Software Engineering Institute | Carnegie Mellon University
Software Engineering Institute | Carnegie Mellon University

Introduction to COTS-Based Systems

The SEI's COTS-based systems (CBS) work focuses on improving the technologies and practices used for assembling previously existing components (COTS and other non-developmental items) into large software systems, and migrating existing systems toward CBS approaches.

The CBS approach changes the focus of software engineering from one of traditional system specification and construction to one requiring simultaneous consideration of the system context (system characteristics such as requirements, cost, schedule,operating and support environments), capabilities of products in the marketplace, and viable architectures and designs.

The effect of this fundamental change is profound. Not only must engineering activities such as requirements specification change to support simultaneous consideration of system context, architecture and design, and the marketplace, but so must acquisition processes and contracting strategies. For example, integration contractors and commercial product vendors must be treated as partners and rewarded for identifying the best value to be achieved through the use of COTS products.

While some organizations have achieved success by embracing the fundamental change, the development of COTS-based systems continues to involve significant technical risk and promises of lower cost, higher reliability and easier modernization are often unfulfilled.

The SEI was challenged with developing a systematic and predictable discipline for  the engineering and management of COTS-based systems in order to assist organizations in realizing the broad CBS potential. 

Activity Areas

The SEI CBS work has focused on three primary categories of practices: