Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) vs Custom vs Low-code development - Saxon AI
Microsoft Power Platform / April, 20 2023

Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) vs. Custom development vs. Low-code development 

Should you build or buy a solution? Should you go with custom development or low-code/no-code development? Decision-makers often get caught in this dilemma. Because they have multiple options, each option is better than the others in one or more aspects. To help you make the right decision, we have created a five-point comparison of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) vs. custom development vs. low-code/no-code development. 

Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) vs. Custom vs. low-code/no-code development  

Time to deploy

Commercial off-the-shelf solutions are readily available on the market. COTS solutions let you get started almost instantly. However, make sure the off-the-shelf solution integrates with your existing systems. 

Custom development is time-consuming, with phases such as planning, system analysis, design, development, testing, and implementation. An average custom software development takes between four and nine months. Most custom development projects go over the expected timelines. According to KPMG, 85% of custom software development projects miss deadlines. So, custom development is not preferable for enterprises that want a quick solution. 

Low-code/no-code development has an edge over custom development in terms of development speed. You can create a simple app as fast as in one day. The infusion of artificial intelligence is making low-code/no-code development much faster – for example, Copilot in Microsoft Power Platform


Commercial off-the-shelf solutions take a backseat to custom development and low-code/no-code development in terms of flexibility. COTS solutions generally follow the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, which is unsuitable for your business. You have unique requirements. You need tailored solutions. Customizing COTS solutions for your business might be expensive.  

Custom software solutions are super flexible. You have complete control over the architecture of the solution. You can choose the technology stack, hosting, tools, and APIs to match your requirements. However, the synergy between business and IT teams is often missing in custom development. This gap increases technical debt in enterprises. 

Low-code/no-code development addresses the challenge of technical debt while offering great flexibility. Visual coding on low-code/no-code development empowers citizen developers in your organization. Generally, citizen developers have a better understanding of the business requirements. So, your citizen developers can develop more intuitive apps with minimal dependency on IT teams. 


You can buy off-the-shelf solutions on subscription or perpetual license models. So, you have the flexibility to pay for only the required duration. You can opt for a COTS solution if you require a simple solution for not-so-critical processes. But here’s the catch. Sometimes, you end up paying for features you don’t need. At the same time, you may have to buy the high-end version of the solution to get some required features. To get the best value for your investment, research before buying in. 

Custom development lies on the higher end of the affordability scale. The more complex the solution, the more expensive it gets. For instance, a basic mobile app costs between $20,000 and $50,000, whereas a medium app costs between $50,000 and $100,000. The time and costs of custom development solutions depend on external factors such as recession and attrition. It’s hard to predict the overall costs of custom development precisely. You must be careful while planning your IT budgets. 

Low code is the best option for custom development with flexibility and faster deployment. You can buy a license to a low-code/no-code development platform like Microsoft Power Platform and start developing custom apps. You can plan your IT budgets more effectively as the costs are more predictable.  


You can be least bothered about maintaining COTS solutions. The vendors offer support and software updates at no extra cost. Should you need any help with the solution, the vendor’s support team will help you. So, it is essential to consider the support quality while evaluating a COTS solution.  

On the other hand, custom development methods incur maintenance costs. If you build a solution in-house, you should also run a team to maintain the solution and infrastructure. Because you develop a solution with long-term goals in mind, say for 10-15 years, maintenance accounts for about 90% of the total cost of ownership (TCO). Custom development cost is only a fraction of the TCO.  

Support and maintenance for low-code/no-code development solutions are relatively easy compared to custom development. As you subscribe to a platform like Microsoft Power Platform, you don’t have to pay for other infrastructure. The platform provider will also offer support should you face any challenges. Because of the faster and easy development, outsourcing low-code/no-code development is also a cost-effective option. Remember, this largely depends on the scope of development. 


Because you buy commercial off-the-shelf solutions from third-party vendors, you have little control over the solution’s security. However, these vendors push regular security patches to ensure. Some vendors promise lifetime security updates, whereas some give limited-time updates. Make sure you buy from a trusted vendor that offers lifetime support.  

Custom development gives you complete control over the security of the solution. You can build a robust security network to protect the solution from potential risks. Remember, it’s a resource-intensive affair. Consider outsourcing cybersecurity. 

Low-code development allows easy integration of cybersecurity tools. So, you have control over the security of your applications to some level. However, you can’t control the low-code/no-code development platform itself. You should choose a trusted platform for enhanced security. If you have defined processes for developing apps and guardrails to ensure best practices, low-code/no-code development is a secure method. Low-code platforms like Microsoft Power Platform also allow for cloud and business process flow automation. Intelligent automation will mitigate the risks of phishing attacks and unauthentic logins. 

Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) vs custom development vs low-code development


A decade ago, the war was simple – build vs buy. But companies would have to compromise on more factors. Affordability is inversely proportional to the time to speed of development and flexibility. If you are looking for a complex solution like an enterprise resource planning system, it would be better to go with COTS solutions. If you need a solution for a critical business process like supply chain management, developing a solution in-house would be recommended, as the process needs tailored solutions.  

With the rise of low-code/no-code technologies, businesses can find a middle ground between COTS and custom development. Low-code/no-code development is less expensive than custom development and delivers faster and more flexible solutions. In their early days, low-code/no-code platforms would be able to create simple applications like employee onboarding. Over time, these platforms gained more capabilities, allowing you to create more sophisticated applications like a supply chain management solution. Microsoft has taken this game to the next level by introducing AI capabilities into their low-code/no-code platform, Power Platform. 

Though the name suggests low-code/no-code, you would require technical resources to make the most out of your investment on these platforms. If you have more scope for low-code applications, it is better to take the help of qualified tech partners.  Saxon is a Microsoft partner helping enterprises realize their digital aspirations. Want to learn how to leverage low-code development for your enterprise?

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