The continued increase of anthropogenic pressure on the Earth’s ecosystems is degrading the natural environment and then decreasing the services it provides to humans. The type, quantity, and quality of many of those services are directly connected to land cover, yet competing demands for land continue to drive rapid land cover change, affecting ecosystem services. Accurate and updated land cover information is thus more important than ever, however, despite its importance, the needs of many users remain only partially attended. A key underlying reason for this is that user needs vary widely, since most current products – and there are many available – are produced for a specific type of end user, for example the climate modelling community. With this in mind we focus on the need for flexible, automated processing approaches that support on-demand, customized land cover products at various scales. Although land cover processing systems are gradually evolving in this direction there is much more to do and several important challenges must be addressed, including high quality reference data for training and validation and even better access to satellite data. Here, we 1) present a generic system architecture that we suggest land cover production systems evolve towards, 2) discuss the challenges involved, and 3) propose a step forward. Flexible systems that can generate on-demand products that match users’ specific needs would fundamentally change the relationship between users and land cover products – requiring more government support to make these systems a reality.