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March 01, 2010
Altium Limited – Focus on the Americas
Please note that contributed articles, blog entries, and comments posted on EDACafe.com are the views and opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the management and staff of Internet Business Systems and its subsidiary web-sites.
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 EDACafe.com. 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!


After devoting the first three issues of EDA Weekly under this writer's byline to “The Role of Business Planning” in high tech on November 9, 2009; to the “MAD Progress” at the Mentor Graphics Mechanical Analysis Division (MAD) on December 7, 2009; and to semiconductor IP provider “Virage Logic - On the Move” on December 22, 2009, we turned to yet another aspect of specialization in the world of EDA for the fourth EDA Weekly article that followed; namely “Agilent EEsof EDA - Part I” on February 01, 2010. (Agilent EEsof EDA - Part II is slated for a later posting).

For this fifth EDA Weekly article in this series (March 01, 2010), we focus on a worldwide EDA vendor based outside the United States, namely ALTIUM LIMITED, with headquarters in Sydney, New South Wales (NSW), Australia.

In fact, Altium's world headquarters are located on the 'upper north shore' in Belrose, some 17 miles and 40 minutes by car from the Sydney city center - an attractive HQ location, to be sure.

In as much as trips by this writer to each company HQ's were part of the necessary activity to score most of the interviews associated with his EDA Weeklies to date, (e.g. hot spots like San Jose, Fremont, Santa Rosa, …), fantasizing about a sojourn to Sydney certainly seemed in order. Until of course it was mentioned that Sydney was 7,420 air miles from San Francisco (or 14,166 miles through Hawaii and Japan to Australia by sea kayak).

Thereupon the writer re-focused his sights on a visit to Carlsbad, CA, the highly-desirable location of the Altium HQ for North America, and base for one Gerry Gaffney, who was to be one of the writer's main Altium interviewees in any case.

Known for its fine golf courses and seven miles of beaches, Carlsbad is a scenic coastal community located 35 miles north of San Diego (and only 465 miles by car (8 hours) from the writer's Albany CA office). Right on! The golf clubs were already packed!

Well, OK, so Altium's Carlsbad office isn't exactly on the Pacific coast. Indeed the Altium office is located inland at 3207 Grey Hawk Ct, east of Carlsbad nearly 10 miles, halfway to Escondido:

In the final analysis, it turns out that Gerry Gaffney actually resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and simply commutes to Carlsbad as needed. In fact, Gerry and his family have dwelled for the last five years in Los Gatos CA, located in the southwestern corner of the SF South Bay:

The writer's Albany CA office is a mere 58 miles away, located near the northeastern shore of the SF North Bay, from which both the Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge can be seen on a clear day:


Naturally, on Interview Day, Gerry was -- you guessed it -- right here in the SF Bay Area. So much for the writer's fantasy of an exotic trip. Ce n'est pas grave.

Interview Day:

Happily, all arrangements for the initial interview of Altium's Gerry Gaffney were set up by one Jeff Hardison of McClenahan Bruer Communications, Portland, Oregon, 97201. McBru has represented Altium in North America since last September.

Gerry Gaffney was originally tapped by this writer to speak for Altium overall, because Gerry had recently been promoted (on November 19, 2009) to Regional CEO of the Americas for Altium. Gerry's former title at Altium had been “Senior VP & GM of Americas Operations,” a sales & support organization. (For Altium, “The Americas” mean both North and South America).

Gerry Gaffney's Background:

Gerry had joined Altium in that Americas Operations capacity in December 2007, having parted some two months earlier from an eleven-year tenure at Cadence. During the last portion of his Cadence experience, Gerry worked in Silicon Valley reporting directly to Kevin Bushby, then the EVP of Worldwide Field Operations for Cadence. During that period, Gerry was involved in structuring and helping to close a huge Cadence deal with Intel, among other assignments.

Prior to his Silicon Valley assignment for Cadence, Gerry had worked for Cadence Europe where he had most recently been Group Sales Director of Enterprise Sales. Before that, he was regional sales director for Northern Europe and Nordic Regions. Gerry had joined Cadence originally to follow the vision that Joe Costello had articulated, to help build a new group to execute large multi-million dollar outsourcing deals. This European group had numerous successes under its belt in a few years, but the group was disbanded after Joe Costello left Cadence.

Gerry's Cadence experience also included senior management and director level sales, corporate account management and outsourcing business management roles. He was previously with EDS and SERCO in the United Kingdom for several years, based in London.

Almost concurrent with Gerry's hiring into Altium in late 2007, one Jay Cao was named Altium's Regional Director China, based in Shanghai, and Anand Shankaran was named Chief People Officer for Altium worldwide, based in Sydney. These three appointments were part of Altium's 2007 strategy to add to its world-class leadership and business development talent, and to help accelerate growth. Emma Lo Russo, President & Chief Operating Officer at the time said, “Gerry, Jay and Anand all bring considerable experience in overseeing worldwide sales, business development and talent management. It gives me great confidence to know we have been able to attract this high level of talent and experience.

Back to the Beginning:

Born in 1964 in Dublin, Ireland, Gerry and his two sisters grew up there under the watchful eyes of his Irish parents. His father spent his entire career with Guinness Brewery and was able to retire in his fifties. In fact, Gerry's father just returned to Dublin after visiting Gerry and Gerry's wife and two children here in California in mid-February 2010.

After secondary school, Gerry spent several years at the College of Commerce Dublin to study finance and accounting. He later became a member of “The Chartered Institute of Management Accounts” in 1993 and relocated to London to seek better career opportunities. There Gerry joined Thompson Tours, where he became adept at organizing very large multi-discipline projects. (Today Thomson is part of TUI AG, the largest tourism and services group in the world, employing 80,000 people in 500 companies around the world). Gerry also met his future spouse in the UK and married in 1994. Gerry joined Cadence in Europe in 1996.

Returning to late 2007:

When Gerry first joined Altium in late 2007, he found that the Altium Americas group had established very few resellers and had been relying heavily on closing business for Altium software products by operating a large call center in Southern California.

Within a few months, Gerry began experimenting with adding resellers. He soon observed that the typical resellers who had past EDA vendor relationships, did not exhibit very strong skills in prospecting for new business, especially at the price points that Altium products occupied. Typical resellers Gerry encountered had different customer lists than Gerry felt were appropriate for Altium. Moreover, Gerry found that the bulk of Altium's market in North America consisted of prospects that were completely unaware of Altium's existence.

So Gerry set about searching for reseller candidates that had the right experience, perhaps those which had sold to customers using FPGA's, not just PCB solutions. Simultaneously, Gerry devised a whole new reseller training regimen that has come to be known inside Altium as “The Playbook”. This reseller training focuses more on describing to prospects the business benefits of switching to Altium software, and teaches resellers how to identify prospects' pain points and how to formulate the value propositions for using Altium as their vendor of choice.

Also by the end of 2007 (when Gerry joined up), Altium top management was certain that Altium had finally reached the point of capitalizing on the worldwide opportunity for its unified electronics design (UED) software products. Altium believed that UED was essential for customer designers to continue to innovate and to develop electronics in new ways. UED was fully consistent with Altium's ongoing Vision: To break down the barriers to innovation and technological advancement by providing the best possible design tools to the widest possible audience of electronics designers.

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.

The unified architecture made it easier for customer designers to focus on the development of the intelligence in their own electronic products, moving more of their designs into the 'soft' domain, thus providing those organizations with greater protection of their intellectual property. Customers could more readily differentiate their respective products from their competition, take products to market more quickly, and add new product functionality in the field.

No doubt Altium's optimism at that juncture was also fueled by its doing well financially. In its financial year that ended June 30, 2007, Altium had grown revenues by 18% worldwide and had improved its cash balance by 68% over the previous 12 months. Profit before tax had grown 36%.

The good times seemed to continue from there. For the three months ending September 30, 2007, overall Altium revenue grew to AU$12.2 million, or US$9.48 million, some 26% higher than the US$7.51 million for the corresponding quarter period a year earlier. However, hints of the coming recession in the USA had begun to appear: Revenues in the Americas during that same July-September 2007 quarter had achieved only $3.59 million, but top management dismissed the disappointment as a “short term and tactical issue.”

Indeed, by December 31, 2007, total company revenues had advanced to US$13.65 million for calendar Q407 compared to US$12.06 million for calendar Q406.The Americas rebounded some from calendar Q3 2007 to achieve US$5.25 million in calendar Q4 2007. But compared to US$5.00 million in calendar Q4 a year earlier. US$5.25 million was a meager 4.9% improvement.

Overall however, Altium's revenue and sales for fiscal year ending June 30, 2008 turned out well. Worldwide revenue increased to US$53.1 million for the year, some US$10.6 million more than the previous fiscal year, and sales advanced to US$55.8 million, a US$10.1 million uptick. The only blot on the Income Statement for the year ending June 30, 2008: a pretax loss of US$3.68 million.

But those FY08 sales results have proved to be a temporary high water mark. Since then, worldwide Altium sales have gone from US$27.2 million for Jul-Dec 2008, to US$24.1 million for Jan-Jun 2009, to US$20.3 million for Jul-Dec 2009. (While sales were down to US$50.7 million for FY09 from the US$53.1 million in FY08, the good news was that FY09 profit before tax improved some US$3.90 million in FY09 to get FY09 US$224,000 into the black).

No doubt the worldwide economic recession has played its part in reducing Altium's sales figures during the last 18 months. But as we shall see, a daring product pricing strategy implemented in early 2009 was also putting pressure on total sales dollar volumes. But the resulting dramatic increase in new customers will most certainly pay handsome dividends in Altium's future. More on this topic in the sequel.

2009 Dawns:

As 2009 began, Gerry Gaffney's North American team had much of its “Playbook” strategy in place, and had what they believed to be excellent software to sell based on the Altium UED principles.

But Altium CEO Nick Martin had still another element of strategy to add to Gerry's 2009 mix, not only in North America, but also for Altium worldwide: Early in 2009, the Company would lower the retail prices of Altium software across the board by seventy percent …that's right…70%! Mr. Martin implemented this decision not only to better fulfill his long-term vision of the portion of the global marketplace that he felt Altium should serve, but also to help Altium and its current/future customers better navigate the then-current worldwide economic recession.

The rest is history:

In North America, the combination of Gerry Gaffney's new resellers, the effects of this “Playbook” strategy, and the 2009 software price reductions, together produced sensational results in calendar 2009; namely, over five hundred (500) new North American customers were signed! These new customers are called “new logos” in Gerry's jargon.

Readers should pause for a moment to fully grasp how large a number 500 is! That's an average of 2 new customers a day for every business day during the year.
No major league baseball player has ever hit .500 for a season (the highest was .424). Only 25 players in 140 years of major league baseball history have hit more than 500 home runs in their entire careers, even after the age of steroids began.

Gerry Gaffney's New Job as CEO of the Americas:

As a result of his November 2009 promotion, Gerry now reports directly to the Australia-based founder and CEO of Altium Nick Martin. Said Mr. Martin at the time of Gerry's November 2009 promotion, “While we've witnessed the forces of globalization firsthand, much of the world's technology innovation still comes from the West Coast of the United States. Our Carlsbad office has proved to be an integral part of Altium's efforts to help enable that innovation to happen, and we want to give them additional opportunities to continue to develop this momentum and influence.”

In his new role, Gerry has also become a member of the company's executive team, thereby expanding his role in Altium organizational partnerships and other strategic relationships to a global level.

Upon the occasion of his recent promotion, Gerry said, “We've seen a remarkable momentum build over the past several quarters in (Altium product) seat count growth and new logo acquisition, despite the current tough economic climate. There is an increasingly rapid migration by customers away from long entrenched use of older design tools towards Altium's next generation electronic product design platform. Evidence of this momentum is our expanded reseller channel, needed to help address our growing customer base: We've appointed six new regional resellers in North America since July 2009.

Another Key Decision during 2009 in the Americas:

As 2009 was unfolding, Gerry was gradually strengthening his Americas team. Among many key hires, the appearance in August 2009 of one Bob Potock as Director of Technical Marketing for Altium North America is proving pivotal to both the Americas and to Altium worldwide.

So during the interview with Gerry Gaffney, the writer asked Jeff Hardison to arrange for the writer to have an hour's session with Bob Potock:

Since Bob is located in Denver and time was at a premium for all of us, we connected by phone. This channel was especially agreeable, since the writer did not relish still another winter visit to Colorado, having traveled to Denver and environs countless times in the past.

While Bob and the writer did not overlap at Mentor Graphics (MGC), both of us are veterans of MGC at different times in different US cities, with 9+ years of service for Bob and 6+ years of service for this writer, respectively. Bob left MGC in May 2009.

Bob was born in 1958 and reared in Youngstown, Ohio. He earned his BSEE from Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University in 1980:

Thereafter Bob has spent virtually his entire career deeply involved in such esoteric EE pursuits as PCB and FPGA design & analysis and software engineering, including stints at Intel, Cadnetix, Burroughs, AT&T Bell Labs, NeoCAD and VeriBest, prior to Mentor Graphics' acquiring VeriBest in 1999. Along the way, Bob also earned a graduate MBA Degree (2007) by attending classes part time for several years at Denver's Regis University:

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:

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.

How to Find Out More:

As mentioned before, both the survey results and the white paper have 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. This campaign will continue in the weeks and months ahead,

Here is the relevant Media Release:

More than 500 North American companies switch to Altium
New customers reporting significant productivity improvements

SYDNEY, Australia - February 22, 2010 - Altium has announced a banner year in “new logo” acquisition. During the past 12 months, the company's North American operation alone has acquired more than 500 new U.S. customers. All are newcomers to Altium's electronics design solution Altium Designer.

Altium Designer's single data model and unified architecture provide a system development platform for FPGA, PCB and embedded software development, in a single application. In addition to the electronics design authoring tools in Altium Designer, this platform architecture also provides intrinsic electronics design data management and IP support courtesy of the unified architecture.

“Electronic product design is at an inflection point where tool-chain approaches are struggling to meet the needs of today's complex process and data management needs,“ said Gerry Gaffney, regional CEO of the Americas for Altium. “Altium's unified approach to electronics design clearly resonates with these new customers, who come from many market sectors.

“They tell us they can see new ways to grow their businesses in increasingly complex and competitive markets, increase their productivity and lower their costs - and do all this without compromising innovation.”

In December 2009, Altium surveyed these new customers to discover how their design processes had changed.

Productivity had improved markedly: 84 percent of Altium's new users had experienced improvements of more than 200 percent.

Replacing design tools and environments can seem daunting, yet 85 percent of Altium's new users found the migration to Altium Designer as expected, or easier than expected.

And the word is spreading: 89 percent of Altium's new users would recommend Altium to colleagues.

“Nuvation works with virtually all major PCB EDA tool flows,” said Michael Worry, CEO of Nuvation. “We ran a bake-off in 2008 and were quite surprised when Altium Designer jumped out as the superior tool. We've since implemented Altium as our primary tool, including the library management system, and are quite impressed with the remarkable productivity improvement we are realizing with the added features and efficiencies.”

END Media Release

To learn more about this campaign, contact Jeff Harrison at McClenahan Bruer Communications, Portland, Oregon, 97201, email: Email Contact, Telephone: (503) 546 1000.


Postscript #1:

Another product offering that sets Altium apart is its “smart development board” called The Altium NanoBoard 3000.

Here are Altium's words to describe the product:

Remember back to the time when you first became impassioned by electronics. Perhaps it was the moment when you opened your first electronics kit, when you discovered electronics design as a hands-on experience, in real time.

The system in a box provided everything you needed delve into the new world of electronics in a low risk and cost-effective way. In today's world of sophisticated electronic technology, FPGA design is the new frontier, and there's now an equally low-risk, hands-on way to explore and harness this latest technology - it's Altium's new NanoBoard 3000 smart FPGA development board. But unlike that preconfigured electronics kit, the new NanoBoard is a fully flexible, concept to deployment, hardware-software development system.

The NanoBoard 3000, part of Altium's growing family of NanoBoards, is a programmable design environment that's supplied complete with hardware, software, ready-to-use royalty-free IP, and a dedicated Altium Designer Soft Design license. It provides everything you need to explore FPGAs 'out of the box', so you're not forced to search the web for drivers, peripherals or other software, and then have the hard work of integrating all these elements to make them work together.

Created from the ground up for designing, prototyping and deploying the next generation of sophisticated, connected electronic products, the new NanoBoard 3000 was developed from concept to manufacture by Altium's in-house engineering staff, using Altium Designer. The result is a complete system-level design environment that provides the ultimate low-risk gateway into the world of FPGA embedded design.

Below is a link to a video about the NB 3000, the major product launch for Altium from the latter half of 2009. It's a board coupled with an FPGA (Xilinx or Altera) and free drivers for under $400. It would take an engineer weeks to assemble the same product -- and for far more money.


Postscript #2:

Some additional Background on Altium Limited itself:

The writer has included Altium Limited in his quarterly EDA Industry financial Commentaries since 2003. Like many EDA vendors, Altium's revenues have suffered during the recent worldwide recession. In the figures published for the first half-year ended December 31, 2009, Altium's total revenues were US$21.9 million, down 18% compared to the same period in 2008. The Americas was itself down a similar percentage. At the time these results were announced, CEO Nicolas M. Martin said, "As mentioned in our update last October (2009), we were expecting conditions to remain tough throughout the rest of FY10 and Q2 performance has been in line with this expectation.”

Altium Limited will celebrate its silver anniversary this year (2010) when it reaches the age of 25. The company was founded on 1985 by Nick Martin after his having spent several years as an electronics designer in Australia:

Coincidently, with the exception of the relative latecomer Virage Logic (founded 1996), all of the companies covered in this writer's EDA Weekly articles to date were started in the eighties (Mentor Graphics in 1981, now including Flomerics in 1988; EEsof in 1983; and now Altium in 1985 (launched initially as “Protel International Limited”)).

The separate founders of EEsof and Protel had something else in common - both saw the game-changing potential of the then-emerging IBM-compatible Personal Computer as an attractive platform for electronic design & analysis software tools.

Despite having no venture capital and forced to bootstrap everything, Martin and his early colleagues were able to begin delivering Protel's initial product within the same year as Protel's founding - a DOS-based printed circuit board (PCB) layout and design tool. By 1986 Protel began exporting its product outside Australia, and it added a schematic capture tool in 1987. A Protel sales & support office in the USA followed in 1988. The next breakthrough came in 1991, when Protel finally overcame the limitations imposed by the Microsoft Disc Operating System by launching “Protel for Windows,” said to be the first-ever MS Windows-based PCB design system.

It wasn't long before the Protel developers realized that its customers would soon object to the pain of manually combining stand-alone electronic design tools, just as their counterparts in the Mechanical CAD & CAE world at that time longed for a unifying, underlying data base on which each design or analysis application could reside.

Accordingly, Protel began developing internally such a system to unify the process of electronic schematic capture, board design and layout, circuit path routing, and circuit analysis and testing.

Of course, such developments were going on in one form or another at other PCB software vendors around the world in the early 90's (e.g. the “Falcon Framework” at Mentor Graphics). However, it is fair to argue that Protel was among the first to anticipate the emergence of field programmable gate arrays (FPGA's) and accordingly provided accommodations in its integrated offerings for same.

By 1994, Protel had actually created a working system using client/server architecture that enabled the integration of several previously-disparate PCB design and analysis tools. This prototype system ultimately became the foundation for the “Design Explorer Technology Unification Platform” said to be used by the company's product offerings to this very day (e.g. “Altium Designer”).

Presumably buoyed by its unification vision, in 1995 Protel began an aggressive campaign of pivotal technology acquisitions (autorouting technology from NeuroCad and Programmable Logic Device (PLD) technology from Logical Devices). Protel also expanded its geographic reseller coverage to some 28 countries in 1995.

Over the next three years, Protel continued this pattern of technology acquisitions via both technology purchases as well as whole company acquisitions. Equal attention was given to continued strengthening and expanding worldwide sales coverage.

In 1998 alone, Protel announced the acquisition of signal integrity technology from INCASES, and Protel also acquired MicroCode Engineering for its CircuitMaker product. On the sales and support side, Protel acquired the Swiss distributor IDK and opened a Protel sales & support office in Europe. Protel also acquired the Japanese distributor Techspert and opened a Protel sales and support office in Japan. Protel capped the year by launching Protel 98, said to be the first product to include five core PCB design tools.

Privately-held for it first 14 years, Protel executed an IPO on August 4, 1999 on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), where Altium remains listed even today. According to Kayvan Oboudiyat, company CEO at the time of the IPO, “New shares issued raised $30,000,000 for the company to assist its growth and acquisition program and to expand working capital. Protel's highly successful float capitalized the company at $238 millions at 30th August 1999, ranking us the number one publicly-listed company worldwide in the Desktop EDA market.”

Note: According to the OANDA Currency Converter, in mid-August 1999, one (1) Australian Dollar (AUD) was worth 0.63450 of a US dollar (USD).

While providing Altium itself with extra resources to continue its aggressive acquisition and development plans in the new century, it would appear from the stock history chart below (subject to further analysis) that the per share stock price to date for Altium Limited (ASX symbol ALU) has fallen over the ensuing decade, closing at approximately AU$6.25 per share in August 1999 and at AU$0.28 on February 12, 2010):

By the way, Protel International Limited changed its name to Altium Limited in 2001.



The writer would like to acknowledge the direct support of the following individuals or sources in the preparation of his fifth EDA Weekly article: Messrs. Gerry Gaffney and Bob Potock, both of Altium Americas. Thanks also go to Mr. Jeff Hardison of McBru Communications, Portland OR.

Other sources reviewed in preparation of the article include references to portions of the Altium corporate website; the websites of the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), the College of Commerce Dublin, Guinness Brewery Dublin, Thompson Tours UK, Case Western Reserve Cleveland, and Regis University Denver; Wikipedia; Hoover's; Yahoo! Finance; and Google Finance.

Ongoing support by the team at IBSystems, Inc., including but not limited to Sanjay Gangal, Adam Heller, David Heller, Jon Heller, and Sumit Singhal, is also appreciated.


About the writer:

Since 1996, Dr. Russ Henke has been president of HENKE ASSOCIATES, a San Francisco Bay Area high-tech business & management consulting firm. The number of client companies for Henke Associates now numbers more than forty. During his corporate career, Henke operated sequentially on "both sides" of MCAE/MCAD and EDA, as a user and as a vendor. He's a veteran corporate executive from Cincinnati Milacron, SDRC, Schlumberger Applicon, Gould Electronics, ATP, and Mentor Graphics. Henke is a Fellow of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) and served on the SME International Board of Directors. Henke was also a board member of SDRC, PDA, ATP, and the MacNeal Schwendler Corporation. He currently serves on the board of Stottler Henke Associates, Inc. Henke is also a member of the IEEE and a Life Fellow of ASME International. In April 2006, Dr. Henke received the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award from the CAD Society, presented by CAD Society president Jeff Rowe at COFES2006 in Scottsdale, AZ. In February 2007, Henke became affiliated with Cyon Research's select group of experts on business and technology issues as a Senior Analyst. This Cyon Research connection aids and supplements Henke's ongoing, independent consulting practice (HENKE ASSOCIATES).

Since May 2003 HENKE ASSOCIATES has published a total of eighty-six (86) independent quarterly Commentaries on MCAD, PLM, EDA and Electronics IP on IBSystems' MCADCafé and EDACafé. Further information on HENKE ASSOCIATES, is available at http://www.henkeassociates.net. March 31, 2010 will mark the 14th Anniversary of the founding of HENKE ASSOCIATES.


Coming soon to these pages will be the sequel the February 01, 2010 EDA Weekly article on Agilent EEsof EDA - Part I, that covered EEsof EDA during the Chuck Abronson era from its independent inception in 1983 until its merger with the Hewlett Packard Company in 1993:


A subsequent Part II EDA Weekly article on Agilent EEsof EDA will encompass (a) The Jake Egbert HP period 1994 - 1999, (b) the Jim McGillivary years following the Agilent Technologies' spin-out from Hewlett Packard and IPO in 1999, up to the beginning of 2010, and (c) the future plans of Dr. Mark Pierpoint, who has recently been named the new VP & GM of Agilent EEsof EDA.

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-- Russ Henke, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.