A scenario where independent EDA Professional Engineers do most of the development work for IC and system companies.
The press release from Blue Pearl Software seemed precise enough. The company had started a new program that allowed a potential customer to purchase the use of its products on a short term time license base. An application engineer would be dispatched to install the software and the necessary license, and the customer's team would be good to go.
It turns out that is not what Blue Pearl Software is doing: at all. Nichole Fox, of Blue Pearl sent me an email yesterday, asking me to edit the title of the article published both on EDA DesignLine and EE Times , because, according to her, it was misleading. Not the article, but the title. So I did some research.
It turns out that the precise description of what the vendor is offering is what amounts to a consulting services contract (although that was not clear from the release) not a software rental. What actually is supposed to happen is that when a company purchases this "product" the vendor dispatches an application engineer to the customer site. The application engineer installs the software, runs the software, reports the results, and then leaves taking the software with him or her. It sounds like a Marketing plan to provide leads to the sales organization with the hope that a reasonable percentage of such "visits" will translate in sales of licenses.
Extending the model
Let us suppose that other EDA vendors also adopted this method. And let us suppose that customers became very satisfied with it. How would our industry then evolve?
First of all let's look at the positive aspects of such prospective.
The team working on a design would be composed, mostly, by specialists in specific areas, using tools they are very familiar with and brining with them experience on a wide variety of projects. This is very good, because not only these individuals would be much more efficient at finding potential problems, but would also be extremely experts at using the tool, taking advantage of its best functionality and avoiding its limitations. Having worked on a number of designs, they would know the likely sources of errors and the modifications most likely to succeed. Definitely an improvement in efficiency and productivity.
In addition, in almost all cases this approach would save money. The management structure could be simplified, that is there would be fewer managers around. And the company would not have to deal with having to plan and pay benefits to as many employees. There would not be problems like planning careers and keeping the competition from attracting the best employees away. Since personnel management is a very costly endeavor, both in terms of money and time, and it is difficult to perform it correctly, the opportunity of minimizing it would be attractive.
But, of course, there are negative aspects as well.
Security and privacy are the foremost problems. How many companies would want to share their competitive secrets to a group of hired hands, who can reasonably be expected to be working on a competitor design in the near future? Even the best intentioned of individuals cannot guarantee that subconsciously he or she would not use the experience gained on one design to improve another in the future.
And the EDA vendors would have to employee a team of application engineers large enough to meet most reasonable high peak demand periods. It would be difficult to reach an optimal personnel level, since future demand is difficult to forecast precisely.
A possible scenario
In order to project a possible scenario, I must first complete the present picture. The services that Blue Pearl announced are already being offered to day, but in different form. There are, for example, a number of independent design houses, that sell design and analysis services to third parties. What is being offered is experience in one or more slice of the design flow, or in a specific end market area, like place and route or DSP design for example.
Individual consultants are also available who, for a fee, will join a development team, use company owned tools, and perform specific tasks as needed in order to meet a project goal. And in many cases these consultants are in fact application engineers from the EDA vendor whose tools are being used.
In both of these cases, the danger that knowledge gained in a specific project would be, even unintentionally, used in a subsequent project is present and accepted.
But would happen if every EDA vendor started to use the Blue Pearl program as its primary form of business?
I think it would be a tremendous boost to the engineering profession. Since EDA vendors would not want to staff application engineers in numbers to satisfy peak, or even 80% peak, demand, the ranks of consultants would increase. But it would have to be a very specific type of consultants.
Today the engineering profession already has a subgroup, small to be exact in most engineering disciplines, of Professional Engineers. These are engineers that have earned a state certificate by proving to be technically qualified in their chosen profession. These people may, and certainly could, also be bonded and insured against malpractice. These people would be those that provide the pool of professionals contracted by either a design company or an EDA vendor to perform services similar to those provided by the likes of Blue Pearl Software new initiative, or by design houses. The result would be that engineers would stop being looked at "simply" as employees of a company, but would surely attain the rank of professionals now granted to lawyers, doctors, and CPAs.