Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Business and Management.

Publication Details

Published: in Supply Chain Innovations: People, Practice and Performance, perspectives, Proceedings of the 13th Annual Conference of the Logistics Research Network, Liverpool, pp. 217-221, September 2008.


As a discipline, supply chain management (SCM) has traditionally been primarily concerned with the procurement, processing, movement and sale of physical goods. However an important class of products has emerged - digital products - which cannot be described as physical as they do not obey commonly understood physical laws. They do not possess mass or volume, and they require no energy in their manufacture or distribution. With the Internet, they can be distributed at speeds unimaginable in the physical world, and every copy produced is a 100% perfect duplicate of the original version. Furthermore, the ease with which digital products can be replicated has few analogues in the physical world.

This paper assesses the effect of non-physicality on one such product – software – in relation to the practice of SCM. It explores the challenges that arise when managing the software supply chain and how practitioners are addressing these challenges. Using a two-pronged exploratory approach that examines the literature around software management as well as direct interviews with software distribution practitioners, a number of key challenges associated with software supply chains are uncovered, along with responses to these challenges.

This paper proposes a new model for software supply chains that takes into account the non-physicality of the product being delivered. Central to this model is the replacement of physical flows with flows of intellectual property, the growing importance of innovation over duplication and the increased centrality of the customer in the entire process. Hybrid physical / digital supply chains are discussed and a framework for practitioners concerned with software supply chains is presented.