Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS)

What does commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) mean?

The ‘COTS’ acronym, which stands for commercial off-the-shelf, describes goods that are used as-is. A COTS product is typically some type of pre-packaged software (or less commonly, computer hardware) that’s tailored for a specific use and made available to the general public. On the whole, COTS solutions are designed to be easily installed and to interoperate with existing systems engineering. And on top of having amazing functionality, another advantage of COTS software solutions (and similar commercial items) is that they’re relatively low cost, too. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are examples of COTS products?

    A COTS product is available ‘off-the-shelf’ from the commercial marketplace, and doesn’t require custom development before it’s installed. With that in mind, almost all software products purchased by the average computer user fit into the COTS category. Common COTS items include: operating systems, office product suites, word processing, email programs, and more. A great example of the use of COTS products are Microsoft Office and antivirus software. 

  • What’s the difference between COTS and MOTS?

    The term ‘MOTS’ is an abbreviation for modifiable off-the-shelf products. Depending on the context, MOTS can also stand for military off-the-shelf. This definition is in reference to a product whose procurement is customized by a commercial vendor to respond to specified military requirements. So whereas COTS software development is used as-is, MOTS methodology has a source code for customizations or modifications.

    Because the MOTS user interface has been adapted for a specific purpose, it can be purchased and used immediately. However, since MOTS software specifications are written by external sources, some federal government agencies are leery of using these products in-house (out of fear that future changes to the overall system will be out of their control).

  • How do you implement COTS software?

    The implementation phase for a COTS product has one key objective: to install and release the new system in its target environment. Supporting actions (to help achieve this goal) include training end-users and preparing to turn the system over to ​program managers. Once all COTS components are delivered and implementation is approved, this information system will enter the ‘operations and maintenance’ phase for the duration of its operational life cycle.