Purchasing commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) or building custom solutions is one of the most common dilemmas organizations face. If in the past, buying was the obvious choice, the growing pressure for improved customer experience and operational efficiency has led many companies to prefer software that fully adapts to its organization’s idiosyncrasies.
Of course, not everything needs to be fully customized, so although the tide has been turning away from off-the-shelf software, they continue to play a key role in the digital strategy of many organizations. In fact, leading digital companies are applying a set of new principles to procuring, renewing, and operating digital assets that combines buying (or renting) software with building it.
These companies buy or rent narrow commodity services and build the rest: what is missing, what might change in the future, and what is part of their competitive differentiation. OutSystems CEO has written extensively about the buy versus build conundrum, so I invite you to take a look.
Disruption Is Fueling Alternative Software Development Approaches
Some organizations are replacing or expanding their COTS solutions with alternative development approaches like low-code because it gives them the freedom to create applications that directly align with their business objectives from the start.
Others use OutSystems—a high-performance low-code platform that combines the agility and speed of low-code with the robustness of traditional development—to build core and mission-critical systems, which in turn gives them the flexibility to build exactly what they want for internal and external customers.
For example, electricity generation and distribution company EDP Brasil controls the amount of energy it generates using an application built by OutSystems implementation partner MindSource Brasil. William Durante, a representative from MindSource Brasil, told me at the OutSystems NextStep event, that it would have taken 10 months to customize EDP Brasil’s COTS application. Building the core, mission-critical application from scratch using OutSystems took 13 months and cost less.
Other organizations are innovating around their mission-critical legacy systems. An example of that is employee benefits, HR and payroll administration company bSwift who wanted to provide every customer with a customized portal option, not just its largest customers - however, mass customization can be too costly to be practical using traditional development methods.
“When we’re in the sales cycle, we can tell those new prospects, ‘Yes, we can deliver this custom, total compensation portal, for you. Yes, we can deliver this custom integration with your Workday platform. OutSystems allowed us to create a completely different organization, a completely different way of doing business from a product development perspective.”
— Devin Parsons, vice president of digital transformation at bSwift.
Low-Code Approaches Are Becoming a Necessity
There’s also a societal element that’s driving the need for low-code approaches, which is the high expectations of today’s software users. Employees and customers don’t want to adapt their behavior to software. They expect software to adapt to their needs and desires.
This trend is evident in the expanded settings controls of most modern desktop, web, and mobile COTS applications. It’s also evident in the behavior of software application teams that continuously monitor application usage and user feedback.
Interestingly, user expectations are not set solely by the applications in a specific vertical. While it’s true that Amazon sets a high bar for the retail industry to follow, any application or website with a search capability is expected to behave like Google. The industry or use case is irrelevant in that case.
Similarly, Hotels.com added a “guest checkout” option to its website well over a decade ago. The change was a simple one, involving just a few lines of code. The change was a smashing success because some customers just want to book a room quickly, not spend several minutes creating yet another customer account and password. Now, all kinds of ecommerce sites provide a guest checkout option.
Low-code approaches provide a way for organizations to be more nimble than they’ve ever been, which makes disruption a lot less painful and innovation a lot easier to facilitate.
Low-Code Should Satisfy All Enterprise Requirements
COTS was originally sold to IT, but more recently there’s been a bifurcation of what must be sold to IT and what can be sold to lines of business. If it’s a marketing application, marketing decision-makers are the target. Moreover, it’s easy to sell SaaS software to lines of business because one does not need all kinds of approvals; one can simply sign up and input a credit card number. However, as with most COTS solutions, all SaaS roads, at least from a user perspective, lead back to IT. If the application doesn’t work as expected, call IT. If it only kinda works, call IT. If governance becomes an issue, IT, risk management, and compliance may get involved.
That’s why it’s important that when buying a software package or SaaS solution to absorb a particular best practice, organizations should make sure that it not only has user interfaces but also 100-percent functional coverage of APIs so that you have the freedom to expand it as needed.
Going back to the “build” part, one of the reasons brand-name companies choose OutSystems is because the platform is enterprise-grade. It has all of the controls enterprises expect and the capabilities software developers expect. If a someone in a line of business builds an application that exceeds her capabilities, or she doesn’t have time to maintain it, the application can be handed over to a professional developer as-is for continued evolution. The developer doesn’t have to rewrite the application from scratch.
With OutSystems, organizations have the freedom to innovate, and the enterprise-class controls they need to manage potential risks. In fact, flexibility and safety are two just reasons why many organizations are standardizing on OutSystems.
Low-code, at least the way OutSystems enables it, allows these businesses and others to replace and enhance COTS safely. Disruption is a fact of today’s dynamic business environment and no organization is immune. The key question for the disrupted is what will they do about it? Industry leaders across industries and around the globe choose OutSystems.
Want to learn more about OutSystems low-code development? Schedule a demo with someone from our team.