Digital Product Lifecycle Concerns

Digital Product Management must address two distinct lifecycle concerns that map to various IT4IT Value Streams (see Digital Product Lifecycle Management):

  • System lifecycle (the managed IT component of the product)

  • Contract lifecycle (governs consumed instances, warranties, commitments, and dependent systems)

Figure 1. Digital Product Lifecycle Management

The system lifecycle is a familiar concept in IT management. For example, an internal application system remains a subject of active concern for as long as it is in use.

After such a system is decommissioned, we will quickly lose interest in most of the hardware and software. We still must address any residual data retention and disposal requirements, sometimes for many years. This is included in traditional understandings of technology lifecycles.

The contract lifecycle for a Digital Product may be more complex, especially regarding residual or implied lifecycle management concerns for external consumers or for a product that is a sub-unit of another product:

  • The lifecycle of the contract depends on the existence and management of the system used by the consumer

    The underlying system(s) should not be retired until all contractual obligations are met.

  • The contract lifecycle concept depends partly on maintaining enough information and related capability to ensure that the contractual obligations for every consumer are fully discharged

As our societal understanding of digital rights evolves this may include obligations defined after the fact by legislation or court cases.

When the provider ends a contract, thus ending support for the underlying system and explicit support or warranty obligations, terminated consumers may be unable to retrieve critical data, to migrate to alternative systems, or to maintain the system. In these situations, consumers have banded together to continue to support Digital Products long after support from the provider has ceased.

For example, modern farming relies on Global Positioning System (GPS) modules supplied by tractor manufacturers that are used to ensure crops are planted or cultivated in straight rows. Data generated by the system has a financial value to the farmer. Ongoing updates and patches to the software are essential to ongoing product value.

Such a tractor is a Digital Product for which the contractual context can be murky, and this gives rise to litigation and pressure on legislatures about data ownership, rights to use the data, and the “right to repair”:

  • Can the manufacturer keep the GPS component design and code secret, so that no one else can service the product?

  • Who owns the data created while the product is being used?

  • What happens if the manufacturer discontinues support – can the farmer be forced to buy a new module or even a whole new tractor to stay in business?

  • Can consumers who band together to continue to support Digital Products after support has ceased insist on being given enough information to be able to do so?

The manager of a Digital Product must consider end-of-life scenarios such as these and provide consumers with suitable recourse in end-of-life situations. Managing contract risks such as the pressure for “right to repair” becomes part of the Product Management function.