The New Frontier
Discussion around intellectual property in EDA has long focused on topics such as language, tool interoperability and encryption. The domains of IP grew from manufacturing IP, to layout GDS-II, to designer RTL, and are rapidly entering the challenging world of verification. The health of the electronics industry is greatly improved by advances that facilitate IP reuse and exchange. There are changes under way that will accelerate and amplify the return company's realize from their investment in IP. Executives are beginning to realize that they themselves create valuable intellectual property. The know-how, methods and proven procedures they use to operate their teams effectively under increasing market pressure is IP that is extremely valuable. Let’s take a closer look at how this form of IP will open up a whole new frontier of opportunities and define processes and automation that will increase project-level predictability and productivity.
I know managers creating anything as intelligent sounding as intellectual property sounds like an oxymoron. But think of how valuable it is to know how to estimate the productivity of an engineer, to assess the risks of various aspects of the system to be developed, and to monitor metrics trends throughout the life of a project. With these capabilities in hand management teams would be able to much better predict time to tape out and volume shipment. Imagine if that knowledge were captured in the form of data, in a system that automated the use of that data for planning, and providing data mining or analysis. The result would be a much more efficient running project with much higher quality, all because the management team had experiences captured in a format to reuse and leverage previous solid management decisions.
For the sake of argument, let’s take a quick look at an overly-simplified example. Let’s say you have a design IP core or set of verification IP protocols that you’ve used successfully in previous designs. This IP has been tested and proven on the job. From a user’s point of view, that specific IP was a success. But from a manager’s point of view that IP was not only a success; it is now an asset to leverage on future projects.
With experience comes various metrics that need to be gathered, stored and managed. A manager’s ability to estimate schedules, identify potential risks, and incorporate late stage design changes are all improved by leveraging prior experiences. Enterprise level software that captures, stores, and duplicates successful patterns for that specific design IP model or verification IP are the first major step into the world of management IP. Management IP offers a foundation to plan and predict highly distributed resources needed on future projects.
To get to this foundation, companies need to look at it from a different angle. IP needs to be categorized based on metrics captured while in use within the module or system. This means spending more time on evaluating each design and paying much more attention to the process, overall resources and supporting methodology. Most crucial are resource productivity metrics - those leading and trailing indicators that are used to judge the project status. These data points are the beginnings of a complete management IP database. This may sound simple but it’s not - it takes a commitment from management to establish new processes and software solutions in a design flow.
There are many examples of IP data points which need to be captured. What if we could measure overall bug rates per engineer using a specific protocol? Or monitor the lines of code per engineer on average when using a specific IP module? How do you translate a system-level specification into lines of code that can be managed? What about change control and managing the “rippling affect” those changes have upon introduction to the project? All are very important data points that will greatly aid in the ability to design, schedule, budget and predict your next project - the beginnings of a true “manageable” IP database
Management IP may sound obvious, but the industry is showing clear evidence that the obvious is being overlooked. And, if companies want to take full advantage of the wondrous time savings IP can offer, they will need to start capturing data, and developing best practices and skills at the management level. This will require working with companies that deliver process automation based solutions that address management IP. When a premium is put on enterprise-wide management IP, we'll see a much brighter outlook in the overall market, and your IP will no longer be lost in the new frontier.
Steve Brown is director of marketing for Cadence’s verification division.
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