Selecting the right app, or apps, for your business requires a lot of due diligence. I know, I have been through due diligence many times for both large and small companies. And we help our customers find a Custom-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) solution or a Custom Developed App (CDA) as best suits their business needs. (See our webpage for more information) What is surprising to me is how many times the due diligence did not include who owns the data, and how a business can have complete access to “their” data. After all the data is the confidential property of the business that buys the app right? Be careful not to assume this, or you may be as unpleasantly surprised as many customers who have contacted us to upgrade their IT app environment.

Here are two examples of very recent incidents where we had to help our customers work around ridiculous data policies. In both cases, the software company that sold them their app refused to give their customer access to the customer’s data. That’s both a slimy, insecure strategy and one that creates real anguish with customers. Not to mention the cost to re-create the data when it is already there!

The first case is a custom in the commercial services business. They selected a field service product that seemed to provide most of what their business needed. As often happens with COTS, businesses find the solution takes care of about 80% of the type of industry they operate in, but the last 20% cannot be attained. If you want a tailored solution that can be changed to meet 100% of your needs, a CDA defined by you will do the trick. In this case, our customer made the decision to have us develop a custom app. Then they found their COTS provider would not release the encryption key they used to encrypt our customer’s data. Really? Yes, no kidding here. I suppose an attorney could have easily won in court since this is at least unethical and likely unlawful. But our customer chose to invest to have us re-create all of their data.

The lesson here is to ensure your contract with any COTS or Custom App provides you complete ownership and full access to all of your data, including the ability to download it along with any encryption keys that may have been applied. (For a CDA that must also include ownership of the App and underlying code.)

The second case involves a manufacturing customer who uses a COTS ERP to manage everything from Quote through Manufacture. In this case, the COTS provider requires you to pay them if you want any new custom report (of your data) and does not provide any way to access or download your data, certainly having no open Application Program Interface (API). I called the company to see how we could collaborate, explaining our shared customer needs, and that our customer has hired us to digitize online quoting. Not to replace but to integrate with his COTS ERP. I was told that many customers are asking for an API for such purposes but that there is no plan to “open up” access to customer data. Have they not heard of Industry 4.0, IoT and the need for data access to “the edges” of the network?

I emailed the CEO explaining that if he would refer to RETHINKING COMPETITVE ADVANTAGE, by Ram Charan he may see this as an opportunity for us to collaborate to strengthen his ecosystem. I was not surprised when I didn’t hear back from him.

The lesson here is the same. Make sure your selection criteria include the ability for you to completely own and have full access to your data with no restrictions. If that criterion is not met eliminate that COTS or CDA from your list right upfront.

In summary, selecting either a COTS or CDA requires a lot of due diligence. And a key criterion to include is your complete ownership and full access to all of your data without restriction. For a CDA this must also include complete and full ownership of the App and the underlying code. Look beyond the sales pitch that draws you in with functionality and features. Before investing any time ask the simple question about complete ownership and full access to your data without any restriction. If they do not provide it walk away.

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