Buy or build: 8 main characteristics of low-code platforms vs. out-of-the-box (OOTB) solutions

Eugenia Evtushenko

12 min

Since you’re here, you’re looking for a suitable business solution trying not to make a mistake that will be painful for your budget. Picking between the use of an out-of-the-box solution and the development of a custom app using a low-code platform is challenging since there are a lot of aspects to consider.

Tracing back to 2011, low-code development platforms have already become a powerful competitor to out-of-the-box software. According to Forrester, the low-code market will increase from $7 billion to $14 billion by 2024. 

Let’s now sort out how exactly low-code platforms compare to off-the-shelf solutions, and how low-code development can help you reduce your expenses while giving you the set of features you need. 

Low-code platforms vs. out-of-the-box (OOTB) solutions

1. Required development expertise.

Out-of-the-box solutions 

No mature IT specialist is required to set up and configure an OOTB solution. Since you don’t need to develop anything from scratch, basic technical expertise will be enough to make minor adjustments in an out-of-the-box solution. When buying an out-of-the-box solution, you get everything you need “off-the-shelf”: app structure, design, in-built functionality, etc. Thus, out-of-the-box solutions allow you to eliminate app development effort.

Low-code platforms

Low-code development requires more tech expertise compared to using OOTB solutions. Nevertheless, most low-code platforms offer drag-n-drop interface building functionality, which allows you to create a UI in several hours or days depending on its complexity, and with no frontend or design skills. With modern low-code development platforms, you can create business apps, internal tools, connect your data to them with minimal technical background and JavaScript knowledge only. Unlike OOTB solutions, low-code platforms provide you with exactly what your business needs in the end. 

2. Time to production.

Out-of-the-box solutions

OOTB solutions are generally tailored for immediate use. If you need to kick off quickly and time is a determining factor, that should probably be your choice since you don’t need to develop any app components by yourself. Nevertheless, keep in mind that onboarding, training, and OOTB solution adoption still requires sufficient time.

Low-code platforms

Depending on the complexity of an app you need to get, low-code development time may vary from several hours to a few weeks. However, powerful low-code platforms allow you to develop a business app or an internal tool within tight deadlines thanks to the predefined functionality like templates, layouts, widgets, ready-made UI components, connectors, etc.

3. Costs.

Out-of-the-box solutions

Generally, the price for off-the-shelf solutions include not only monthly/annual licensing payments but also upgrade and software support fees, per-seat costs, and more. Thus, you may find yourself obliged to pay for your out-of-the-box solution with strictly limited functionality even more than you’ll pay for a much more flexible custom application tailored for your business. Moreover, OOTB solutions customization requires specific skills and the need to hire and pay relevant specialists. This leads to extra costs. You risk to get an out-of-the-box solution comparable to a custom application both in terms of its final price and the pack of drawbacks custom apps have.

Low-code platforms 

Pricing policies vary from one low-code tool vendor to another. Some of them tie their plans to the app complexity, others – to the number of end-users. For example, such tools as UI Bakery and Retool charge only $7 and $10 per end-user/month respectively, and allow you to build an app with the set of features you need without any hidden fees. You don’t need to hire front-end developers and designers to prepare a UI for your app. This way, opting for the right low-code platform is a cost-effective decision.

4. Flexibility and customization.

Out-of-the-box solutions

Since OOTB solutions are tailored to perform general tasks standardized in most companies, they are either impossible to customize, or their customization leads to high additional expenses. Thus, if you choose an out-of-the-box solution, you risk not finding the features essential for your business and getting no ability to add them. An OOTB tool may be a good choice both as a short-term and a long-term solution, however it requires a long learning curve, and it’s not flexible enough to allow you to extend your app or internal tool functionality on the go.

Low-code platforms

Customization opportunities a lot of low-code platforms provide are much richer than OOTB solutions offer. With some low-code tools, not only can you customize and brand predefined app templates but also add custom UI components and use them throughout your app. No matter what you build – an admin panel, an inventory management tool, a CRM, or anything else, you can brand it according to your company style guide, and configure your processes as you need. Low-code platforms do not limit you in your app creation process: you can build an app with some essential features first, and add any supplementary functionality later. 

5. Third-party integration.

Out-of-the-box solutions

The integration opportunities out-of-the-box solution vendors provide are limited. If you simply need a project management system like Jira to use internally and connect it to such corporate tools like Slack, an OOTB solution will be cost-effective in this case. However, if you need your app to integrate with legacy systems, that will hardly be possible with a majority of out-of-box solutions. Moreover, you'll face tough limitations when you further decide to extend your app or internal tool functionality with new integrated components. Consider all the future possible iterations when making a final decision.

Low-code platforms

APIs, databases, plugins, third-party services, etc. – most low-code platforms allow for integrating with anything. To implement these integrations right within a low-code development platform, you need to have only general technical understanding.

6. Security.

Out-of-the-box solutions

Although there are particular in-built security measures in OOTB solutions, you’re still 100% dependent on the OOTB solution vendor. You’re lucky if the vendor you choose turns out to be meticulous in maintaining a high protection level. But what if they don’t?

Low-code platforms

Taking into account the findings shared by Forrester, low-code platforms can ensure even a higher security level than you may enable when building a costly custom app. The only thing you should care about is securing all the endpoints when integrating your app with third-party APIs via a low-code platform you choose. According to the mentioned research, even large enterprises tend to rely on low-code platform vendors when building apps that deal with sensitive corporate and customer data. Also, low-code platform vendors offer self-hosted options within their plans, which allows for deploying your app on your server and environment, thus completely blocking the access to your data from external sources.

7. Support. 

Out-of-the-box solutions

OOTB solution vendors, especially the large ones, take support seriously. In addition to knowledge bases, they also have dedicated support teams you can reach out at any time.

Low-code platforms

Concerned low-code platform vendors have vibrant communities and support teams ready to help with any issue you face when building your app or internal tool. Moreover, you can always turn to their documentation, how-to guides, interactive tutorials, educational videos.

8. Functionality and features.

Out-of-the-box solutions

As soon as out-of-the-box solutions are very generalized and not built to meet your specific needs, this software has 2 big disadvantages: it may lack the features critical for your business, and it may have the functionality you and your employees will never use but will still pay for it. So is it really wise to pay for the excess functions that keep idle all the time?

Low-code platforms

We assume that an ability to build exactly what you need is one of the key competitive advantages low-code platforms have. No clutter about the irrelevant features. No headache thinking about how to add a feature you need. Either you build a business app, an internal tool, or anything else, you can add an exact set of functions you need your app to have. No overpaying for what you are planning to use like... never.

To sum up

Both out-of-the-box solutions and low-code platforms have its strengths and pitfalls. Taking all the above-listed aspects into consideration, we advise to think not only about what you get but also about what you DON’T get in this or that case. What company’s needs and requirements won’t be addressed if you use an OOTB solution instead of building a custom app with low-code? What critical functionality will you have to sacrifice? How much will you overpay to cover hidden fees? And finally: are you ready to adjust your business processes to meet the chosen out-of-the-box solution capacities instead of building a low-code solution initially adjusted for your business?

Need some standard software with no specific functionality and almost no ability to evolve – out-of-the-box may work for you. For more competitive solutions with rich customization and integration capabilities fitting in even the tightest budgets – go for low-code.

March 16, 2021

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