Steve Jobs, when referencing Apple’s famous "Think Differently" campaign, called on the world to celebrate the people in business who have the ability and foresight to deviate from the norm. Real innovation, he said, comes from “the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules - and that’s a great thing”. Today thinking or being different is a business mantra. From the entrepreneur or the nimble start-up, to the international goliath, companies around the world are striving to find and demonstrate their point of differentiation - the thing that makes them stand out from the crowd, that they can do better than anyone else and for which customers will recognise them. Most obviously, one point of difference comes at product or service level. Looking at Apple again, the design of the iconic iPhone, with its smooth lines and intuitive user interface is what makes it so popular. It looks cool - cooler than other handsets perhaps - and that’s what makes us want it - whatever the price point. However, you need to look a bit deeper to find the root of Apple’s difference. Many believe that what makes the company special is that it builds both hardware and software - making the best possible use of CPU and memory. Building the default apps on the App Store using the same code, the entire user journey is streamlined - it’s a smooth and uniform experience which customers recognise as “uniquely Apple”. But it is often the very ethos of the business and associated culture which truly makes the organisation different from the crowd. Under the hood Differentiation is more complex than a shiny new product - a new phone in your pocket, or a slim laptop in your bag. You need to look beyond the design and development to find a business’ real differentiator. Back to Apple. Its “Think Differently” campaign didn’t just refer to the product - or even the boss. Of course, Steve Jobs was known for being innovative and going against the grain; but for Apple, innovation and the ability to think differently doesn’t just reside at the top. Instead, difference is woven intrinsically into the company’s DNA – the entire company is different by design. From the creatives, developers and marketers, to the point of sale, innovation is encouraged. Even at the back end - the finance department, tech support and in the data centre - competitive advantage lies in the ability to be different. A commodity service? Whilst the public face of innovation can be a charismatic CEO or an innovative product, companies today work in ecosystems, so the ethos of thinking differently should be shared by partners. And what better place to start than the heart of the infrastructure that drives the business - your data centre provider. The most forward looking organisations know that getting the data centre strategy right means they have an intelligent and scalable asset that fundamentally powers innovation. However, if they get it wrong, they’re dealing with an Achilles heel, which will hamper choice and growth. Some experts believe that when it comes to data centre choice, coverage is everything. They believe that ultimately, choice beyond this is irrelevant; that one data centre is just the same as another and that data centre space is therefore a commodity. However, it’s vital to dispel this myth and assert that real difference can and must be achieved at this level. If organisations aren’t able to recognise that data centres are a long way from being a commodity, then, their ability to operate competitively, could be significantly compromised. Being able to store and process data safely, and to access and interpret it as meaningful actionable information, quickly, will give a huge competitive advantage to those organisations that do it well. Far from offering a commodity service, data centre providers vary in many ways. Despite many things being similar - from accreditations, space and power capacity, contractual flexibility, connectivity options and service levels, to location – they can be different by design if you look beyond the obvious. How can commodity providers differentiate? Companies looking to capitalise on this - and to “challenge the norm” as Steve Jobs would have it - must place significant strategic imperative on finding the right data centre partner. For even the largest organisation, it’s time and cost prohibitive to build and manage their own data centre, and so it’s who you partner with which is the real key to success. Flexibility is possible and some data centre providers are giving their customers more than just a standard, no-compromise service. Of course, companies need the product to be right - the build must be to the highest quality spec, the right cooling, the right power, the right space - but the point of difference is provided through the customer relationship. A partnership, not a service provider/customer contract, where the provider listens to your needs and develops a bespoke way of working that is right for your business. This probably all seems pretty obvious, although saying it and delivering this is not always as simple or practicable for some large and established organisations. A report from the customer service experts Customer Champions states that nearly three-quarters of businesses single out customer service as a key loyalty driver, ranking it above product, brand reputation and effective sales and marketing. In 2018, businesses are now using their buying power to find and work with organisations that can provide this level of flexibility and differentiation, and once they find partnerships that work, these relationships seriously flourish. It’s clear that innovation and difference can come from unexpected places. Whilst attention naturally turns to innovation at the front-end: the products, the services and the bold business leaders, it’s the customer engagement experience where the real difference can be made. When looking for a data centre partner, of course companies must ask questions about performance, reliability and security levels - but the real key will be in finding a real partner that does things better than anyone else and who can work with your immediate and future requirements - in your way. We like to think of that as Different by Design.