We specialise in building commercial-off-the-shelf-software (COTS) focused on equipping governments to better engage with citizens. Citizen Space, Budget Simulator and Dialogue can all be categorised as COTS tools; as the name suggests, they are ready-built, ready to be deployed and ready to be used right ‘out of the box’.

Photo of tools on a shelf

Here are 5 reasons why we choose to build off-the-shelf software:

1. Easy and regular upgrades

Each of our products has a single code base – meaning, for example, that Wyong Shire Council in Australia’s Citizen Space is underpinned by the same essential code as the Citizen Space used by The Ministry of Justice in the UK. This cloud-based approach allows us to roll out upgrades for our products to customers easily and quickly, and every customer benefits from the improvements to the common code base. Upgrades often introduce new features to improve usability as well as the effectiveness of the tool.

As we build off the shelf software, we’re continually in the cycle of developing our products. This would not be the case if we built bespoke custom software which meets a specific brief from a customer at a specific point in time.

2. COTS is part of the solution for a leaner and more efficient government

Government recognises that this approach can make its ICT infrastructure more efficient and leaner. As set out in its ICT strategic implementation plan, it is acknowledged that government currently has an “expensive and fragmented ICT infrastructure which often duplicates solutions and impedes the sharing and re-use of services and solutions.” In order to increase public sector agility and reduce the cost of its ICT, a core objective in the plan is to make the most of commodity ICT services through the use of cloud computing technologies.

Our products align with this objective. They are available through the G-cloud framework in the government’s digital marketplace. We endeavour to equip government with tools to engage better with its citizens without resorting to expensive bespoke solutions with a long lag time. And the government is talking the same kind of language: “It means changing the culture of government to adopt and adapt to the solutions the market provides and not creating unnecessary bespoke approaches.”

3. Economies of scale

We’ve been creating digital tools for engagement since 2001. Each product has undergone thousands of hours of development, testing and user feedback. They represent a significant amount of investment which has resulted in highly refined products. We’ve also been deploying these products for hundreds of customers over the years.

All this experience and expertise means we know what we’re doing when it comes to digital engagement tools. By buying our products, our customers tap into an economy of scale for a tool that offers greater value for money and hassle-free and easy deployment. Our tools enable our customers to hit the ground running with their online engagement activity without having to worry about things like hosting, security, bugs.

4. A dedicated account management service

By developing off-the-shelf products, we’re also able to offer dedicated account management support to all our customers. Our account managers work closely with the developers that have built the products and know our products inside out. They’re on hand to offer support and help our customers achieve their goals with our tools.

If we specialised in building bespoke tools, tailored for each and every customer, we would not be able to offer the same level, if any, support for customers. Bespoke solutions are, by definition, different in each case. It would be too costly to have enough account managers trained to support hundreds of differently-configured engagement tools.

5. A shared experience

One immediate benefit of having a standardised platform is that it can offer a coherent user experience for all those involved in the engagement activity. Responding to – or, for that matter, administering – a consultation on the Department of Health’s Citizen Space is the same as on that of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

Our products make it easy to set up consultations online and to digital engagement. We hope that by providing a great platform for involving citizens, organisations can get beyond purely technical questions of online involvement and give more time to nuanced questions like strategies for encouraging effective participation. ‘Now you have a tool that’s cost effective and easy to use, how do you make the most of it?’ This is part of the reason we’re trying to actively encourage the sharing of experience and expertise between customers who use our tools – because that’s where a real step change in the quality of interaction between government and the public can start to happen.