I have long decried the declining attendance at the ACM/EDAC/IEEE Design Automation Conference (DAC), especially in regard to this trend’s adverse effect on continuing professional education (CPE) opportunities for our industry’s engineers. (See my May 2011 article, “The Trouble With Tradeshows, for more.) In fact, for those of you who know me personally, I have sometimes quite cynically referred to DAC as our, “EDA high school reunion,” implying that little business is conducted there and that DAC is simply an annual opportunity for us to see who from our past got fat, bald, and/or divorced. (I’m 2 out of 3 in that list. E-mail me if you know which and I will buy you a beer.)
However, I was happily surprised to see that the attendance for this year’s DAC attendance was so good this year; especially considering it was in Austin. I love Austin and am not knocking it. I was just expecting fewer attendees because DAC was not in Silicon Valley this year.
I’ve created the chart above based on data at www.exhibitionaudits.org and DAC’s 11 June 2013 press release. Links are at the end of the article. The good news is that full conference passes were slightly up over DAC 2012’s total of 1,535 even though exhibitor attendees and support staff dropped by 26%. Exhibits-only attendees dropped by 12% from 2,700 to 2,364. As you can see, DAC attendance seems to be leveling out.
Top 3 reasons why I think all is not rosy for DAC
Even though 2013’s attendance was good, I am still concerned about the future viability of the DAC trade show. Here are my top 3 reasons why:
- DAC is still a small trade show compared to others. For this event to be profitable for both the show management and EDAC, more attendees and exhibitors are probably required. How small is DAC compared to other trade shows? In May 2012, the American Thoracic Society’s ATS 2012 event attracted 14,661 attendees to Moscone Center. March 2012 had the International Vision Expo and Conference in New York host 23,370 attendees. By contrast, DAC is a small show with only 7,377 attendees in 2012.
- It’s harder for attending and exhibiting companies’ employees to get approval to attend. As we all know, getting approval for travel has become tougher. We have substituted new technologies such as Skype videoconferences and webinars to fill the gap created by these travel policies. But even if we can get finance approval, we often find we have to sacrifice other work priorities to travel to an event for three days.
- Other technology-oriented trade shows are having trouble. The Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) is now a part of the DESIGN West conference, which amalgamates other shows including Black Hat Summit and Multicore DevCon. Microsoft is no longer attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and is instead focusing on its own regional TechEd shows (which are themselves a combination of past stand-alone Microsoft events).
Ideas to help ensure DAC’s future success
I’m sure the folks at MP Associates, who manage DAC, are thinking about changes, as are the people at UBM Electronics who run most of our other industry shows like DESIGN West and ARM Technical Conference. Here are some ideas I have heard that may make sense to consider:
- Combine DAC with another industry show, like DESIGN West. The idea here is that more people from the total system value chain would visit this show than if the shows were separate.
- Have DAC the same week and location as a major vendor-run event, such as the ARM Technology Conference. I’m sure this will be controversial, but I’m willing to guess there’s much overlap between ARM TechCon and DAC attendees and exhibitors. So why not have the shows on the same week at the same location? DAC could be on a Monday and Tuesday, ARM TechCon on a Wednesday and Thursday. Some companies may be upset with this because it acknowledges the power ARM has within the value chain I describe above. But if it makes it easier for engineers to attend and participate, who cares?
- Change DAC to an online “virtual” event. I’m not in favor of this because I’ve never tried to attend one. But I have talked to people who have found these events to be effective. To me, it just seems too impersonal. Plus, any time I’m on a webinar I find myself doing email, surfing the web, or eating. Anything other than paying attention to the webinar.
DAC is not dead, but…
Obviously, DAC is not dead. However, I think the relatively slow growth of the EDA industry means that DAC attendance has leveled out. These current attendance numbers may not be a large enough critical mass to meet the economic needs of all the DAC stakeholders: The show management company, the EDA Consortium, the exhibitors, and of course, the attendees. Therefore, we would be smart to consider changes today and make a planned transition to a future DAC, rather than be hastily forced there by economic circumstances.
• DAC 2012 Event Audit.
• Press Release, “50th Design Automation Conference in Austin Exceeds Expectations.”
—Kurt Shuler is vice president of marketing at Arteris.