When Indianapolis-based Outside Source started in 1983, it was a design shop that helped businesses with branding and marketing. Today, it still has those offerings, but it's emerged as a top player in the local "internet of things," or IoT, industry.
It's a curious evolution for any creative agency, but it stems from Outside Source's 15-year-old bet on hiring technologists. Over the past several years, Outside Source has helped manufacturers develop internet-connected devices like thermostats, and the firm is on the cusp of a partnership with one of the leading IoT-solutions companies—California-based Ayla Networks.
"The hop to IoT basically came at this intersection of brand advocacy and technology adoption," President Mike Peck said. "We saw an opportunity to bring brand messaging across all touch-points of the customer experience."
The 17-person company has a tech team of eight, which it expects to expand as the IoT industry matures. The firm's tech segment has served clients including Eli Lilly and Co., Carrier Corp. and Klipsch.
IoT deals with the emerging world of internet-connected appliances, toys and more. It's getting a lot of attention from business leaders and elected officials based on the idea that companies can make their products—from hotel room doors to diesel engines—more useful through internet connectivity.
But integrating IoT into old school products is far from simple, as it involves software, user-interface design, cyber security and a slew of other considerations. Some of the local companies vying to help include Fishers-based ClearObject, Carmel-based Mesh Systems and Outside Source.
Outside Source didn't tread into the tech realm until the early 2000s, when it decided it would be useful to employ web developers as clients sought to build marketing presence online. The sentiment was the same when its clients started asking about mobile apps about a decade ago—it hired app developers.
"The pivot point for us was, watching technology come into the conversation with clients and figuring out how we could help them," Peck said. "And instead of identifying a vendor that could help, we walked into that room with clients."
It wasn't before long that the firm's tech team got its hands dirty with internet-connected devices, starting with thermostats. Around 2008, Carrier enlisted its help to design the user experience and user interface of one of the first web-connected thermostats.
Ayla, the California firm, essentially sells a platform that companies use to deploy and manage web-connected products. It raised $39 million in equity funding last summer and was one of 11 leading IoT platform companies named by Forrester last year.
Outside Source began working with Ayla through Carrier and is closing in on a deal to be an Ayla certified partner. Even though that arrangement has yet to be finalized, both outfits are honing their solutions related to home assistants like Amazon's Alexa and Google Home. Those devices are widely expected to be the central hub for a host of home-based IoT devices.
"What it would mean," Peck said, "is an increasing number of Ayla clients would come to us for customer solutions."