In recent years, collaborative innovation has become more common between semiconductor companies and their partners. Unfortunately, such efforts are often hampered by both the technological and organizational challenges brought about by increasing complexity, competition, and change. As part of a two-year research effort, the 2010 Wharton-Global Semiconductor Alliance (GSA) Semiconductor Ecosystem Survey has attempted to systematically analyze the challenges and opportunities faced by fabless semiconductor companies. Its findings provide an "inside the box" view of the patterns of collaboration between semiconductor companies and key partners in their ecosystem. Among those partners are assembly houses and test suppliers, original-equipment-manufacturing (OEM) customers, and providers of complementary products.
Beyond external partners, the 25-page report emphasizes that a company's success in developing and commercializing innovations is driven by collaboration between internal functional groups. They link the company's internal activities with those of its partnersboth upstream and downstream. The survey results also highlight some indicators of technology strategies for today's semiconductor companies. Different outcomes are examined, such as sources of intellectual property (IP) and the extent of IP reuse.
For example, the survey results show that the average fabless semiconductor company reuses about 63% of design IP in the revision of an existing product design. The percentage changes to 44% for a new product design. In addition, silicon foundries and third-party IP firms are becoming a key source of design IP for fabless companies. Typically, 18% of design IP blocks are from the foundry's portfolio/library (versus 16% for third-party licensing firms).
Among the other interesting trends revealed by the survey are the drivers of product differentiation. Of the engineers employed by a fabless semiconductor company, an average of 23% are software engineers while 20% are system design engineers. Integrated-circuit (IC) design engineers account for 46% while IC manufacturing and test engineers comprise 12%. These numbers show that software and system design are increasingly driving differentiation at semiconductor companies. Other topics covered in the report include time to market, collaboration of various forms, and customer involvement.