What Does "Out Of The Box" Software Really Mean?

Posted by Ett DiGiovanni on Aug 9, 2016, 2:33:31 PM

When someone tells you that something is “out of the box”, what goes through your mind?

The reason I ask is that you may be surprised by what the term “out of the box” means to some people, especially in regards to software.  Some companies argue that “out of the box” includes software that provides basic functionality when initially installed, but requires additional custom development before it would be considered usable in a working environment.  After all, they argue, the software is partially usable - it can be installed on a computer and will start, it will show basic forms and menus. True, it doesn’t yet include all the functions you need, but that’s just a configuration issue, right? The software seller has promised to “configure” the software (for an additional cost over a period of months) to include the missing functions.  So, why can’t they call their software “out of the box”?


To me, “out of the box” connotes that something is pre-made and fully functional upon delivery.  I’m not expecting any major components to be missing.  It’s like buying a car off the lot.  I don’t expect the steering wheel, seats, doors, lights and windows to be missing (and cost extra).  Yes, it’s nice that the engine, tires and transmission have been included… and someone can argue that the missing components are “configurable”; but I can’t drive it off the lot today.   So it’s useless to me.  I could be patient, and wait for the missing components to be developed and customized to meet my needs.   But then I end up in a custom car.  I can already see my maintenance costs going through the roof… if there is a roof.


So, when ARES PRISM tells prospective clients that our PRISM Cost Management system is “out of the box”, we’re saying they will be purchasing a fully functional project cost management software solution that was designed and pre-made based on industry best practices.  There’s no need for additional “configurable” development.  The product already includes:


  • An easy to use and attractive GUI interface of pre-made input forms
  • Pre-made standard tabular and graphical reports
  • A pre-made interface for importing estimating data
  • Pre-made interfaces for importing Microsoft Project and Primavera P6 scheduling data
  • Pre-made interfaces for importing ERP data
  • A pre-made interface to a top-of-the-line document management system
  • Pre-made calculations to spread quantities, hours and costs for producing performance measurement baselines
  • Pre-made financial cash flow calculations and reports
  • Pre-made earned value calculations and reports (that meet US government requirements)
  • Pre-made change management features with easily adjustable workflow and electronic review/approval authority settings
  • Pre-made accrual calculations
  • Pre-made time-saving utilities for:
    • Re-coding all accounts
    • Combining account data
    • Re-baselining projects
    • Copying values
    • Assigning attributes
  • Pre-made archive and restore features
  • A pre-made Dashboard


From the list above, you can denote that the operable word is “pre-made”.  All the features have been designed, tested and are fully functional.  There is no need to wait for missing features to be developed.  It’s readily available.  But, how can I describe that PRISM is readily available and can be up and running in a matter of days?  I can’t solely use the phrase “out of the box” because that’s been hi-jacked.  So, how about “off the shelf”?  "Off the shelf” connotes that it’s readily available with no hidden costs, surprises, or additional configurations. Perfect!  

New Call-to-actionThis white paper explores the business case of deciding between custom software and commercial off the shelf (COTS) software. You know your current project controls processes are not working. You are now wondering what type of project management solution best meets your company’s needs. Deciding between custom software and a commercial off the shelf solution may seem like a daunting task. However, if you lay out the costs and savings side by side, the answer becomes very clear.

Topics: Earned Value Management, Project Lifecycle Management, Change Management, Cost Management, Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) Software