By Attila Ambrus, COO of Lowcono Inc.

In today’s digital landscape, organizations are constantly faced with a critical decision: should they purchase commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software or invest in building custom software tailored to their specific needs? While the choice might seem straightforward, with COTS software often appearing as the quick and cost-effective solution, a closer look reveals that this route may come with hidden costs and limitations that merit serious consideration. 

The Hidden Costs of COTS Software

COTS software, at first glance, promises a world of convenience—quick deployment, lower initial costs, and the promise of reliability. However, beneath this veneer of efficiency lie several hidden expenses and constraints that can impact an organization in the long run:

  • Extensive Customization Needs: COTS solutions are designed for the mass market, meaning they probably will not align perfectly with all organization’s unique processes and needs. This misalignment often necessitates extensive customization, which can be both costly and time-consuming. The irony is that a solution bought to save time and resources ends up requiring significant modifications, negating its initial advantages.
  • Compatibility and Integration Challenges: Organizations typically use many different software systems. Ensuring that a COTS solution integrates seamlessly with existing systems can be a daunting task, often requiring additional investment in middleware or integration platforms. These complexities not only drive-up costs but also increase the risk of system inefficiencies.
  • Risk of Obsolescence: The pace of technological change is rapid, and COTS software can quickly become outdated. Vendors may discontinue support for older versions, forcing organizations into frequent upgrades, which are not just costly but also disruptive to operations.
  • Limited Competitive Advantage: By relying on standard solutions available to everyone, organizations miss out on the opportunity to differentiate themselves through unique, custom-built tools. In a highly competitive business environment, this lack of differentiation can be a significant disadvantage.

The Rigid Nature of COTS Solutions

Beyond the hidden costs, the rigidity of COTS software is a factor that organizations cannot afford to overlook:

  • Inflexibility to Evolving Business Needs: COTS solutions, once implemented, can be inflexible to changes in business strategy or processes. Customizing them to adapt to new requirements can be as resource intensive as building new software from scratch.
  • Dependency on Vendors: Relying on COTS software means being at the mercy of the vendor for updates, improvements, and support. This dependency can limit an organization’s agility and control over its technological trajectory.

The Case for Custom Software Development

In contrast, building custom software may present a viable alternative, offering flexibility, scalability, and alignment with specific business needs. Modern development methodologies and technologies have significantly reduced the time and cost associated with custom software development, making it an increasingly attractive option.

  • Tailored Solutions: Custom software is built to fit the unique processes and needs of an organization, ensuring higher efficiency and productivity.
  • Scalability and Flexibility: Custom-built software can evolve with the organization, offering scalability and adaptability to changing business environments without the need for extensive reworking.
  • Competitive Edge: Custom software can provide a competitive advantage, offering unique functionalities that set an organization apart from its competitors.


The decision between buying COTS software and building custom solutions is more nuanced than it appears. While COTS solutions offer immediate deployment and seemingly lower costs, their hidden expenses and rigid nature can be limiting in the long run. On the other hand, custom software development, though perceived as resource-intensive, offers flexibility, scalability, and alignment with specific business goals. As organizations navigate this choice, a careful evaluation of long-term impacts and strategic alignment is essential to deciding that best serves their evolving needs and objectives. The deciding factor between these solutions, as often in many other business areas as well, comes down to affordability. Smaller organizations have neither the budget nor experience to develop a custom solution that fits their needs exactly, a solution that is scalable, so they pick a COTS solution and try to fit the solution to their needs. Larger organizations that are aware of what problems they want to solve, can measure ROI well, and justify the cost of a custom solution, build applications that perfectly fit their unique needs.

Does your organization have a software project that’s too complicated to manage, running behind schedule and costing too much to build? Reach out to us at Lowcono