Implementing a cloud strategy and modernization of legacy systems are two of the core objectives of most IT organizations. Purchasing a COTS product or SaaS offering can speed up modernization and come with a lot of advantages. COTS products come with a proven track record and address specific business needs that would be difficult to justify building your own. COTS product shifts the liability of creating features to the COTS product instead of your organization. Finally, COTS products promise a shorter timeframe to implementation. Even though you’ll be purchasing a solution to 80% of your problem with the COTS product, the hardest parts of implementing a COTS product are still your responsibility. Below are some key areas you will still own.
Security and Infrastructure
Security and Infrastructure are your responsibility. Off the shelf product or Software as a Service (SaaS) product won’t address this. If this is a SaaS product, how will your Hybrid network access it and how is that access govern? You’ll need to do a risk assessment of this SaaS product which includes how you connect to it, how it stores its data, and even how it’s creating the software. If this is an off the shelf product, how will it be installed in the cloud? Ask if it can is cloud-native or does it need to run on virtual machines in the cloud. If it’s running on virtual machines are those hardened and who have access to them. Cloud virtual machines complicate networking since they need to be accessed from on-prem and they may still need to reach into the cloud or the internet. That can leave a wide surface vector you’ll need to account for. Security and Infrastructure is the biggest concern and you’ll need to own it.
One of the promises of moving to the cloud is gaining business agility. Automation is a key component for reaching that goal. SaaS product removes the burden from deploying and maintaining the application, but there may still be a necessity to automate some aspects. For example, if the SaaS product must be configured, it might have a UI and an API for doing this. It’s in your best interest to involve this SaaS Product into your normal development pipeline and consider infrastructure as code as it applies to the SaaS product. If you purchase a COTS produce be sure you can stand up an entire environment including installation of this product with a click of a button. There is no excuse for not automating everything and there are plenty of tools in the Azure DevOps pipeline for integration and automation.
COTS product provides 80% of the functionality needed, but what about the other 20%? The remaining functionality the product doesn’t provide is likely what differentiates your company from the others. There are always edge cases and custom functionalities that you’ll want, that either the vendor does not provide or it’s expensive for the vendor to implement. You’ll need to bring that work in-house or hire a system integrator to hook things together. Whether it’s a SaaS product or a COTS product, integration to applications that provide the remainder of your functionally is your responsibility as well as understanding how integration will work when purchasing the COTS product. A good COTS product will have a solid HTTP REST API. If the product you’re purchasing doesn’t have a simple API, consider a wrapper to make the integration easier. API Management is an Azure service that can do that translation for you. You might find that you want to combine COTS API to one that makes sense to the rest of the systems. Large COTS products should also support messaging of some kind. Messaging helps build loosely coupled components with high cohesion. COTS products might offer file-based and database integration. However, these should be avoided. Integration of the COTS product is your responsibility and the effort can equal the implementation effort of the COTS product itself.
COTS products can provide great benefits to your company and welcome new functionality quickly. Understand that your IT department will still have to drive the overall architecture and you are responsible for everything around the COTS product. The bulk of this work will fall under Security, Infrastructure, Automation, and Integration. Focus on these concerns and you’ll have a successful implementation.