Building the products and services that sit at the heartbeat of a company’s value is exciting business. The teams that undertake product development in a digital world are typically enamored with technology, tuned into market trends, and driven to push the boundaries of what’s possible. But, too often, incredibly talented product leaders can overlook the one thing that makes the biggest difference between developing innovations that are cool and innovations that impact people’s lives: customer inspiration.
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos offered some insight into how this reality plays out in his organization when he said, “Rather than ask what are we good at and what else can we do with that skill, you ask, who are our customers? What do they need? And then you say, ‘We’re going to give that to them regardless of whether or not we currently have the skills to do so, and we will learn those skills no matter how long it takes.'”
In my role as Chief Product Officer (CPO) for Equinix, I am privileged to see and experience this powerful dynamic in action every day. Some of our greatest innovations have been those that we conceived in partnership with our customers to fulfill their pressing needs – needs we could have easily overlooked if we were simply focused on finding the best use for our existing skills and capabilities. Or worse, developing products in a vacuum without leveraging our greatest asset: our customers.
Knowing this, over the past 18 months we have deepened our commitment to customer-inspired innovation, creating new enterprise-wide approaches to listening, co-ideating, co-prioritizing and co-developing with our customers.
Dreaming, deciding and developing together
Today’s enterprises are laser-focused on scaling their digital infrastructures to achieve their digital business transformations. While it is critical to listen very carefully to what they want today, the true art of customer-inspired innovation is to simultaneously anticipate what they will need tomorrow.
You can see this two-pronged approach in action at Equinix, as we make bold moves to extend our legacy of colocation and interconnection leadership by building the data center of the future and blazing the trail for next-generation interconnection. But at the same time, you can see us aggressively innovating emerging edge services that we know will be increasingly essential to our customers as they strive to compete in a digital world.
So how do we do it? To continuously deliver on our customer-inspired product promise, we very consciously set ourselves up to “Dream Together, Decide Together, and Develop Together” with our customers. We may not engage in all three of these facets of customer-inspired innovation with every customer, but you can bet any product or service we seriously pursue is grounded in this continuum.
Customer-inspired ideation: Dreaming together
Big ambitions that might otherwise seem overwhelming or out of reach can take on a much more achievable shape when you make the time to dream together with your customers. Our unusual position at the center of the digital world gives us a unique perspective on where digital business is headed, how hybrid multicloud is evolving, and how our customers need to evolve their digital architectures to excel in this constantly shifting environment.
We regularly team up with our customers to combine our insights with their imaginations to:
- Share digital business challenges and successes
- Co-ideate to solve digital transformation challenges
- Turn industry trend insights into digital product and service possibilities
Here are some real-world examples of how great things can come from dreaming together with our customers:
- Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric™ (ECX Fabric™) is a solution that directly, securely and dynamically connects distributed infrastructure and digital ecosystems globally on Platform Equinix® via software-defined interconnection. ECX Fabric was born as a result of co-ideation with one of the world’s largest cloud service providers to deliver private interconnection between that provider and our joint customers. ECX Fabric now serves more than 1,000 enterprise and service provider customers around the world.
- Equinix SmartKey™, our recently announced global SaaS-based secure key management and cryptography service offered on cloud-neutral Platform Equinix, simplifies data protection across any cloud architecture. This solution was co-ideated during a technical interchange at our Technology Advisory Board. The idea came about as we wrestled with the need to encrypt data in hybrid multicloud infrastructures. This discussion led us to develop a cloud-neutral, API-enabled, software-as-a-service that securely generates and stores customer encryption keys, integrating data security across public and private cloud services.
Customer-inspired prioritization: Deciding together
One of the hardest things about product development is having the focus to sift through the hundreds of promising products you could tackle at any given moment down to the ones that really matter. Deconstructing digital architecture requirements with our customers and translating those needs into best practice guidance and actionable product and service priorities enable us to propel our customers’ digital transformation journeys further, faster.
For example, we’ve:
- Developed a knowledge base full of playbooks and blueprints that give our customers best practices for placing IT infrastructures at the digital edge by leveraging an Interconnection Oriented Architecture™ (IOA™) to directly and securely interconnect people, locations, clouds, data and things.
- Published the annual Global Interconnection Index (the GXI), a market study that tracks, measures and forecasts the growth of bandwidth required for private Interconnection among companies supporting digital business. The GXI gives enterprises and service providers the global insight they need to plan and prioritize their next-level digital business strategies.
- Tapped into the power of our strategic alliances with a number of network and cloud service providers to share our cooperative solutions across a broad range of industries and application use cases. For example, we prioritized IBX SmartView™ on our roadmap based on feedback from our strategic partners. IBX SmartView is our data center infrastructure management system that leverages artificial intelligence to better manage Equinix data center operations and automatically alerts us and our customers when there is an issue.
Customer-inspired creation: Developing together
We’ve learned a great deal from our customers as we built our agile, repeatable, customer-inspired product development process. It has helped us grow to be the world’s leading interconnection and data center company and continues to be the catalyst for our customers’ global growth as well. Often after dreaming and deciding together with our customers, we end up joining forces to create the resulting products and services we have envisioned hand-in-hand.
When it comes to customer-inspired creation, we often bring customers directly into our:
- Product engagement process
- Minimum viable traction (MVT) product development process
- Product forums, hackathons, and meetups
It has been exciting to see joint development efforts with our customers translate into tangible market offerings using ECX, including several of the world’s leading cloud and network service providers:
- Google Cloud Interconnect
- AWS Direct Connect
- Microsoft ExpressRoute
- Oracle Cloud Infrastructure FastConnect
- Salesforce Express Connect
- Telstra Programmable Network to ECX Fabric integration
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and each of these co-development efforts were done with the end customer in mind – a tribute to the teams at both companies putting the customer in the center of their product innovation efforts.
These days, no business can afford to spend extended cycles studying customer needs at arm’s length. All companies need to innovate = inspired by customers and side by side with customers. By dreaming, deciding and developing together, we can ensure our collective futures will unfold full of innovative solutions that strengthen our businesses and, ultimately, make our world a better place in which to live and work.