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Fast-Growing Open Systems Technologies Scoops Up Design Consulting Superstar

Open Systems Technologies has acquired a design consultancy in a deal that underscores a trend among solution providers to broaden their offerings.

Meredith Bronk

Fast-growing solution provider Open Systems Technologies has acquired a prominent design consultancy that has done work for such big names as Amazon Web Services, Apple and Nest Labs.

The deal to buy Visualhero Design provides OST – No. 24 on CRN’s Fast Growth 150 and No. 126 on CRN’s Solution Provider 500 lists for 2015 – with what is called ’human-centered’ design practices aimed at providing Web user interfaces that help solve ’some of the most complex problems’ a business can face, the company says.

Terms of the deal between the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based companies were not disclosed.

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The deal marries a traditional IT solution provider that’s closing in on its 20th anniversary and a younger company whose calling card is its focus on the user experience in its design work. Visualhero offers an array of design services. It specializes in user research, user experience design and branding.

’The changing global business climate is challenging traditional business models,’ Meredith Bronk, OST’s president and CEO, said in a statement announcing the acquisition. ’As a technology adviser, we are constantly evaluating our capabilities to ensure that we can help our clients stay ahead of the curve.’

OST is a $165 million company founded in 1997. Its 120 percent growth over 2014 and 2015 placed it on CRN’s Fast Growth 150 list last year. The company specializes in data center solutions, data analytics, application development and managed services, and assists customers with process and performance management and IT staff recruitment. OST is a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Platinum Partner in 10 areas, from networking and enterprise storage to cloud and converged infrastructure.

OST, which employs 185, has four additional offices in the upper Midwest and another in London. Visualhero has 12 employees, all of whom will remain in their roles, according to Mike Lomonaco, director of marketing and communications for OST.

The acquisition ’allows us to become more strategic in our capabilities [and] more capable of speaking to the needs of the technology-enabled business,’ Bronk added. ’The technology industry today is undergoing a shift where the business leaders are demanding – and often going around – IT to leverage technology as an external value creator.

’We must help our customers think differently and respond to the needs of marketing, product development, customer service and other business segments with agility and creativity. … We believe that this acquisition will allow OST to stay ahead of where the market is heading,’ she said.

In an interview with CRN Tuesday, Bronk said the combination of design and technology is "becoming more powerful every day." She cited a Harvard Business Review report in September that highlighted the "humanizing" of technology through "design thinking," and the increased attention it's receiving in large organizations.

Bronk said the acquisition will help OST stay on its growth path. She cited "tremendous" success through organic growth. In fact, the company's last acquisition - in 2008 - was that of a company that helped bring OST into the application development space, according to James VanderMey, a co-founder of the firm who is chief innovation officer.

Bronk said OST is not planning another acquisition "in the short run," although "we've always kind of got our eye open."

Andy Van Solkema, who founded Visualhero in 2005, will become chief designer at OST.

In a message on his company’s website to its clients, Van Solkema said Visualhero will begin to integrate OST’s analytics, professional services and technical expertise with its offerings. ’This will help us engage in the hardest problems organizations face,’ he said.

’I couldn’t be more confident in our collective ability to do great things for our clients,’ Van Solkema said in the OST statement. ’We share a common understanding about the future opportunities of design, business and technology.’

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