What is COTS, MOTS, GOTS and NOTS?

COTS, MOTS, GOTS and NOTS are abbreviations that describe prepackaged software or -- less commonly -- hardware purchase alternatives. The four acronyms denote different classifications of software and hardware, each with their own unique characteristics and usage scenarios.

  • COTS. Commercial off-the-shelf software.
  • MOTS. Modified, modifiable or military off-the-shelf software.
  • GOTS. Government off-the-shelf software.
  • NOTS. Niche or NATO off-the-shelf software.

Let's take a look at each acronym in a little more in depth, starting with COTS.

COTS: Commercial off-the-shelf software

COTS represents the most common category of software that users purchase. These products are ready-to-use upon installation and are designed to easily integrate with an existing system.

COTS offerings cater to a broad audience, and examples include operating systems, office suite and productivity applications, email programs and so on. The appeal of COTS products is largely due to their convenience and affordability.

Since these applications are mass-produced for a vast consumer base, they are relatively inexpensive compared to custom-built software. Furthermore, COTS developers offer regular updates, ensuring that their software adapts to changing technology trends and user requirements.

productivity software is a kind of COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) software
Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software includes productivity applications such as office suites Microsoft Office, LibreOffice, Google Workspace, Zoho Office Suite and Apple iWork.

MOTS: Modified, modifiable or military off-the-shelf software

MOTS indicates a COTS product that come with accessible source code. This lets products be customized by the vendor, purchaser or a third party to better align with the user's needs.

In a military context, MOTS refers to COTS software that has been tailored to fulfill specific military needs. Despite the flexibility of MOTS, these products often stir concerns within government bodies. Since the software specifications are controlled by external entities, government agencies fear they might lack control over future changes and updates.

GOTS: Government off-the-shelf software

Unlike COTS and MOTS, government off-the-shelf software is typically developed by the technical team of the government agency that intends to use it. Alternatively, an external body might develop it under the agency's funding and specifications.

GOTS is the preferred choice for many governmental agencies because it gives them full control over the software's evolution and adaptation to changing needs.

NOTS: Niche or NATO off-the-shelf software

NOTS can refer to NATO off-the-shelf software or niche off-the-shelf software, depending on the context. As the name suggests, NATO off-the-shelf software is developed by the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A) to meet specific requirements within NATO.

In a broader sense, niche off-the-shelf represents software that caters to a specialized, narrower market segment compared to COTS products. These are often vendor-developed and serve a specific industry or user base with distinct needs.

How to choose between COTS, MOTS, GOTS and NOTS

Choosing the right software -- be it COTS, MOTS, GOTS or NOTS -- requires an organization to assess its specific needs, budget, technical capabilities and long-term goals.

An essential initial step is understanding the organization's unique requirements. COTS products, for example, are usually suitable for standard business processes, thanks to their cost-effectiveness and broad support community.

However, if customization is crucial to an organization's operations or competitive advantage, then MOTS or even NOTS with their modifiable nature might be more appropriate.

Additionally, an organization must evaluate its technical capacity to maintain and modify software, if necessary. For instance, adopting GOTS solutions would mean the organization needs in-house expertise to manage and evolve the software over time.

The choice of software is also influenced by budgetary constraints, with COTS often being the most affordable, and custom solutions like GOTS or NOTS requiring more substantial investment.

Ultimately, the decision should balance the software's fit to the organization's needs, its compatibility with the existing systems and the total cost of ownership. The last includes a product's initial purchase, customization and ongoing maintenance costs.

Discover the main differences between COTS and GOTS and review our step-by-step guide to the software purchasing process.

This was last updated in June 2023

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