COTS vs Custom EHS Software: Choosing the Right Option for Your Company

Right now, many companies are looking to centralize and standardize their Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) processes. They want to streamline reporting, increase visibility, lower risk, and leverage system/data intelligence. However, this just isn’t possible with spreadsheet processes, so many companies are looking at EHS software solutions and comparing commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) vs. custom options.

There are benefits to both types of software, so making a decision will depend on your company’s needs. If you are looking for a software solution and are wondering which choice is right for your organization, this list of pros and cons can help you with your decision.

What Is COTS vs Custom Software?

When considering EHS software solutions, there are two main options: COTS vs. custom software.

COTS, or commercial off-the-shelf, software is a turn-key software that you would buy as-is. These are software programs that would not be customizable, but would be quick solutions for your software needs.

Custom software, on the other hand, is software that is custom built specifically to the needs of your EHS program. This software would be able to do anything you might need, but it can also cost a lot to customize, install, and launch.

Pros of Custom EHS Software

Custom EHS software solutions have many benefits, all unified around the fact that you will have complete control and ownership of the software.

  • Customization—Custom-built software will be built exactly according to your needs. If you have a unique challenge, you can make sure the software accounts for that. As your business grows, you can also ensure the software is updated and new features are added to stay relevant to your company’s data needs.
  • Control—You have complete control over your custom software. This will include things like security features, the timelines for system updates, and employee access.
  • Integration—If you build the software, you will be able to ensure that it can be integrated with any other systems and software you use.
  • Possible Revenue Generator—Because you have complete control and ownership over your custom-built software, it could be a future revenue generator for you. If you feel that your software may meet the needs of other companies as well, you could market and sell your custom-built product.

Cons of Custom EHS Software

While there are many clear benefits to custom-built EHS software, there are also some cons to consider:

  • Cost—Building a custom software solution will take a significant upfront financial investment. You will likely need to bring software developers into your company whose only role will be to develop this software.
  • Time—It can take quite a bit of time to build a software solution powerful enough to meet your company’s unique needs. If you need a software solution fast, you won’t want to wait on something to be built.
  • Scope Creep—As you begin developing the software, it is likely the project will expand as you think of new challenges you need the software to meet and new features that can be added. This will add to the time and cost of the project.

Pros of COTS EHS Software

Commercial off-the-shelf EHS software solutions can have many benefits because it is overall extremely convenient:

  • Cost—Purchasing COTS software solutions will likely have a much lower upfront cost than building your own software.
  • Time—If you need a software solution immediately or in the near future, off-the-shelf solutions will be the fastest option. You will be able to implement the software quickly and allow your team to get to work.
  • Turn-Key Convenience—When you purchase a commercial software, updates and maintenance will be handled by the company you purchased from.

Cons of COTS EHS Software

While COTS software can make implementation easy, there are some less advantageous factors to consider:

  • No customization—COTS software will likely have very limited, if any, customization options. Most are configurable, but even this has limitations. If your company has unique needs or challenges, you may find that a commercial software doesn’t meet all of your requirements, which can make your work even more challenging or require your company’s business processes to change.
  • Integration issues—Commercial software may have issues being integrated with other systems or tools you use. Integrations will also add additional cost to the implementation.
  • Long-term costs—While COTS software will have a lower cost in the short-term, it can get expensive in the long run. Commercial software will include yearly licenses and subscription fees that can add up.

COTS vs Custom EHS Software: Which Should You Choose?

Whether you choose to purchase a commercial off-the-shelf software solution or build your own custom software will depend on the specific needs and priorities of your EHS program.

If your needs are convenience and support, and you need a solution quickly, then COTS software might be right for you.

However, if you need custom functionality and control over what the software can do, then custom-built software will probably be right for you.

If you need help deciding on COTS vs. custom software and want to discuss your options for EHS software solutions, contact Tetra Tech’s experts at [email protected]. We can help you identify the needs of your EHS program and help find or create a software solution that is right for you.


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