High-Code, Low-Code, No-Code, or COTS? Choosing the Right Approach


In today's day and age, there’s a common train of thought that “every business is a software company,” as said by Mr. Watt S. Humphrey, the father of quality in software and CMMI, two decades ago. This has been repeated many times by leaders of different large corporations, the most quoted being the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella:

“Every company is a software company. You have to start thinking and operating like a digital company. It’s no longer just about procuring one solution and deploying one. It’s not about one simple software solution. It’s really you yourself thinking of your own future as a digital company.”

As Satya Nadella alluded to, companies in the past could rely on one off-the-shelf or custom-built monolith. However, in today's world, companies need to think of a multitude of options when it comes to procuring digital solutions, including high-code, low-code, no-code, and even commercial off-the-shelf applications.

With so many options available to organizations today, let’s take a look at the different approaches and analyze the pros and cons of each one.


Also referred to as traditional development, high-code assembly relies on the expertise of skilled developers to write and deploy code. Developers use frameworks and programming languages like JavaScript, C#, React, Angular, or platforms specifically designed for mobile or native applications.

When everything requires a developer’s hand, it takes time away from the more valuable work developers could be doing, such as creating new features and innovations.

Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS)

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have commercial off-the-shelf applications. These solutions are pre-built and configured to tackle specific challenges like managing sales opportunities (CRM), website content, or digital marketing campaigns. Organizations purchase a COTS solution because there’s minimum customization needed or they need to automate a complex business process (like CRM), and using traditional code would be expensive and time-consuming.

Compared to traditional code, a COTS decision is straightforward. Time to value is months instead of years, plus the vendor takes care of maintenance and feature updates. COTS solutions historically are easier to set up, install and maintain than building the same solution in traditional code.

However, with the advent of no-code and low-code solutions, many of these dynamics have changed.

No-Code Development

No-code platforms put business users directly in the driver’s seat. True to the name, there is no need to write a single line of code to deliver an application. Instead, they rely on forms, configuration, and simple input tools to manage the experience.

No-code solutions are great for solving individual basic department issues, like updating content or assets on a page, without pulling the attention of developers away from other projects.

However, no-code tools are limited in terms of bringing about large-scale innovations or building new platforms. They typically are more difficult and expensive to extend, and while fast to set up and use, they are often limited in their flexibility and functionality.

Low-Code Development

Low-code development platforms use visual software development environments to allow enterprise developers and citizen developers to drag and drop application components, connect them together and create mobile or web apps. This way, it reduces the labor allocated to key-stroke code writing.

The primary benefits of low-code solutions are speed, agility, and the flat learning curve that allow organizations to accelerate the onboarding of new developers.

The main drawback of most low-code platforms, however, is that the simplicity they brought to software development came at the expense of power and creativity. Therefore, complex, enterprise-grade applications are often not suitable for the common low-code platform.

And that’s where high-performance low-code differs.

High-Performance Low-Code

High-performance low-code is a different breed of low-code. It empowers professional developers with end-to-end, full-stack development and the delivery of strategic mobile and web apps that provide competitive differentiation.

With a high-performance low-code platform like OutSystems, your developers can focus on delivering enterprise-grade applications faster to the business.

OutSystems gives developers pre-built components and the ability to design systems and features that can be rearranged and repurposed to shape different and exceptional experiences for a continuously evolving world.

Although catered to professional developers, business users still play a vital role in the entire application development process. Developers can build the components together with business users because all the development is done through visual development. This collaboration can speed up time to market and result in overall greater customer satisfaction for the business because business users are able to directly translate their insights into actions.

Traditionally, developers have been reluctant to embrace low-code due to concerns about functionality, scalability, and security (and the lack of coding). But (some) low-code platforms have come a long way since their early inception. The OutSystems platform provides a secure runtime environment and the tools necessary for secure development of all application types, and developers can add custom code to what they develop.

So Many Choices, What Do We Do?

You will seldom be in a situation where there is a “one size fits all” solution. Nowadays, most organizations use a mixture of solutions and platforms to meet their software needs. Speaking from my experience, most of our customers have an existing system in place, usually a combination of legacy systems they need to replace with modern platforms.

So, many factors need to be taken into consideration, like:

  • How can we deliver to the business in the expected time frame?
  • Do we have the necessary resources to complete the backlog?
  • Is there an existing solution that meets all our criteria?

These are just a few common questions we come across when customers approach us looking for a low-code solution. The key is to get a mix for both the business and the users who will not only be using these solutions but also those who will be incorporating them into the business.

Many of our customers find that with OutSystems, their developers get more done. With high-performance low-code, they can spend more time creating and building and less time on repetitive work.

Sure, it’s fun to learn the latest faddish JavaScript framework or play with a cutting-edge NoSQL data store, but while you’re spending time debugging unfamiliar code, the competition has an MVP in front of customers.

Simply put, building software with high-performance low-code is the same as building software any other way.

Why Not Give High-Performance Low-Code a Go?

Over the years, low-code has gained traction, and more businesses have learned about its benefits compared to traditional coding practices. And now, with high-performance low-code you can reach a whole new level of agility and performance, while combining the critical elements of traditional coding solutions — such as flexibility and customization — with saving considerable amounts of time.

If you want to learn more about high-performance low-code and the OutSystems platform, you can witness OutSystems power for yourself by signing up for our free edition — and after that register for one of our JumpStart sessions. It's a free workshop on how you can build applications more efficiently in OutSystems.