The concern most organizations have with the embodiment of institutional knowledge in the software best described by the question: Well, if everyone in my business uses this how am I going to create any differentiation in my processes, am I going to be forced to do everything the same way my competitors do it?
The short answer is no. Just as weve moved from writing our own software, weve also recognized modifications to standard packages are also very expensive. It is well known that 80% of the total lifetime cost of software is in the maintenance, so changes to COTS are as bad as writing it yourself.
In most major software packages you find lots of switches which allow subtle changes in the way the package works. This is not to say that configuring software is simple. Sometimes it can be quite complex, but the beauty is these configuration changes do not have to be re-done every time the vendor comes out with a new change to the package.
Owning an off-the-shelf package has a huge amount of benefits for most companies. The key is understanding how to select the package.
Daniel Gingras has been CIO of five major companies and is a partner at Tatum Partners, a nationwide professional services organization of senior-level technology and financial executives who take on leadership roles for client companies. He has more than 30 years of IT experience and teaches computer science at Boston University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. In Part II of this article, Gingras will explore the COTS selection process.