Build or buy has been a dilemma for software clients ever since the time software first started to make its way into day-to-day business applications.

While neither side is winning, a new variable is changing the equation and upending old ideas of software development: Low code platforms.

In this blog, we look at how low code is making the COTS vs. Custom dilemma go away for many software clients.

COTS vs. Custom Development: Understanding the Dilemma

Commercial off-the-shelf products are where software started. When programming was an arcane activity meant only for coding experts, COTS was the only option for businesses.

But with time, software applications became simpler, and new programming languages made application development much more accessible. Businesses started to understand the importance of having an in-house team to tailor software based on their needs.

This led to the creation of custom applications and thus began the rivalry between COTS and Custom design for fulfilling a business need. Let’s understand why deciding between these approaches is a tough call.


Clearly, custom applications are big winners when it comes to the customizability of applications. You can get tailor-made applications that suit your business requirements, as specified by your team members.

COTS software struggles to meet this need. While in recent days, COTS software is becoming more and more modular, offering more customization, there is simply no comparison. Off the shelf might seem like a good idea, but it always leaves businesses wanting more.


COTS implementation is lightning fast. When there is an urgent need for a solution, it is nothing like buying an off-the-shelf product and implementing it in your organization.

With more and more software moving toward the SaaS model, implementing COTS is simply a matter of taking out your credit card and pressing the buy button.

Building a custom application from scratch takes time. From requirements gathering to design to testing, it is a painstaking process that takes several iterations.


The Cost was a major differentiator for custom development since COTS solutions were quite expensive. But since the software industry pivoted to the SaaS model, this factor works both ways.

With high-end COTS software becoming more accessible even to small businesses for a small monthly fee, designing a custom-built solution is no longer the cheapest option.

That said, over a longer time horizon, custom applications are still cheaper to make and manage since they are usually built from the ground up and, once ready, don’t cost much except for maintenance.


Digital security has become the most important parameter for most businesses. The latest standards of encryption and protection against viruses and hackers are important concerns.

COTS solutions need to work across several systems and in many environments. Therefore most of the time, they are very thoroughly tested for security lapses. Moreover, these applications often offer 24 x 7 support with regular security patches for new and emerging threats.

Custom applications do not have such stringent testing and security standards and, therefore, are more prone to hacking and theft.

Intellectual Property Rights

Custom applications become the internal property of the company, and its data remains on its own servers. COTS solutions often work using external servers, and the company data gets shared over such external servers.

This can be an important consideration in some industries, such as those related to defense or where competition is high.

Technical Debt 

Custom solutions often come with technical debt, a term used to refer to the rework of existing applications because of either poor design or changes in requirements and better technologies. This debt becomes a burden for the company.

With COTS, technical debt is not the headache of the business. It belongs to the provider.

Integration With Existing Infra 

Businesses always have the legacy infrastructure, systems, and applications in place; whenever a new application comes in, it needs to integrate perfectly with these.

COTS solutions often struggle to integrate with the data and systems already present. In contrast, custom solutions are often designed keeping them in mind and therefore do a better job of this integration.

How Low Code is Making The Decision Easier

Off-the-shelf software offers well-designed interfaces with better security and can be implemented very quickly since it does not require new coding.

On the other hand, custom applications offer flexibility in design and better integration with existing data. Neither approach offers a complete solution to businesses, and, as per Forrester, businesses hardly use either method in isolation.

This is exactly where Low code platforms come in.

Low-code platforms use prebuilt components that you can put together to create a world-class application interface with the best security standards. It is also much quicker to build an application with low code than to design it from scratch using the normal software development process.

Low code also helps improve customizability because it lets business users visualize their requirements and then design software based on them. This is very unlike the normal COTS model, where the application implemented might not have several nuances in business requirements that each organization has.

Moreover, low code platforms integrate very easily with legacy architectures and software because of their extensive library of APIs.

These solutions also cost significantly lower than COTS. Maintenance is easier since a few members of the business’s IT team can be trained for it, hence reducing technical debt. Overall, low code applications offer the best of both worlds and do not force CIOs to make an either-or choice.

A Few Final Words

Low-code platforms are disrupting the entire application development industry. They offer a unique model of prebuilt yet customizable modules and an extensive library of APIs.

They help reduce the cost and time for delivery while offering world-class interfaces and the best security setup. They don’t make businesses choose between building or buying new applications; they let you do both.