Guest blog: John Lambert

Today’s guest is John Lambert. He is another Brit and is currently CEO of Virtutech (I was his VP marketing for a time). Prior to that he still has the scars from many years at Rational starting from the early days up until IBM acquired them, originally back in the UK and then over here. His blog was due to go out earlier but he has the modern equivalent of “the dog ate my homework."

His entry echoes some of the things that came up at last week’s DVcon panel, that IC design is only a part of the design problem.

Near death experiences

When, a few weeks ago, Paul asked me to write a blog entry, essentially to cover his rear end whilst he was gallivanting about in Mexico, I duly sat down and began to pen something suitably earnest on the future direction of EDA. Then, while twiddling my thumbs and staring out of the window hoping for some lightning bolt of inspiration to strike, I read a few of the earlier posts in order to get some more context. Fast concluding that in fact I had little new to say in that regard, I thought I’d do something different and instead focus more on the bigger picture. I’d construct a grand, sweeping, vision of how product development would look in the 22nd century and what collectively we’d all need to do in order to get there.

It was all going swimmingly well until one Thursday night when my laptop tried to commit suicide by downloading a poisonous .Net update all by itself. Not sure why. Perhaps the whole futility of it all triggered some innate nihilistic tendencies buried deep within Windows Vista – because Lord knows they are in there somewhere, as any regular user of that abomination will readily testify – but whatever the reason, the net result (pun intended) was that by the time the PC was suitably detoxified I’d lost the thread of the epic story I was going to tell. Here instead, therefore, are a few basic points that I will make in the form of blank statements without bothering to justify any of my thinking. It’s just easier that way.

  1. Follow the money. OEMs are in the business of building and selling things. Those things include chips and software, but that’s entirely incidental to the business they are actually in. The things they sell are either few in number and very expensive, or manifold and cheap, but either way those guys are the ones coining it, not the purveyors of the necessary picks and shovels. No use whining about it, that’s just the way life goes.
  2. Complexity kills. Making stuff is hard, and getting harder. Everybody wants the things they buy to do more, be cheaper to buy, breakdown less and to be available sooner. Year-by-year, this makes the whole shooting match harder to manage regardless of volume, price or scale.
  3. It’s good to talk. Building stuff has become multidisciplinary. Alas, we got here through rigid specialization. Stovepipes are good at keeping stuff contained, managed and concentrated (smoke, most typically) whereas what’s now most important are things like collaboration, iteration and exchange. This is a fundamental industry shift that is still only in its infancy. It’s important, OK?
  4. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Why spend another $5m on upgrading your ASIC design tools when the end product, an ASIC presumably, accounts for only 20% of the hardware, the design and development of which consumes just 10% of the overall project budget? It makes no sense. Ditto buying a better compiler or smarter test tool. “Commoditization is murder”. Now there’s a slogan to live by. Or do I mean die by?
  5. Complacency is death. So why on earth are all the EDA companies seemingly so stuck in their own stovepipe, refusing to strike out and fully embrace the broader product lifecycle? At least, that’s what you’d conclude from a number of the posts here, and indeed from looking at how intent they seem to have been over the past few years on getting better and better at serving the needs of a market slice that’s been getting smaller and smaller. Just how bad does the economic outlook for the industry have to be before one of the herd strikes out on their own to find greener grass way over yonder?

Someone, somewhere, soon will figure out that there’s room for one company to do for product America what the likes of IBM, HP and others have done for enterprise America, namely, to become the one partner that can pull together the deeply divided worlds of EDA, PLM and software, forging in the process a vendor with the breadth to truly breakdown those silos, thereby paving the way for the creation of new and innovative development processes. This HAL Corporation will supply both tools and techniques – process as well as product – that allow customers to systematically and repeatably shorten the overall end-to-end cost of designing, developing and delivering a new product. As a result, hundreds of man years of effort will be shaved from the total development bill, delivering results in timescales dramatically shorter than anything possible today.

All of this will happen because it has to happen. Market forces demand it, complexity dictates it. It just requires someone with the cojones to strike out, to make the first and boldest of moves.

Anyone want to lay bets on the most likely candidate to lead that charge?

Bottom-line: it’s time to welcome in the revolution; further polishing of the current stovepipes only results in shiner stoves, not warmer houses. I rest my case.

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