Considering COTS standards

Following the lead of the federal financial management community, human resources managers are investigating the possibility of setting formal standard requirements for commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software.

"You have a situation where some agencies in HR have made minor changes to a COTS package," said Norm Enger, the Office of Personnel Management's director for e-government initiatives. "Others have taken a COTS package and totally customized it, so there's just a little left of the original package." Enger spoke Nov. 17 during an Industry Advisory Council panel discussion on three Office of Management and Budget-sponsored federal lines of business initiatives.

A goal of the human resources lines of business initiative is to standardize business processes so that software vendors know which basic requirements must be included in any product, Enger said.

Initiative officials are using the Joint Financial Management Improvement Program as a reference point, he said. Program officers are empowered by statute to craft financial systems standards and test and certify commercial software through the program office.

Crafting governmentwide standards for software is important because in many cases, agencies change vendor packages, ending up with "a homegrown system, which in many cases is not the right way to go," Enger said.

OMB officials started the lines of business initiative in March as the next step in expanding e-government and eliminating duplicate IT investments. As a result, agencies with functions in three of the five lines identified so far — human resources, grants management and financial management — will consolidate operations in cross-agency service centers that handle back-office information technology infrastructure.

Agency officials are expected to start shutting down back-end systems and migrating to a shared solution within the next few years. OMB officials have said the process will be done in steps and that agencies with existing or planned back-office modernization efforts will not be forced into using the common solution.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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