Executive roundtable re-cap: Application development: custom, platform… or both?


In late 2022, Brennan and ADAPT brought together a group of IT executives for a CIO roundtable, to discuss trends in application development and explore the ‘custom vs. platform’ debate.

Why did we explore this topic?

It’s a big decision – while digital transformation is now recognised as a strategic imperative for organisations, the right path to get there is a subject of much debate. Selecting the most suitable technology approach can make or break a transformation program.

Until recently, when commercial off-the-shelf applications did not suit business requirements, traditional high-code development was a company’s only alternative. But in recent years, low-code development and digital business technology platforms have erupted and are taking a big bite out of traditional software development.

Gartner estimates that by 2025, 70% of new applications developed by organisations will use low-code or no-code technologies, up 25% in the last 2 years.1 This rise in low-code application platforms is driving an increase in ‘citizen development’––empowering less technically skilled workers to create technology solutions for internal or external use.2

While low-code/no-code platforms can deliver vital benefits––especially speed, flexibility, and cost efficiency–– custom software development still has still has a significant role to play.

We held this executive roundtable to capture the latest perspectives from senior IT leaders when considering a platform versus custom approach and get their thoughts on the benefits and consideration points for each option.

Gartner: Low-code could account for 65% of all software creation activity by 2024.3

Key roundtable takeaways

  • Very much a case-by-case basis – there are pros and cons for each option. Every application needs to be considered individually and decisions should be outcome-focused.
  • Staff/skills shortage is a major factor – organisations with less technically skilled staff are leaning towards platform development.
  • Security is an often overlooked consideration – especially in industries like healthcare where data must remain within Australia (many platforms offshore data storage).
  • Ease of customisation is blurring the lines – platform solutions are now more adaptable and flexible than in the past.
  • User/employee experience is critical – in the current market it’s vital that applications develop a quality experience that will encourage and support staff retention.

At Brennan our recommendation is very much based on individual customers’ needs. We will work closely with an organisation to understand their needs for an application and recommend an approach that is the most suitable – often it includes components of both a custom and platform solution.

Adrian Launchbury, Enterprise Solutions Specialist, Brennan

Key factors the experts consider when making their decisions

Our panelists and technology specialists discussed several key factors which organisations should consider when deciding whether to invest in custom application development, or to take a platform solution approach.

Speed to market
For applications that need to be spun-up rapidly, and potentially by less-skilled developers, a platform solution can be ideal. In a recent study, projects that were developed using low-code platform were 15% – 25% more productive than those which used Agile development technologies.4

Application complexity
While a platform solution can develop an application for standard requirements or projects in their initial stages (e.g., a proof of concept) an application that’s unique or particularly complex will typically require some element of custom development.

Whereas a platform solution can typically cater for most generic security parameters, organisations with very specific security requirements (such as those regarding healthcare data) are best served by a custom solution.

User /license volumes
Pay-per-use platforms are particularly suited to less complex applications, used by a relatively small group of internal users. Generally speaking, the more users you have, the more you may benefit from a custom solution.

Data volumes
If an application is likely to produce significant data volumes, a platform-developed solution could end up being less cost-effective.

Custom solutions typically offer more flexibility over where you store your data, the services you use, and their performance levels. This means you can, for instance, scale down an application after hours or on a weekend when it’s not being used. With a platform solution, it’s more of a ‘set and forget’ scenario – which can still be suitable for certain workloads.

Existing infrastructure
If a business already has a platform-based solution in place – like Microsoft Dynamics 356 – it can make sense to build upon this existing investment rather than creating an entirely new custom solution.

A custom business application requires a considerable amount of maintenance to ensure functionality and security, which may have to be managed internally or via a third party. With a platform solution, maintenance support is usually included as part of the overall scope.

As business challenges and requirements grow, low code solutions don’t necessarily grow to meet them. A platform solution rarely offers direct access to an underlying database, making it time consuming and costly to make customisations or adaptations. For an application that will need to scale quickly, it may be worth investing in a custom solution.

Find out more

If you are evaluating either a custom or platform solution for your business, our team can help you weigh up the pros and cons of each option and determine the most suitable path.

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