Why Outsource?

Outsourcing is becoming a bit of a management buzz word these days as companies try to reduce costs and concentrate on ‘core competencies’. It’s worth considering some pro’s and con’s of outsourcing work to an external design company.



The main advantage of using external resources is the ability to complete all projects with a permanent core of technical staff. Hiring and training staff is a long and expensive process but most companies will want to have a core of staff that are fully familiar with the company, its products and processes. Outsourcing at times of high pressure, scarce skills or demand allows companies (especially small ones) to grow and expand without the risk of hiring and training new engineers with the accomanying risk of the extra cost if there’s a dip in workload.


Outsourcing might not initially seem cost effective when compared with the hourly rate for an in house engineer. There are hidden costs for permanent staff that most people forget to consider. These include

  • Development Hardware.
  • Development Software (often $000’s per license).
  • Support Staff for the above.
  • Employers National Insurance Contributions.
  • Employers Pension Contributions.
  • Office Space and Heating/Lighting costs.
  • Administration Costs.
  • Sickness Cover/Pay.
  • Sectetarial Support.

When all these are taken into account the financial benefits of outsourceing become a lot more evident.


It is recognised that the time taken to get a project to market is crucial, and in order to speed this up many companies are trying to complete development with fewer ‘spins’ or revisions of their designs. In order to reduce the number of revisions it is important to have experienced engineers on board. This can help especially with design debug when FPGA designs are being integrated with hardware and software. If you outsource to us, all of the engineers which we will use on your project will have al least twelve years hands on industrial design experience.

Time to Market

You might have enough engineers to get a project completed eventually but do you have enough to beat your competitors to market. Outsourcing can allow parallel development of different aspects of a project, possibly allowing you to get a jump on your competitors.

Alternate Viewpoint/Opinions

Sometimes an alternate viewpoint can help when considering a problem. For a recent tender we were able to propose the use of a smaller cheaper Altera Acex device rather than the Stratix device that initially seemed necessary by taking an alternate approach to the design.
We will also be honest and give our professional opinions on the feasibility of designs. It’s not in our interest to be ‘Yes Men’.


When verifying a design it can ofter be useful to get a completely independant party to write a test suite. This can help remove mutual assumptions over what ‘should’ happen, especially if the independant party has no past in house experience of the design. An independant viewpoint can also help identify why things are done a certain way when there are better alternatives (when the answer is sometimes “we’ve always done it like that”).

Project Management

In house project management can become easier when there are well defined sections of the project that have been outsourced. This can take some of the burden of responsibility off a project managers shoulders. We can provide progress reports and interim design deliveries if required.

Perceived Disadvantages

No Continuity/Support

Any contract will normally include a period of support in order to iron out any bugs in a design. This can be on site support during the debug/integration phase, or ‘after sales’ support to iron out any small bugs that might have been missed during initial design verification.
Part of the package we will provide is a full set of documentation. For an FPGA design this will normally include a high level description and a more detailed description of each of the sub modules of the design and their interfaces. We will also provide commented testbenches, including module level if required, and system level verification. All VHDL will be extensively commented.

Will we not lose control?

No. Before starting we will agree a complete set of deliverables and timescales. We will provide regular progress reports if required so these and any interim design deliveries should give a client confidence that the project is running to schedule.


There are two aspects to this, confidentiality and physical design security. Before starting detailed discussions about a particular project we are happy to sign a non-disclosure agreement that will ensure confidentiality of your design information. Our survival depends on our client’s being able to trust us and so we take this very seriously.

We use QCVS as a version control tool on site (see our links page under ‘Miscellaneous Resources’). The archives from this and all project directories are backed up once a week, these backups are also periodically archived off site. This should ensure rapid recovery after any unforseen disaster.

Will time not be lost specifying the project before outsourcing?

It might seem that much time might be lost by a client producing a full specification of a project before we are able to start work. This need not be the case if we work with you to draw up the specification. The questions that we will ask to allow us to get a full understanding of what’s required should allow us to draw up a detailed specification. When a client is happy with a specification that we produce it’s likely we are both ‘singing off the same hymn sheet’.