There is a wide spectrum of systems to which a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) approach might apply, and even the concept of what a "COTS-based system" is is subject to widely varying opinions. So at the outset we must establish our frame of reference. One end of the spectrum of COTS-based systems includes such "turnkey" systems as Microsoft Office, Common Desktop Environment (CDE), or Netscape Communicator. The capabilities that they provide are valuable, they are reasonably reliable, and they tend to fall into domains where government needs fully conform with the needs of the private sector. Systems of this type are widely and successfully used throughout many government agencies.
This monograph, the first in a series, illuminates some general issues that can arise when pursuing a COTS-based approach in complex, heterogeneous systems. Note that we do not pretend to provide an immediate and painless resolution to those issues. Nor are all of these issues universally applicable; to reiterate the opening point, many systems, especially in the MIS domain, are relatively free from the problems outlined herein.