#DAC demonstrates EDA is getting new leadership

The annual spin on the attendance numbers at the Design Automation Conference has been made, expressing, once again, exuberant optimism that the marketing cornerstone of the Electronic Design Automation industry has returned with full strength.  As usual, the optimism is misplaced.

Here are the numbers based on information from the organizers.

Total attendees

  • 2011 in San Diego - 6,350

  • 2010 in Anaheim - 6,001

  • 2009 in San Francisco- 5,299

(Seems to be going up...)

Full conference

  • 2011- 1,746

  • 2010 - 1,554

  • 2009 - 1,888

(Flat, but nothing to worry about...)

 Exhibit only

  • 2011 - 2,006 

  • 2010 - 1,554

  • 2009 - 3247

(Wild swing there, but it’s essentially flat.)

 Number of companies exhibiting

  • 2011- 204

  • 2010 - 193

  • 2009 - 202

(Again essentially flat)

What can we learn from this?  Well, for one thing, there is nothing to really celebrate here. These numbers follow several years of absolute declines and the conference is still no where near the numbers of the industry height.  To state it plainly, the conference attendance is flat, at best.  That it isn’t declining is good news for the conference considering how far it had fallen.  But is this the fault of the conference?  Probably not.

DAC is a microcosm of the industry itself.  The exhibit floor is dominated by major public companies.  There are fewer technology start-ups and more design service companies than previous years. And there are large companies exhibiting that have had little or no presence previously -- companies that can, in no way, be considered part of what has traditionally been called Electronic Design Automation.  That is not good news for the industry.  It means leadership is coming from the outside, not within the larger EDA companies.

The only thing that can be called a true increasing trend is participation in the technical sessions, which is not good news for EDA companies.  The percentage of commercial tools used in new designs has been steadily dropping as customers increasingly look to design services and their own internal tool development.  Customers remain the biggest competition to commercial EDA, and those customers use technical conferences, like DAC, to hone and find skills that the tool vendors don't provide.

The common complaints I have heard from engineers every year following DAC is they vendors don't understand their problems, don't create tools that deal with the problems, and continue trying to sell them tools they really don't want.

That has, in turn, opened the field for design services companies that are NOT encumbered by a particular tool provider's slate of products.  These companies are free to create their own tools or find effective ways to use commercial tools for their clients.  It has also opened a potentially lucrative practice for those companies outside of the traditional EDA space, like element14, to create open dialog with the customer base and  build methodologies that solve problems.

DAC remains a valuable tool for the user base, but it is becoming less useful for the tool vendors who continue to approach the market like it's 1999.  That's not DAC's fault. It's the fault of the vendors.  And when the industry loses control of its market to outsiders; when public EDA companies lose control in the board rooms, they have no one to blame for it but themselves.