ams Osram sells Digital Lumens

Oct. 1, 2021
The Boston company was once going to be a key piece of a now-dismantled ambition to provide IoT lighting. Can private equity change its fate?

Osram’s new owner ams Osram continues to shed the IoT lighting business that was once supposed to help drive Osram’s future. In its latest move, the Austrian company sold off Boston-based Digital Lumens, a group that Osram had acquired in 2017 with high hopes of offering lighting-based data services.

Skyview Capital, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, has acquired the firm for an undisclosed amount, Skyview said in a press release. Fittingly, the announcement came a few days before Osram completed its delisting from regulated stock exchanges, as it exited the Munich exchange yesterday.

ams Osram, based in Premstaetten, Austria, is focusing Osram on its chip business, which fits well with ams’ mission as a provider of sensors. The combined company trades as ams on the SIX Swiss Stock Exchange.

ams Osram has been divesting Internet-connected lighting operations since winning regulatory approval for its Osram pickup in July 2020. For instance, it sold off North American LED driver and light engine operations to Acuity Brands this past June. That came a few months after it sold a lighting components factory in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, to San Jose, CA-based contract manufacturing firm Sanmina.

Digital Lumens turned out to be next on the ams Osram auction block.

With the acquisition, Skyview picks up a group that outfits luminaires and the lighting infrastructure with Internet- and cloud-connected technology which provides data and insights on facility operations using chips, sensors, and software. Digital Lumens includes the Encelium lighting controls unit that was part of Osram before the term “IoT” became popular.

Digital Lumens calls its core software product SiteWorx, which it underpins with a connectivity scheme called Lightelligence. “Lightelligence” was once Osram’s overarching technology and marketing initiative for all of its IoT programs, launched in March 2018 during the Light + Building exhibition.

But Lightelligence some time ago faded from general view, and Osram — now ams Osram — has on many occasions declined to elaborate for LEDs Magazine on its status. It has now resurfaced, but as a foundational technology for Digital Lumens rather than as a centerpiece marketing strategy for a broader company.

When Osram acquired Digital Lumens in 2017, Osram’s then-chief technology officer Stefan Kampmann was brimming with aspirations for the young Boston company.

“The acquisition of Digital Lumens puts Osram in a strong position when it comes to offering future-focused digital solutions for the facilities management sector and IoT applications,” he said at the time. “By integrating software and sensors in a single platform, we will be able to give businesses a deeper insight into the environment within their buildings and their utilization of space. As a company that understands space, Osram is taking the next step in developing new business models that go beyond lighting. What’s more, the platform is also compatible with light products made by other manufacturers.”

Digital Lumens has had its share of successes, such as an asset tracking deployment at cranberry company Ocean Spray.

But Osram’s ambitions eventually withered as the general market for IoT lighting encountered fits and starts, and as ams began a drawn-out takeover bid that LEDs Magazine pointed out in August 2019 seemed destined to deemphasize IoT. Kampmann, who was a strong IoT champion while at Osram, was one of the first to go in ams’ post-acquisition management changes.

Following Skyview’s Sept. 24 acquisition, Digital Lumens CEO Brian Bernstein seemed relieved to be now going to work for owners that see value in the business.

“We now are very well-positioned to grow the Digital Lumens and Encelium business lines,” Bernstein said. “We have innovative software and hardware technology and now the financial backing to help realize our global strategy. There is a significant opportunity to expand our services to new customers and geographies.”

With the sale to a private equity company, Digital Lumens has circled back in its ownership nature, as Osram purchased the firm from venture capitalists in the first place.

As the lighting industry struggles to make a reality of IoT lighting, it’s not unusual for connected lighting operations to end up in the hands of private equity. NYC-based American Industrial Partners acquired the Current group from GE several years ago, for instance.

Many of the IoT units that ams Osram has sold had resided with the company’s Digital Systems business, which still includes horticultural lighting group Fluence and general illumination group Traxon, among other entities. But ams has been making it clear for some time both before and especially after its acquisition that digital lighting is “not strategic” to the combined company, as CEO Alexander Everke said last November.

The lighting industry in general has found the road to the IoT to be an arduous one. The difficult journey led to the demise of smart lighting pioneer Gooee earlier this year.

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

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