iStock_000000096790XSmallIt used to be that commercial off-the-shelf solutions weren’t up to the task of automating enterprise needs such as as supply chain management,warehouse management and asset management. That’s because ordinary commercial products weren’t reliable or sophisticated enough. Organizations with such needs, especially those in government, often had to order special products. That’s no longer the case.

These days, it’s clear that off-the-shelf products can handle some of the toughest jobs. There is one particular reason for this development: modern commercial environments are great stress tests. Products have to operate in a huge number and variety of demanding situations. Anything that can function well in such situations will of necessity become extremely reliable and capable.

Even Military Now Relies on COTS

It has now reached the point that users with even the most exacting requirements, including the government, can often use standard commercial products. In fact, these commercial off-the-shelf enterprise applications, or COTS, currently serve large numbers of Department of Defense, federal, state, and local government agencies.

This is especially impressive because government work can be quite challenging. Seldom does an entire agency or department take a single technical approach throughout. Thus, any automation solution has to work with a bewildering variety of hardware and software platforms, oftentimes custom-built and decades old.

The COTS products in question do that and more. They can work with and integrate into multiple commercial databases, technologies and environments, including various operating systems, mobile platforms and web browsers. COTS applications can fill almost any government automation need imaginable, including procurement management, asset management, expense management, contract management, supply chain management, transportation management, inventory management and warehouse management.

Got a Unique Need? Commercial Solutions Can Probably Handle the Job

Even when there are some unique requirements, such as in the military, commercial products can work well. For example, automated asset management systems can help improve military operational efficiency in a number of ways. They can use real-time tracking to ensure that assets are available when needed, minimizing instances of shortages, stockpiling and misdirected or misplaced assets. Such systems can deliver transparency in processes including procurement, maintenance, usage patterns, chain of custody, security and disposal procedures. They can work across multiple branches; and they can provide reporting by individual user, unit, category or other measurement.

Non-Government Applications for COTS

Commercial applications also work well in non-government environments, too. One example is asset management in the healthcare industry. In addition to normal concerns regarding purchase price, maintenance and depreciation, automation systems can track patient comfort, HIPAA compliance, environmentally sound disposal procedures and even the location of medical supplies.

Similarly, a commercial hazardous materials (HAZMAT) asset management system can meet the particular needs of waste disposal; it can, for example, associate specific materials with their appropriate HAZMAT class. It can link all relevant documents, photos and forms for instant access.

In addition to tracking HAZMAT assets in real time, applications can capture RFID data of special concern in HAZMAT transportation, such as temperature, inertial shock and travel velocity. And it can use GPS and other data to tie real-time location information to Google Earth mapping – a crucial capability in case of a spill.

With improvements to technology and efficiency products as a whole, now critical functions across industries can be easily managed using commercially available automation tools.

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