Electronics design now requires an understanding of a broad range of market requirements, application complexities, and advanced technologies and techniques. Product differentiation has become a fundamental design requirement. Cost reduction that facilitates competitive pricing throughout the lifespan of a device is crucial to success. Time-to-market is an ever-shortening cycle. Nanometer process technologies need a new perspective, while what have previously been considered fringe development practices are fast entering the design mainstream. They include design to cost, design for yield, design for manufacturing (DFM), clean design and supply chain engineering.
Consequently, design success increasingly depends on the implementation of new cross-functional thinking at the earliest possible stage in the development cycle. Not only does this demand a new breed of multi-talented, multi-disciplined engineers conversant with information-based techniques, but for the legions of fabless companies out there using outsourced services, it also requires more of an holistic attitude to design and development. Even at the granular level of the IC design phase, which is only part of the overall process in bringing an idea to fruition, disciplines like timing closure and testability can no longer be relegated to the front- or back-end design phases. The dis-aggregation of the electronics industry supply chain, which has seen the emergence of IP providers, test and assembly houses and design services companies as industry players, has compounded this change. As new fab facilities cost billions of dollars and the cost of design tools is high, fabless companies are prevented from entering the nanometre era and outsourcing assumes greater significance. The top-down virtual IDM model brings together the advantages of both the COT and ASIC models with the aim of bridging the gap between in-depth technical knowledge, supplier practices, engineering know-how and the product definition and refinement phases. As with the COT model, it allows the best methodologies, tools and suppliers to be selected, as well as the sourcing of IP tailored to customers' needs.
In adopting such an approach, there are several challenges that need to be addressed and overcome. The virtual IDM model is most effective when implemented at the product definition phase. It is recognised that the major binding decisions made up-front in the product definition phase are the ones that determine how competitive the product will be in the marketplace.
However, the product definition phase is usually considered highly strategic and too confidential to be shared with a third party. Yet to get the most, customers have to share the most.
Another challenge is to find a partner with the broad expertise needed to deliver the return on investment that the top-down virtual IDM model promises. Auditing the partner in terms of the types of products it has developed, its methodologies, tools and cross-functional expertise is essential.
Another challenge lies in the methodologies that companies have in place. Organising product development to take advantage of such a model is a radical departure from the norm. It needs more than just an understanding of the potential advantages: it demands a willingness to adopt and apply change.
Careful attention must be paid to defining a liability matrix that outlines specific responsibilities and competencies. With the ASIC and COT models, responsibilities are already well defined and apparent, but they need to be clarified concerning the top-down virtual IDM model. This process must be carried out at the point of engagement on the basis of defined responsibilities and competencies, specific procedures agreed on and pragmatic alternatives established.