At the Heart of the Revolution: The International Conference on COTS-Based Software Systems


This article was originally published in News at SEI on: December 1, 2001

Industry and government are increasingly moving toward the use of COTS products—either as stand-alone solutions or as components in complex, heterogeneous systems.

But implementing software systems based on COTS products presents unique challenges that traditional software development practices do not address. As more systems depend more on the successful integration of COTS products, practitioners and researchers must be ready to meet these challenges.

The SEI, along with the National Research Council (NRC) Canada, and the USC Center for Software Engineering (USC-CSE), is proud to sponsor the International Conference on COTS-Based Software Systems (ICCBSS), the first conference to focus solely on the challenges of acquiring, building, fielding, and supporting systems that incorporate COTS software products. The conference will be held February 4-6, 2002 in Orlando, Florida.


Fewer and fewer organizations today are building systems entirely from scratch. Instead, organizations are relying increasingly on COTS products as a basis for their software systems. This trend is a result of the expectation that building a system using proven, commercially available components will result in faster time to market and improved capability. More to the point, the use of COTS components is simply being mandated by everyone from industry executives to government lawmakers. In 1997, it was estimated that COTS software accounted for 25.5% of a U.S. corporation's IT portfolio. In 2002, that figure is expected to be at around 40%.1

For organizations designing and implementing a COTS-based system, the current market state presents a number of challenges. For example, it is difficult to discover the actual technical capabilities of a product or set of competing products, since there is no objective forum for product evaluation. Once individual products are selected, it is difficult to identify and resolve mismatches between products and the organization's business processes. In short, successfully implementing systems based on COTS requires new ways of doing business: new skills, knowledge, abilities, changed roles and responsibilities, and different processes.

For organizations working through these challenges or interested in sharing their experiences, ICCBSS offers a unique sharing, learning, and networking opportunity.

The Conference

ICCBSS consists of three intensive days of tutorials, presentations, and panel sessions. Keynote speakers, such as Ivar Jacobson of Rational Software Corporation and Barry Boehm of the USC Center for Software Engineering, will contribute their insights on vital issues.

The conference provides a variety of tutorials:

Evaluating COTS Software Products.
John Dean, National Research Council
Grace Lewis, Software Engineering Institute

Estimating COTS-Based Software Systems.
Chris Abts, USC Center for Software Engineering
Betsy Clark, Software-Metrics

Building Systems from Commercial Components.
Robert C. Seacord, Software Engineering Institute

The conference also offers three tracks of refereed papers: process, technology, and experience.


Traditional software development processes often do not work when applied to COTS-based systems. Commercial products in the marketplace are not built to meet the specific needs of a project. The papers in this track present new processes needed for building and maintaining COTS-based systems.

Examples of the papers in this track:

  • Decision-Making Techniques in the Procurement of COTS Software: the unholy alliance between requirements, decision-making and COTS selection.
    Cornelius Ncube, Zayed University
  • Rethinking Process Guidance for Selecting Software Components.
    Neil Maiden, City University


Integrating and trouble-shooting systems that use commercial products is challenging. Integrators lack visibility and control of COTS products. This track highlights both state-of-the-art and state-of-the-practice techniques used for building and maintaining COTS-based systems.

Examples of the papers in this track:

  • Identifying Evolvability for Integration.
    Rose Gamble, University of Tulsa
  • On Building Testable Components.
    Jerry Gao, San Jose State University


This track features commercial and government practitioners from a variety of software domains who will reflect on issues, successes, and helpful hints drawn from their experiences in integrating commercial off the shelf software in real COTS-based systems.

Examples of the papers in this track:

  • European COTS User Working Group: analysis of the common problems and current practices of the European COTS users.
    Sandy Tay, European Software Institute
  • Five Hurdles to the Successful Adoption of Component-Based COTS in a Corporate Setting.
    Anthony Earl, Sun Microsystems, Inc.

Join us at ICCBSS to discuss current practices and promising research directions.

1 Disposable Information Systems: Putting Maintenance in a Whole New Light. Jeffrey Voas.

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