With ESL, You Are Your Ecosystem

The ability of your suppliers to deliver says as much about you as your own work.


Where are the weak links in the ESL ecosystem?


That question isn’t idle speculation. With complexity in many SoC designs reaching well beyond the level of human comprehension—even beyond the capabilities of the most brilliant engineers or architects—chip developers on all levels need to know what can go wrong from both a technology and a business standpoint.


No company can develop everything itself and still get to market on time and on budget. That means various pieces of IP are almost essential to build a chip. Sometimes that involves code, sometimes it’s a reference design. Understanding the capabilities of the IP vendors, not to mention their sustainability, is just as critical as understanding how to build a complex system.


In the chip world, this is the equivalent to a supply chain in the manufacturing world. In the consumer electronics market, in particular, this is a proven hazard. One well-known company, which shall remain nameless, is now trying to rebuild its reputation after outsourcing much of its development work. What it discovered, after thousands of customer complaints, was that its top contractors had subcontracted to other subcontractors, and from there it was further subcontracted. It looked like some derivatives scheme, and by the time the pieces were assembled they discovered some problems—but not before the products ended up in the hands of consumers. The seller’s reputation suffered. It’s still suffering, in fact, several  years later.


Ecosystems are like supply chains. They can be customized, depending upon the parts that are needed. And they can cause problems if all the parts don’t adhere to the same standards, or if they were developed with different languages or tools, and if the project specs aren’t tightly defined.


Products are only as good as the pieces used to create them, but if anything goes wrong the entire ecosystem suffers. Understanding the potential pitfalls used to be relatively simple when everything was built under one roof. It’s a lot harder, and requires a lot of extra up-front planning on the front end and testing on the back end, to make up for the loss of in-house oversight.


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