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June 15, 2017

Q & A: Herman Miller Live OS + OST; Building an IoT Cloud Architecture and Data Analytics Platform


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Congrats to our customer, Herman Miller, on the release of Live OS at Neocon 2017.  OST is the partner that Herman Miller chose to create the IoT cloud architecture and data analytics platform for Live OS. This real-time information and sensor-enabled furniture is making people more effective and organizations even smarter.

In the office, the kind of smart furniture that Herman Miller is debuting will benefit both people and organizations alike. Live OS is a new digital platform designed to personalize and optimize the office for the people who use it. The second big benefit of Live OS is that organizations that deploy it will get an unprecedented glimpse into how their facilities are actually used. By applying digital technology to furniture and settings, Live OS will deliver data that companies can utilize to make more informed decisions about one of their biggest assets: the places where their people work. Information is poised to replace intuition as the coin of the realm.

To get a glimpse at the process OST worked through with Herman Miller on Live OS, we sat down with Alex Jantz, lead OST IoT Solutions Architect on the project, to hear his thoughts.


Q. What is the Herman Miller Live OS project?

A. Herman Miller Live OS is a digital cloud-connected furniture system, designed to connect workplaces for the benefit of employee’s wellbeing. Live OS includes an app and dashboard to offer data-based insights to help organizations understand employees’ ever-changing needs in the workplace. Once the app has been paired with any connected desk, Live OS provides data and insights so organizations can measure, manage, and optimize their workplaces. Dashboards capture real-time, anonymized data from sensors throughout the office—insights that help control operational costs, improve space utilization, and enhance employee health, performance, and happiness.

Live OS also allows an individual to set preferences for the amount of time they want to spend sitting and standing. Working together, the app and furnishings remind people when it’s time to change postures, helping them achieve goals for increasing activity. Regular movement can make people more engaged, efficient, and productive at work.

Q. At what point did OST become involved in the project?

A. OST was brought into the conversation with Herman Miller about a year and a half ago. At that point, they had validated the use case for connected furniture and were looking for a partner to make it real. Early on, we were tasked with how do we make a connected furniture experience happen from a digital and connectivity perspective. We laid out an early architecture, suggesting how we could connect millions of tables, chairs, and eventually scale to include other furniture. In addition, the system would need to handle ingesting enormous amounts of data and processing it into display visualizations and insights back to the users.


Q. What part of the project did OST tackle?

A. It started with design. Design is a loaded term and means a lot of different things to different people. For OST on this project, design meant making an analytics and cloud infrastructure a reality that kept user’s needs and wants and the hardware’s needs and wants, at the forefront throughout the build. We needed to build the right components and architecture for the system to work, while also making it economical.

Q. What was involved in creating an analytics and cloud infrastructure for this project?

A. Our involvement also goes beyond the build. We will work with Herman Miller post launch of Live OS, running and maintaining the system and resolving any issues that come out as the connected devices become a living and breathing system in the wild.

The OST team focused our efforts on connectivity and processing, so the platform we created for Live OS is responsible for bringing together all of the individual parts to create the connected experience. We are the broker that allows connectivity. There are 3 categories to break down the type of work we have done, and will continue to do, on the Live OS project; design, build and run. We started with design and architecture, working through the elements needed to make a connected environment. From there, you move on the build. We use an iterative approach, so you are always validating and learning. We would make a hypothesis on how to make a feature work, go through implementation, validation, testing, make adjustments and do it again and again and again until all of the desired features are included. You don’t start with the high level features, but instead with the really basic parts and iterate over and over until you get the system mature enough that you can build the more complex parts.

Q. What did success look like for OST in this project?

A. At the 10,000 foot view, success is a successful product line for Herman Miller. The end goal for the OST team is really at a tactical level. Each day, week, month there were mini successes that we certainly celebrated. The first time we got the table to connect, the first time we were able to make the table send a nudge to the user, those are small wins along the way that add up to a successful product launch for our customer.


Q. What types of challenges did you encounter?  

A. The biggest challenge for us in making Live OS a viable product was working with something called a Mesh network, which enables connected devices to communicate with one another. A great way to think about this is to use your computer as an example. Your computer connects to wifi directly to a central router. The device needs to be within a certain distance of the router to stay connected, which means in a large environment there are likely numerous routers. A mesh network allows the connected devices, in the case of Live OS, the tables and chairs, to essentially daisy chain off each other to connect to a router, or gateway, as we call them. This allows us to use considerably less gateways, which makes the product economically viable to produce at scale. The challenging part is that it is a complex engineering process. Essentially, the devices are playing a game of telephone to get to the gateway at the end. The message might not make it all the way through, or get mangled along the way. We needed to work through these issues to create a reliable system that allowed the connected product to stay connected and reliably move information through the ecosystem even as product is moved around.


Q. How do we approach projects like this one with so many partners involved?

A.  For us, partners are an extension of the OST team. They are the team.  It was imperative that all of the companies built trust. Throughout the project, we all came together once a month to share what was worked on. We celebrated successes together and supported each other through challenges. Having a good relationship with partners, and supporting each other throughout the build, is important for success on any project.


Q. What kinds of data does the Live OS system gather and how does it address the consumer IoT Tri-value proposition?

A. Any time an IoT project is considered, the personas and their use case needs to be considered. What kind of value will be gained from doing this project? In the case of the Herman Miller Live OS project, there are 3 different main personas we designed for related to the IoT Tri-value proposition.

  • The end user (the one):
    • Tables and chairs have been around pretty much as long as humans have been on this earth. It may have started as a primitive stump, one shorter, one taller, but nonetheless, the concept was there. So we knew going in that we had to make sure it was worth it for the end-user to re-engage and re-evaluate a concept they have known their entire lives. The end-user gains value from the Live OS products in both health and occupancy. The table can be set to specific standing and seated heights for a user, and will automatically move to those heights as you sit or stand. It nudges you throughout the day, via the app, to sit or stand, improving your health by getting you out of your seat. A user without a dedicated workstation can also reserve a desk via the app, and their settings travel with them. The user spends less time searching for a workstation, and more time being productive.
  • The facilities manager and ergonomist (the many):
    • These two people are certainly not the same in the organization, but they both use the data gathered from the Live OS ecosystem to make decisions for the group as a whole. Facilities can better utilize space and provide environments that employees need based on the data gathered from the connected devices. Company ergonomists can evaluate the data to determine any programs or initiatives that need to be encouraged to improve well-being and health.
  • Herman Miller (the all)
    • As the producer of the product, Herman Miller has a lot of value to gain, but specifically around research opportunities and quality assurance. While the company won’t see individual user profiles, high level user information can be rolled back to them and allow them visibility to make updates quickly, solve user issues, and utilize research in a different way than ever before.

Q. How can other organizations look at what Herman Miller is doing and say, “What does that mean for my organization? How can we integrate an IoT project into our current environment? How can I communicate the value to the leadership team?”

A. There is enormous effort needed to complete a successful IoT, connected device project. For an organization considering this type of project, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What are you trying to connect?
  2. Why are you trying to connect it?
  3. What added value are you going to get, beyond the data?
  4. Why are people going to use it?

Once you can work through these questions as an organization, then the connection is an engineering exercise. The hard part is determining what it means to have an interaction with a desk. Or a thermostat. Or a watch. The interaction certainly cannot be difficult, especially if it is something that has been around for a long time. If you take an old concept and connect it, there better be a really solid use case, or in the case of the Live OS tables, people will just go back to using the stump.


Contact us to learn how your company can work with us on an IoT connected device project.

OST is one of the few AWS IoT Competency holders in the world. This distinction points to our unique expertise in connected products.



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