Building Connected Experiences From the Ground Up
Bringing new technology to a key product line is no small endeavor, even when you have more than 130 years of industry experience. For five years — and counting — OST has worked with Intermatic® to build, refine and optimize their IoT ecosystem and enable them to launch, grow and scale a variety of smart product initiatives.
With a consumer-first approach, OST has helped Intermatic fully realize their vision for connected products while delivering on their brand promises to customers. Learn more about Intermatic’s journey with OST below!
Intermatic is an industry leader in lighting controls and energy management. They specialize in innovating and manufacturing robust products that serve the electrical, pool and spa, HVAC/R, retail and OEM markets. From opening their doors in Chicago, Illinois, in 1891 to having a global presence in more than 35 countries, Intermatic has built success by focusing on their people, their service and their products.
Ascend® Timer Platform, Voice Applications and Mobile App
Intermatic has been manufacturing mechanical and electrical timers since 1945, and their commitment to quality, value and reliability has enabled them to thrive as they continue to adapt to the needs of their customers and the market.
One example of this was their Ascend Smart 7-Day Programmable Wi-Fi Timer. This connected product could control lights and other electrical loads in ways that improved energy efficiency, safety and ambiance.
To deliver a truly outstanding experience to their customers, Intermatic wanted to develop key features that would differentiate their product from competitors, including:
- Making the Ascend timer both a peer-to-peer access point and cloud-enabled so contractors could complete installation and onboarding without an internet connection
- Optimizing mobile app interactions to delight users
- Integrating voice control capabilities
Intermatic worked with OST on a variety of projects related to the Ascend timer, and the first was choosing a cloud platform that would not only support all these features, but also scale for future growth and new products.
IoT Platform Selection and Architecture
Many competing products in the smart lighting and energy control space required an internet connection to the cloud at install. This limiting factor posed a major challenge for users, especially in new construction projects.
Intermatic viewed having a peer-to-peer (P2P) communication option as a significant differentiator because it would allow contractors to streamline installations and eliminate the need for an on-site internet connection. Plus, property owners wouldn’t need to be present at install for account setup and other details. Contractors could simply connect their computer, tablet or mobile phone to the device directly and then configure it.
OST’s teams collaborated with Intermatic on an in-depth vendor study to identify mission-critical capabilities and quantify providers’ ability to deliver on them. Through the platform selection process, OST and Intermatic determined that Amazon Web Services (AWS) would best position Intermatic to succeed. AWS IoT, AWS Lambda, AWS DynamoDB and AWS Cognito, among other services, stood out for their ability to support the features Intermatic needed.
This platform selection process led to excellent results:
- Intermatic was able to simplify the handoff from contractor to homeowner and allow homeowners to configure their Wi-Fi and cloud accounts independently.
- Contractors also saved 15 minutes on each switch installation while simultaneously delivering tech-forward lighting and electrical solutions to consumers.
Voice App Capabilities for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa
With P2P functionality in place, the core smart features of the Ascend timer would work right out of the box. But another important feature that Intermatic wanted to deliver to consumers was voice assistant capabilities. OST has worked on a wide variety of voice apps, and our team played an essential role in designing and developing Intermatic’s voice user interfaces (UI) and user experiences (UX) for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
Integrating with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant did require users to create a cloud account via Intermatic’s mobile app. But connecting the Ascend timer to smart home ecosystems provided a huge opportunity because buyers are increasingly creating customized connected smart ecosystems within homes, offices and other spaces.
OST designed and developed mobile device user experiences for cloud opt-in and connecting to Alexa. Then OST performed real-world user research to explore how people interacted with the mobile app and the voice integration. By learning from people’s behavior, OST was able to improve existing functionality, add new features in the queue for development and remove things that were not clicking with users.
By performing this process iteratively, OST and Intermatic were able to create functionality for the mobile app and voice UI that aligned with natural consumer behavior. And they were able to do this before launch rather than discovering unused features and other issues and trying to course correct after the product was already on the market.
In addition to creating an exceptional user experience, OST pursued several parallel tracks of work to expedite the development process. Examples include:
- Synchronizing voice apps and the Ascend Smart Timer mobile app via the IoT platform
- Developing a dedicated Alexa Skill
- Leveraging learnings and insights from work on the Alexa UI to develop the voice app for Google Assistant
- Iterating on the design of the Ascend Smart mobile app to optimize it for users
Mobile App Design and Development
In parallel with the voice UI and UX, OST performed user research on the design of the Ascend Smart Timer mobile app. In the same way that our teams were able to gain real-world insights about consumer behavior with the voice applications and translate those insights into new or updated features, OST was able to do the same for the mobile application.
In addition, our team leveraged a cross-platform mobile app development tool (Xamarin) to create a single codebase that could be used to build native apps for both iOS and Android. This approach streamlined development and allowed Intermatic to provide customized experiences for iOS and Android devices that would reach a much broader audience than focusing solely on one mobile ecosystem.
Integrated Device Messaging
As development progressed, OST helped to build all the foundational elements of Intermatic’s IoT ecosystem: the cloud platform, the Ascend Smart Timer mobile app, voice applications and more. Throughout the entire process, OST recognized that all these different components needed to seamlessly connect and communicate with each other.
OST designed and architected the underlying messaging structure as well as supporting workflows within and among the different components of Intermatic’s IoT ecosystem. This meant the cloud, mobile app, product and voice teams were able to collaboratively build, test and iterate in a fully integrated way rather than having to course correct after teams completed their work in silos.
“As Intermatic evolves its product line with exciting tech-forward solutions, it’s essential to have partners who can help us build on our vision and support our teams with unique technical expertise.”
Kimberly Boland, Vice President of Engineering, Intermatic
ARISTA™ Energy Efficiency Solution
In 2019, California introduced new energy efficiency guidelines related to residential and commercial construction. Intermatic saw this as an opportunity to bring a new plug-and-play solution to market that would allow contractors to easily outfit spaces with smart gadgets and abide by the new regulatory framework for energy efficiency.
Intermatic reached out to OST for help with this innovative solution, called ARISTA. Because this initiative was B2B focused, many of the existing consumer-focused features for the Ascend timer were not relevant, while new functionality needed to be introduced to suit the demands of property owners, installers and tenants. In addition, ARISTA was going to be a Bluetooth-heavy solution that allowed devices, both within and outside of Intermatic’s IoT ecosystem, to connect to a mobile app.
In light of these factors, OST recommended a separate IoT cloud platform to support the ARISTA Advanced Lighting Control System and its associated mobile application. And one of the key focus areas for OST was to synchronize local configuration details with a cloud database to back up and persist the data. First, installers would generate a map of what was installed, what could be controlled, etc. That information would be pushed to the cloud, and the cloud would then enforce user authentication and secure permissions for the app and devices.
This approach successfully allowed contractors to configure spaces, invite owners and tenants to the app and abide by new energy regulations with minimal disruption to their existing workflows.
Learn more about the ARISTA Advanced Lighting Control System.
New Products and IoT Wi-Fi Platform Upgrades
Intermatic continued to innovate and build on the success of the Ascend timer. They turned to OST when they planned to launch new products and further improve the scalability and customizability of their IoT solutions.
The new smart products Intermatic was launching included:
- A general-purpose electrical timer
- A water heater timer
- A pool timer
And some of the key features Intermatic identified to benefit users included:
- A single mobile app experience for all products
- Over-the-air (OTA) device updates
- AWS IoT fleet provisioning for device onboarding
- New push notifications
- Backwards compatibility for existing products in the market
OST started working to plan for and deliver success for Intermatic as they expanded both the volume and variety of their connected product offerings.
IoT Platform Assessment
Technology, especially in the smart product space, changes rapidly. In the four years since Intermatic launched their Ascend timer, hundreds of new IoT services had launched. So the first phase of this project involved architectural discovery to identify business growth goals and development requirements in order to create alignment around a roadmap forward that also leveraged new and modernized cloud services.
To accommodate new product lines, multiple generations of IoT devices, new features and future growth, OST recommended developing a sister solution that fit under the umbrella of Intermatic’s existing IoT ecosystem. This cloud platform would include a suite of upgrades and new functionality for new products while maintaining the reliability of earlier devices. Primary focus areas for the upgrades included:
- Over-the-Air Updates
- Command and Control
IoT Platform Upgrades and Optimizations
With well-defined requirements and goals in place, OST was able to quickly move forward with upgrades to Intermatic’s IoT ecosystem.
Key improvements were made to the messaging protocols for devices. The first involved using modern “named shadows,” which are essentially variables used to store information about a device’s state. Optimizing these variables meant that a lot more information could be retrieved and stored on the device. That, in turn, meant that Intermatic could gain more insight into how users were interacting with devices and the mobile app. But it also allowed applications (like mobile apps, voice applications, etc.) to control a wider variety of settings for devices.
Another major improvement to messaging was related to security. Everything from creating accounts to pairing devices to delegating access to device control was made more secure by utilizing enhanced features developed in Amazon DynamoDB and other AWS services.
One more important feature that was introduced was a shared device authorization model so multiple users could interact with a single device. This functionality included invite and share flows as well.
Intermatic also wanted to implement a modern and reliable way to perform firmware updates, especially since the technology for accomplishing them had changed dramatically in recent years. With new features in AWS IoT Core, Intermatic could manage updates at a much more granular level and deploy updates faster. For example, they could target specific device types (like their water heater timer), or they could target any device that was operating on a certain firmware version. Plus, updates were done securely thanks to other messaging improvements.
Command and Control Updates
Command and control refers to the ways that users or services can enable actions from a device to the cloud. These actions can be manual or automated. An example would be using a mobile app on your phone to turn on a device: you control the app on your phone, which sends a message to the cloud, which then sends a command to the device.
In tandem with the updates to messaging, command and control features were expanded so users could enjoy more customizations based on the specific needs of their space.
Command and control features were implemented using AWS services such as Amazon API Gateway, AWS Lambda and AWS IoT Core.
These important upgrades modernized the way Intermatic could plan, design and go to market with new products. Products could be built using this updated IoT cloud solution without requiring further large-scale investments in platform functions and features with each new launch. And the costs saved by improving the extensibility of Intermatic’s IoT ecosystem could be used elsewhere to create new value.
2022: Next-Generation Ascend Timer
In 2022, Intermatic began working on a new version of the Ascend timer. This version will ultimately replace previous versions of the product in the marketplace. Although earlier versions of the Ascend timer will no longer be sold, Intermatic will continue to support them.
OST has already begun working with Intermatic to identify the specifications and features of the new product and what updates will be needed to fully support it. And we look forward to helping them continue to innovate and deliver on their promises to consumers.
OST: Meeting You Wherever You Are in the Connected Products Journey
By taking time to understand customer needs and tailoring their solutions to address the real-world preferences of end users, OST has helped Intermatic successfully deliver outstanding products and services into a competitive market.
And we’ve been there every step of the way as Intermatic has broken new ground in the IoT space with their outstanding products and services.
Connected product projects are incredibly complex, but working with the right partner can help your business start strong, minimize risk and fully leverage your team’s expertise and business strategy to deliver a top-tier solution.
Ready to talk IoT? Contact OST today!