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You build it, you run it – and you kill it: a new approach in the digital age

Written by Alexander Käppler

The most important facts in 20 seconds
  • Digital product lifecycles:
    Software development demands an awareness of the complete digital product lifecycle, where the end is as critical as the beginning for agility in responding to changes.
  • Challenges in digital service shutdown:
    Shutting down digital services poses challenges in data protection, customer communication, contract management, and dependencies on subcontractors.
  • Strategic planning:
    A well-considered exit strategy and careful contractual relationships are essential to maintain a company's integrity and finances when discontinuing services.

The evolution of a principle 


In the agile world of software development, the "You build it, you run it" principle is more than a rule—it's a commitment to the accountability of digital solution creators. But as digital transformation emphasizes speed, it's recognized that software too undergoes a lifecycle. Factors like technological advancements rendering old offerings obsolete, intensifying security requirements, and ever-changing user needs drive this lifecycle. 


Given this rapid evolution, digital services must be designed with their planned end in mind from the onset. It’s time to expand the "You build it, you run it" principle into a comprehensive lifecycle approach that includes a deliberate and responsible end to the services, or "You kill it." 


Core challenges in exit strategies for digital products 


In line with sustainable practices, it’s essential to plan the end-of-life for digital services from the beginning. Simply considering what products we create is not enough; equal attention must be given to when and how these products will be phased out.  


Thus, companies need to develop comprehensive exit strategies that address the potential impacts of ending a service. Critical issues such as data protection, clear communication with customers, detailed contract arrangements, and supplier coordination need careful planning. 


Data privacy and retention during service termination 


Ending a digital service involves the complex decision of what to do with the stored data. Data management is challenging since financial records may need to be kept for years due to legal requirements, whereas personal data must be stored only as long as necessary before being securely deleted, as per GDPR guidelines. 


Efficiently separating data during the storage phase is vital for a smooth service termination. This process helps companies fulfill their data retention responsibilities while adhering to privacy laws. Therefore, planning for data management and secure deletion should start at the beginning of the service lifecycle to ensure compliance. 


Proactive data storage for smooth shutdown 


By adopting a proactive data storage strategy, companies ensure their ability to appropriately react to the impending end of services. This includes developing systems that facilitate the easy detection, separation, and secure removal of user data when required. It’s crucial to integrate fail-safe processes firmly within the system architecture. Such a strategy ensures a seamless transition from ‘You run it’ to ‘You kill it,’ strictly adhering to data protection regulations and prioritizing the protection of personal user data. 


Customer communication regarding contractual relationships at service lifecycle's end 


Clear communication with customers is essential, especially when ending a digital service. It's important to inform customers promptly and precisely about any upcoming changes, which can vary with different contract terms. Long-term contracts, like a typical 24-month subscription, help with financial planning but need adjustments if the service ends. Changes, possibly driven by factors like infrastructure changes, should be communicated early and clearly. 


The terms for ending a service should be fair to both customers and providers. Special termination clauses add flexibility and make sure neither party is unfairly affected if a service has to end early. 


When a service is closely tied to a physical product, ending the service requires extra care. Compensation may be necessary. Thus, a deep understanding of customer data and contractual terms is crucial to manage communication and determine suitable compensation actions effectively. 


Ending a service: timing and methods 


When planning to end a service, it's crucial to use a thoughtful approach. Once the termination date is set, the service should no longer be available for new purchases. Adjusting contract lengths and key dates in advance can help avoid unexpected issues for both the company and customers. For instance, newer contracts might be offered with shorter durations, ensuring a respectful and smooth phase-out while making the most of the service until its end. 


Digital services are adaptable, which is a major benefit. This flexibility enables quick adjustments in response to market changes. By planning in advance for the service's conclusion, or a "You kill it" scenario, the end of a service can be as strategically managed as its launch. 


Considering subcontractors and external service providers 


In the digital services sector, it's crucial to effectively manage relationships with subcontractors and external service providers, as they play a significant role in maintaining efficient and smooth operations. It's important to have plans in place in case a primary service can't be offered anymore. 


Right from the start of designing a service, consider long-term commitments and contracts. For instance, long leases for servers or cloud services can cause unexpected financial strain if the service is discontinued early, similar to cancelling long-term business leases unexpectedly. 


Working with third-party providers is crucial too. Changes in their services or new legal requirements can impact your own services, which may require quick adjustments or even early termination. Early risk assessments and integrating these considerations into your business model can help identify risks and develop strategies to proactively manage them, rather than merely reacting to issues as they arise. 


Conclusion: an exit plan is essential 


Being agile in business management doesn't mean being unprepared. Instead, it means being able to adapt flexibly and wisely to changes, with a solid backup plan in place. A thorough "You kill it" plan shows responsible leadership, not a lack of optimism. By incorporating this element into the "You build it, you run it" philosophy, businesses equip themselves for a future where sustainability, accountability, and foresight are key to success in the digital age. 


By expanding the proven "You build it, you run it" principle to include the crucial "and you kill it," we prepare for a future where sustainability, responsibility, and strategic foresight increasingly define business success in the digital age. 


By incorporating this element into the "You build it, you run it" philosophy, businesses equip themselves for a future where sustainability, accountability, and foresight are key to success in the digital age. 


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