March 01, 2010
Altium Limited – Focus on the Americas
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Russ Henke - Contributing Editor

by Russ Henke - Contributing Editor
Posted anew every four weeks or so, the EDA WEEKLY delivers to its readers information concerning the latest happenings in the EDA industry, covering vendors, products, finances and new developments. Frequently, feature articles on selected public or private EDA companies are presented. Brought to you by If we miss a story or subject that you feel deserves to be included, or you just want to suggest a future topic, please contact us! Questions? Feedback? Click here. Thank you!

Why talk to Bob?

Gerry Gaffney and Jeff Hardison both encouraged this writer to also interview Bob Potock for this issue of EDA Weekly, because Bob has been deeply involved since joining Altium in at least two critical activities pivotal to Altium's business prospects for the immediate future:
  1. Assisting Gerry Gaffney in executing a unique survey targeting the Five hundred (500) new North American customers secured by Altium during calendar 2009 alone;

  2. Writing a new white paper documenting why the success of the new single data model and unified architecture platform of the Altium Designer product sets Altium Limited apart from competitors using the old “tool chain” approaches.

Both the survey results and the white paper have just been initially revealed for public scrutiny by Altium's Gerry, Bob and Jeff et al, during the last week of February 2010, via an ongoing Altium press & presentation campaign.

The North American Customer Survey:

As amazing as the addition of more than 500 new North American customers since the beginning of 2009 was, it may be said that the Altium Customer Survey carried out by Gerry Gaffney, Bob Potock and their teams revealed to them even more gratifying results:

First, out of 781 new Altium customers signed, fully 208 replied to the survey, an unprecedented 27% survey response.

Just so you know, Altium Designer was the product chosen during 2009 by all survey clients. As previously discussed, the original basis of Altium's UED solution circa late 2007 brought together (a) board-level design, (b) programmable hardware, and (c) embedded software development into a single design architecture. These three integrated software capabilities have been steadily improved and are depicted below (in a slide reproduced here with permission) as the three black ovals. In addition, five of the other, light brown ovals represent capabilities that have subsequently been fully integrated into the system design platform called Altium Designer:

Now then, below is information excerpted with permission from one of the subsequent slides in the new presentation being taken public by Gerry, Bob and their teams as you read this EDA Weekly.

As just one example, the results shown below are survey answers to the following question posed to the new 2009 customers:

What was your primary reason for choosing Altium Designer over others?

Typical Customer Comments:
    “Unified schematic, layout, and library environment. Ease of use for design in many cases.”

    “The integrated working environment; including schematic capture, circuit simulation, and PCB layout all in one program.”

    “Highly integrated from front to end and end to end, 3D”

Notice that the Low Cost (recall the 70% 2009 price reduction) was NOT stated by survey respondents as the most important reason for choosing Altium Designer over competition. Rather, it was the High Value/Unified Development Platform and Product Capabilities that garnered 71% of the votes. Even the willingness to recommend the software to a colleague in another division or company, was unusually high at 15%.

There is at least a score of other revealing, exciting and pleasing results in the survey that bode well for Altium North America; indeed for Altium overall. For one of Gerry's new responsibilities as CEO of the Americas, is to take his Playbook philosophy and reseller selection and training processes to other worldwide Altium regions, a program already underway.

The White Paper:

Bob Potock's February 2010 9-page white paper in entitled as follows:

Next Generation System Design - Platforms versus Tool-Chains
Consider the Benefits of a Platform-based Development Approach

As readers might expect, Bob's white paper sets out to discuss the Benefits of a Platform-based Development Approach to designing electronics products. He asserts that the original electronic design process built by linking tools together has remained largely unchanged for decades. Many companies doing electronics design continue to design products by cobbling together a collection of tools to create what is commonly referred to as the “tool-chain”. Many of these tools are not even from the same vendor because building or acquiring so-called “best-in-class'” tools by acquisition was the common tactic of the day.

The argument behind the “tool-chain” approach remains that this collection of “best-in-class” tools somehow provides a competitive advantage. The suppliers of these tool-chains continually invest in new feature upon feature, even as the tools have aged. They find it more and more difficult to differentiate the tools' capabilities.

And so the question becomes this: can such tools alone add the productivity improvements necessary for product development companies to compete worldwide, especially today, following the most severe economic downturn in decades?

Bob then points out that some design companies are evolving, needing to build products faster, cheaper and with some competitive differentiation. And they're doing this by not focusing on the tools. Instead, they are implementing a holistic way to manage the design data and processes, and it's this holistic approach that supplies dramatic improvements in cost and productivity.

Bob posits that a tool-chain centric approach does not address the needs of today's companies which must build (and want to build) more complicated products that require multi-domain expertise spread among dispersed design teams. This new generation of product development is elevating the importance of data management and process over so-called “best-in-class” tools.

Companies must focus on developing product differentiation to be successful and not waste time managing the tool-chain,” says Bob. His white paper examines the unified design platform as a new architecture that supports multiple domains (PCB, FPGA and embedded software) and offers significant productivity improvements over tool-chains.

In the course of his paper, Bob describes a “platform approach” such as the one implemented in Altium Designer (see the image below). This is the structure of a System Design Platform consisting of FPGA, PCB and embedded software. The foundation of platform based product development is the unified data model. The unified data model contains the entire design data set with each tool using the applicable section. The data management layer on the top of the unified data model is intrinsic to the platform architecture and is not an “add-on” as in the case of tool chains.

Bob concludes his white paper with the following remarks:

The tool-chain architecture has had a successful history, but tomorrow's electronic product development demands can only be accommodated by shifting from being tool-centric to data- and process-centric. Today's companies require the ability to integrate different product technologies into a single hierarchical project or process. They can no longer afford the overhead of manually integrating tools into processes and adding the necessary data management support. While tool-chains cannot easily make the transition to support complex processes, including extending into business systems, companies that have recently made the switch to a platform-based development process are seeing significant improvements in productivity, some as high as 400%.

Bob firmly believes that next generation system design is going to be based on platform architectures built on unified data models with a data management layer as the foundation for tool development and use. The platform will contain product IP and source code for standard functions so that companies can focus on product differentiation and not process management. The companies that can effectively differentiate their products will be more competitive and successful. Those companies bogged down with internal development process problems will not.

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-- Russ Henke, Contributing Editor.


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