Disaggregation of the IC and system design chain toward a specialty model has included a growing reliance on outsourcing. That has created an opportunity for developers of advanced tool suites to field design environments in which the "best of the best"--from anywhere around the globe--can be assembled for round-the-clock development of fully optimized designs.
Such an environment holds obvious appeal for OEMs haunted by the triple demons of narrowing time-to-market windows, tightening cost constraints and ever-rising performance requirements. But they must tread carefully, as new design constraints will now come to the fore. Global design efforts must factor in such variables as design security vulnerabilities; time zone and cultural differences; political and infrastructure vagaries; and the possibility that proj- ect goals, objectives and data will be "lost in translation."
The good news is that as more advanced tools become available for global design and more development teams test the waters, a knowledge base is being built that lets newcomers learn from their predecessors' mistakes and successes.
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While global design is not a new concept--indeed, it has been practiced for many years-- the economic downturn has added a twist. With engineering unemployment rising--to a record 8.6 percent in the second quarter in the United States alone, according to government data--more engineers are becoming "gig" workers, contracting out their skills, either in- dividually or as members of specialized teams, to the highest bidders.
"The chip industry is disaggregating into special areas that then link into partners that can help you pull [a project] together," said Shiv Sikand, founder and vice president of engineering at IC Manage Inc. The company provides the IC Manage design content management system.
The "freeing up" of global engineering talent is complemented by an increased tendency for companies to outsource their design needs. According to the "2009 Embedded Market Study" conducted by TechInsights (publisher of EE Times), the percentage of engineers who have been personally involved in an embedded development project that was fully or partially outsourced has risen steadily over the past three years, from 39 percent in 2007 to 43 percent in 2008 and an estimated 48 percent this year. Among the projects outsourced this year, 64 percent went to firms in India, up from 51 percent in 2008, and 33 percent went to firms in China, up from 13 percent in 2008. Next came western Europe, eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.
Indeed, many Indian outsource houses report they are already bouncing back from the downturn. The irony is that their increased business is partly a result of their clients' continued efforts to regain profitability by cutting costs.
In late July, The Wall Street Journal reported that Wipro Ltd. had seen a 12 percent rise in profit, to $209.8 million, in its June-ended fiscal first quarter. Total revenue rose 5 percent, according to the Journal report, which also noted that Wipro had been the third major Indian software exporter to beat recent market estimates.
Internal outsourcing (wherein a company borrows design cycles from its team members around the globe) continues to be practiced, said IC Manage's Sikand, but external outsourcing is becoming increasingly common, particularly in certain areas of expertise. One case in point with which Sikand is familiar is a design group in Europe that is expert in RF interference. The group interfaces with system vendors using the IC Manage platform.
Extrapolating from the current outsourcing trend, Sikand foresees an ironic turn of events in which fast-growing offshore outsourcing specialists, in order to meet their staffing requirements, resort to "reverse outsourcing," hiring U.S. and European engineers who have lost their jobs to external outsourcing contractors.