Economic Development and Technology

OST adds design firm

Firm sees design as next wave in the technology revolution.

January 29, 2016
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One of Grand Rapids’ most acclaimed IT companies just took one of its biggest strategic steps in years.

Open Systems Technologies, a $160 million information technology consulting company, recently announced the purchase of its longtime partner Visualhero Design, a Grand Rapids-based “human-centered” design-consulting firm.

The acquisition, which becomes effective Feb. 1, brings all 12 of Visualhero’s employees under the OST banner.

“The changing global business climate is challenging traditional business models,” said Meredith Bronk, OST president and CEO. “As a technology advisor, we are constantly evaluating our capabilities to ensure that we can help our clients stay ahead of the curve.”

The acquisition is actually something of a transition for OST, Bronk said. The technology world is witnessing a trend in the marriage of data and design. Joining forces with Visualhero, a well-trusted partner, just made sense, she said.

“There’s a reality to the consumer, the move that says, ‘As a business, I must respond to my users as they consume technology personally.’ Part of the discipline to effectively executing that comes from organizations embracing that experiential investment that we need to invest in that experience in ways we never have before. These technology companies are recognizing there’s a core competence that asks, ‘What am I really trying to solve?’” she said.

“This acquisition gives us a greater capacity to drive and internally change how we are leveraging that user-centered perspective.”

OST’s last major strategic acquisition was in 2008, when it acquired CBS Solutions Inc., an application development staffing firm, said Jim VanderMey, chief innovation officer at OST.

At the time, OST saw the need to move into the services arena, just as now it sees the need to become part of the design trend.

OST is now ready for its next stage of growth, which is to engage consumers and businesses around design. Although OST plans to stay true to its data center roots, acquiring Visualhero means it will be dealing with a different type of technology through its design team and application builders, he said.

“We’ve partnered with them for a while and (with) the transition that’s happening in the marketplace and the partnerships that have been formed among technology companies over the last couple of years, there’s just a lot of energy and synergy in what Visualhero brings to its clients and (in what) OST has brought to its clients,” he said.

“There are companies that I would say are taking one of two paths: They’re either doubling down on what they already do, so you see that in the national scale and local scale. And then on the other side is technology companies acquiring design firms so they can reach into the needs of the business. We’ve very deliberately taken that second approach.”

VanderMey mentioned there’s an abundance of solid and talented design firms in West Michigan, saying some of OST’s best partners are design firms. Even though it has acquired Visualhero, OST plans to stay engaged with the larger design firms in West Michigan, he said.

“As we’re engaging with our technology projects with our clients, we were finding out that with design, the end-user experience of how people consume technology were the questions businesses were asking,” VanderMey said.

“(When) helping businesses leverage technology around design disciplines, we began to change the way we think about problem spaces through design thinking, and we found ourselves going back to the methods Visualhero used frequently.”

Founded in 2005, Visualhero has worked on projects for big-name technology companies such as Apple, Nest and Amazon Web Services.

Visualhero, which has partnered with OST on a number of projects for the last three years, will keep its name for now, Bronk said, adding she is eventually looking to grow its team, which happens to be located just down the road from OST’s offices on the city’s west side.

“I couldn’t be more confident in our collective ability to do great things for our clients,” said Visualhero founder Andy Van Solkema, who will take on the role of chief designer at OST.

“OST is built on similar employee-centered values, and we share a common understanding about the future opportunities of design, business and technology.”

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