attention to other contracts simultaneously.

  • When the existing system needs some new integration:

Not every existing software interacts immensely with each other. Sometimes a business depends on different apps that are running smoothly but cannot work well if integrated. Here, custom software can be created to ensure that systems run smoothly and business functions are not interrupted.

Why is Custom Development Preferred Over COTS?

There are software development trends to remember while monitoring custom solutions’ momentum over COTS. Here are the factors:

  • The digital push of customer experiences and operations after the huge pandemic faced by the world.
  • Employees and customers both should have different user experiences in a similar platform.

Your software and app are censorious to achieve this. It is mainly competitive and pressures the ramps. But the main thing to rethink is whether your business can grow well when your software looks similar to other businesses using the same COTS software.

Engage With Clients – Best Solutions

More philosophically, only the front end or, let’s say, the UI impacts your customers directly. But if you keep the back-end disconnected and slow, it will not let the software work efficiently and ultimately affect and degrade the user experience.

Everything in the COTS is integrated, and even a tiny thing in the back end that is not functioning well can break the whole app. Hence, the flexibility of the COTS is comparatively less than Custom apps.

Custom apps are more flexible and scalable than off-the-shelf ones. Hence, complete control over the app and its flexibility feature attract developers towards custom development.

Are COTS Solutions Still in Trend?

Yes, COTS solutions are still trending in many locations worldwide. It is because most businesses have common requirements. And sometimes, startups with standard requirements may also face initial investment issues; custom software needs more investment, while a COTS solution is initially cost-effective.

Hence, there are fewer chances in the near or notable future that COTS will be out of use. These ready-made solutions are life saviors for many businesses which do not require tailored software. They can easily find easy software solutions from already available COTS solutions.

Commercial Off-The-Shelf vs Custom Software- Concluding Words

At the end of this article, you can definitely choose the best from COTS and custom app/software development. Although it is a tough decision, we have gathered some valid points to keep in mind before selecting any option.

COTS apps are cost-effective initially, easy to implement, and have some proven functionality. COTS might be an easy solution, while custom software might be a complex decision. However, custom apps are entirely under your control and provide a wide range of customization. That’s not the matter with COTS. Here, you will have limited control and minimum to zero customization options in the ready-made solution.

Hence, it is essential that organizations carefully understand their own requirements first, along with the timeline, budget, experts, etc. A hybrid approach is also considered for COTS plus custom software development in some circumstances. In this approach, one can use both tactics together to form a new software solution that fulfills their business needs. If you have any more queries regarding COTS vs Custom software development, let us know. We will get back to you with a solution in no time.

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Tags: web development web development news
Author: Firoz Irani
Firoz Irani is a highly skilled technical business analyst with years of experience at TatvaSoft. He has a background in design, data analysis, and project management. He strongly believes that knowledge is meant to be shared, for there is a lot we can learn from each other.