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Low Code Software Tradeoffs

by James Townsend

Recently I wrote on The Enduring Appeal of Low Code Software Development and 6 Reasons to Choose Microsoft for your Low Code Application Platform which explain why low code development is popular and why Microsoft is especially successful among the low code application development platforms.  Like many decisions, moving to low code software involves tradeoffs, so this post is devoted to some of the considerations that may shape your decision on whether and how far to move toward low code.


The first tradeoff is performance.  If your goal is to squeeze every bit of performance out of a system, low code may not be the best option.  Low code platforms involve layers of abstraction and code that introduce overhead,  For extremely large data sets, intensive calculations, or real time operations, you do not see many low code systems.  Instead, the highest performance systems use full code and get as close to the data as possible to max out speed. 

User Experience

Low code systems save you development time by offering pre-built user interface elements.  You do not have to build out or maintain as much code as if you were creating each screen from scratch.  The tradeoff comes if you want the screens to look different than offered by the low cost platform by default.  In many cases you can change the look and feel through custom programming, thus giving up some of the virtue of the pre-built environment.  If you are creating a user experience unlike any other, you may be better off to start with the blank slate of full coding and build the user interface from the ground up.  

Vendor Lock-in

Choosing a vendor for your low code platform means you are committed to that vendor and to the future of their company as well as their products.  The more solutions you base on that low code platform the more you are exposed to this business risk.  You must choose a company you are confident will be around for the long haul, and that their product will continue to receive security updates as well as research and development investments. With small vendors you may be concerned that they will go out of business or be acquired.  With all vendors you must be confident that the product you choose remains competitive and not discontinued.  

Product Cost v Development Cost

While low code offers the promise of faster development and simpler maintenance of software, it carries the ongoing cost of licenses or subscriptions for the low code platform.  These costs can add up, especially if they are based on the count of users and you have a large number of users.  Custom code can give you zero license costs, so you can spread the cost of development across all the user base and over a long period of time.  In a simple example, the same solution might cost $100,000 to develop as low code and $1 million to build as a custom application.  If you have 100 users and they pay $1,000 per user per year then your total cost for the first year is $100,000 for licensing and $100,000 for development or $200,000.  For 10,000 users, the low code solution would be $10,100,000 and $10 million per year for the life of the solution.  The custom development solution would be $1,000,000 for the initial development and then only maintenance programming regardless of the number of users. 

Low code is therefore easier to justify for apps with small numbers of users. These might even be so small they would not justify a custom code solution in the first place. 

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