Low-Code vs. No-Code vs. Custom Code for Business Solutions

In recent years, the concept of low-code and no-code development has taken the software development industry by storm. While traditional custom coding projects have long been the gold standard for software development, many companies are now exploring the benefits of these new approaches. Let’s take a closer look at low-code, no-code, and custom coding projects and explore the advantages and disadvantages of each. 

First, let’s define these three different approaches to software development. Low-code development is an approach that allows developers to create software applications using a visual interface and pre-built components. This means that developers do not have to write as much code as they would in a traditional custom coding project. No-code development takes this a step further by allowing non-technical users to create software applications without writing any code at all. Finally, custom coding involves writing software from scratch, using programming languages such as javascript or C# and frameworks such as .NET or Laravel.

What are the advantages of each approach? 

Low-code and no-code development projects offer several benefits over custom coding. They can result in faster development times, since pre-built components are used. Developers can create applications quickly and these projects often require less technical expertise, since developers don’t need to have as much knowledge of programming languages or software architecture. This means that non-technical team members can also contribute to the development process.

However, there are also several disadvantages to low-code and no-code development projects, as is well documented by similar articles at Harvard Business Review, for instance. First and foremost, they are often less flexible than custom coding projects. Since pre-built components are used, developers may be limited in what they can create. Additionally, these projects may not be as customizable as custom coding projects, meaning that they may not meet all of the specific needs of the business. Finally, low-code and no-code development projects may not be as stable in the long term, since they rely on pre-built components that may become outdated or unsupported over time. Furthermore, these types of software platforms typically require a licensing fee for the lifetime of the project, which can add up to significant costs over time.

What about custom coding projects? 

The biggest advantage of custom coding is that it offers the most flexibility and customization. Since software is built from scratch, developers have complete control over the application and can tailor it to meet the specific needs of the business. Additionally, custom coding projects are often more stable in the long term, since they are built using proven programming languages and software architecture supported and backed by large industry leaders like Google and Microsoft. 

Finally, with custom coding, you own the code and do not have to pay licensing fees for the lifetime of the project, which can save you significant costs over time. For systems such as customer portals or internal-facing business apps with many users, that can be especially expensive! You can read more about licensing fees here.

Of course, custom coding projects also come with their own set of challenges. First and foremost, they can take longer to develop than low-code or no-code projects. Additionally, they require a higher level of technical expertise, since developers must have a deep understanding of programming languages and software architecture. Finally, custom coding projects can be more expensive than low-code or no-code projects, since they require more time and expertise to develop.

Which approach is the best?

The answer lies in your specific business needs and how you balance the value of customization, flexibility, and long-term stability. There is also a key aspect of this comparison that often goes unnoticed:

The ability to effectively build complex custom systems, regardless of the method chosen (low code, no code, custom code) always comes down to two things:

  1. The design of the business workflows and solution itself.
  2. The developer’s level of expertise with the given tool set.

It’s simple: the more complex the business workflows are, the more complex of a tool-set you will require in order to develop an effective solution. If your business has complex, unique workflows to manage you will need a complex, unique system to handle them. Therefore, regardless of whether you implement those workflows using a low-code or no-code system, if the solution is complex enough, you will need an expert with those tools in order to effectively implement the solution, regardless. For instance, a very complex spreadsheet with dozens of calculations and pivot tables cannot be easily modified by someone who isn’t technically proficient with spreadsheets. 

This is the same problem we run into with low/no-code development. At a certain point, the low/no-code platform has added so many features that it becomes a discipline in its own right to be able to effectively develop and support the solutions built with it. Therefore, we don’t end up gaining any ground over custom code solutions, which also require an expert to develop and support. Even if the toolset is very simple to use to build complex solutions, the design of the solution itself still requires a proficient business analyst and solutions architect.

Ultimately, the less expertise that the chosen tool (low/no/custom-code) requires to use, the less options and long-term functional flexibility you will have. Those two concepts will always be inherently inversely related.

Therefore, while low-code and no-code projects offer some benefits, they may not be able to meet all of the specific needs of a business and they may not be as stable in the long term. Additionally, when solving complex problems they introduce the same two issues that you may perceive as being unique to custom code projects:

  1. You need an expert solutions architect to design the solution during the discovery phase.
  2. You need an expert “developer” who knows how to use the chosen tool effectively. 

So, if you are looking for a custom software system for your business, whether that’s a custom work management system, project management portal, customer portal, web portal for your internal business operations, or even a custom integration or middleware app to sync data between your third-party systems; we have found that regardless of which tool you use; no-code, low-code or custom code, they all end up facing the same challenges. However, ultimately custom code gives you the most flexibility, sustainability and potentially lowest cost while allowing you to own your own IP and increase the value of your business.

In conclusion, while low-code and no-code development projects may offer some benefits, they may not be able to meet all of the specific needs of a business, and can come with licensing fees for the lifetime of the project. Custom coding projects offer the most flexibility, customization and long-term stability, without the added cost of licensing fees. For businesses looking to develop custom software applications that are tailored to their specific needs, custom coding is the way to go.

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