While many of us are just getting used to writing “2010” on our documents and personal checks, it’s clear that the economic impact of 2009 will not be forgotten any time soon.
The consensus across diverse constituencies – ranging from world leaders to industry heads and many leading economists – is clear. We are not simply recovering from a cyclical recession; we are entering into a Global Economic Reset. While this Reset creates challenges for balancing our labor forces and manufacturing capacity, it provides a real opportunity for electronic design automation (EDA) providers to demonstrate the intrinsic value of our technologies.
The semiconductor industry stands on the shoulders of its EDA tool providers and we must deliver the innovations and productivity necessary to feed and nurture the designers that have come to rely on us. It is only through this combination of innovation and productivity that we can provide the sustained value that will serve as the growth catalyst our broader ecosystem thrives on.
Innovation without context is irrelevant, however, so it’s essential that we deliver technology and capability in a manner that can be applied and exploited by the intended user. Through our interactions and discussions with designers, we consistently hear that many EDA design tools have exceeded the core requirements for a majority of the user base. In fact, just last week one of our customers referred to their usage of a “big three” vendor tool as “firing up the space shuttle to go to the corner store for milk.” This excess is understandable, as the market leaders are driven by the most extreme requirements for their (niche) user base working in the smallest geometries with unique needs. What’s tragic is that these cumbersome, overburdened tool flows have become the acceptable paradigm for the entire industry. The result is an ever-increasing gap between the requirements of most users and the features and functionality provided by the market-leading tools.
We believe 2010 is ripe for a new paradigm – one where “less is more.” An approach to tool design that delivers just the right mix of top-notch features and functionality that is squarely aligned with requirements. This concept of elegant, efficient design is what John Tanner embraced when he founded Tanner EDA twenty-two years ago and it’s an approach that we believe is not only relevant — but imperative — today.
Delivering on “less is more” is difficult. Anyone who has tried to distill a presentation to one slide or simplify a complex design knows that it requires more than just skill. One must achieve a deep level of understanding in order to get to the essence of the topic or issue. For EDA products, we think that functionality will not include superfluous features but instead will deliver excellent, tested and well supported solutions. This cannot be achieved in a vacuum; it requires the leveraging of users, partners, and even competitors. We believe this leverage – achieved through models such as “open innovation” (originally coined by Professor Henry Chesbrough) — is essential to achieving and sustaining “less is more.”
The open innovation business model offers a compelling framework for consideration in the EDA industry. With a core principle that ideas and intellectual capital can come from outside the traditional boundaries and connections, open innovation can bring new capabilities and technologies efficiently and effectively. Companies in the broader EDA ecosystem (such as Qualcomm) have already embraced open innovation as a means of effectively bolstering their innovation capacity and effectiveness.
While perhaps not considered a traditional example of open innovation, process design kits (PDKs) offer a congruent model for connecting technologies and intellectual property (IP) from one domain (IC fabrication) to another (design). One perspective on PDKs is that they are simply rule-sets that provide all users with a consistent base of information; effectively eroding opportunity for differentiation within a design. However, further consideration reveals that there are several other dimensions to PDKs where unique IP can be inserted for sustained differentiation.
One such dimension is PDK selection: simply identifying and applying technologies within and across foundries. A working example of this is Tanner’s recent collaboration with Sound Design Technologies (SDT). SDT and Tanner are launching a PDK to allow users to include advanced integrated passives technologies and 3D chip packaging capabilities in their designs. This offers the potential for substantial space savings as well as production and operating cost reductions. The other dimension here is access – where a tool vendor’s use of standard programming languages and opening of PDKs can provide a designer with the access and opportunity to customize and create differentiation.
Productivity is not exclusive from innovation; in fact, we believe that in this new era of doing more with less, designers will require more productivity from their EDA tools if they are to achieve the breakthroughs demanded by their customers. We believe that 2010 will see productivity requirements expand beyond the basics of performance, security and capability. Significant advances in the area of design environments and analog automation will achieve prominence. And designers will be able to use more efficient, focused tools to deliver profound breakthroughs for business and society.