SIMUL8 Corporation CTO, Frances Sneddon, shares the story behind SIMUL8 Online, an industry first that enables simulations to be built directly on the web, and explains why it marks the beginning of a new era of simulation.
Three years ago there was a moment when we paused in the SIMUL8 development team and reflected on the fact that most of the tools we were now using were web-based. From Jira, to Trello, to Salesforce, to AWS and Papertrail, we were predominantly supported by web-based tooling. We began asking other teams in our company “What was the last desktop tool you purchased?” We got the same answer. “I can’t remember, maybe Office when my laptop was upgraded?”.
We then asked our users the same question, albeit a bit more covertly! In conversations, we’d say: “This web app thing is great, but it would never work for simulation though – for power tools you need desktop… right?”. We were quickly proven wrong. “I don’t agree, our organization has already moved to online tools like Google Docs” and “I’d love an online simulation tool! No more IT holding my upgrade hostage whilst I wait for installation and I could even use it a home!” were some of the responses we got time and time again.
Enter Project Zeigler…
As a result of your feedback, Project Zeigler was born. We set out what we wanted to achieve:
- We would make SIMUL8 work on any device, with no download or installation required.
- We would be the first fully functional online simulation tool.
- We would take our 25 years of sophisticated simulation features, capable of modelling every any business scenario no matter how complex, to 100% accuracy to the web.
Why Project Zeigler? We wanted to keep this project secret, at least to begin with. We set the hard constraint of keeping a single unified code base that would deliver an identical edition on both web and desktop and that every feature had to be migrated. We wanted a code name until we knew we had figured out the right approach. I like project names that have meaning, with Zeigler being one of the pioneers of simulation. Although this seemed apt, we rapidly regretted the name as we never seemed to be able to spell it the same way twice!
“We set the hard constraint of keeping a single unified code base that would deliver an identical edition on both web and desktop and that every feature had to be migrated.”
Keeping a unified code base was absolutely critical to us because we did not want to ever be in the position where we had features in the online version that weren’t available to our desktop users. This was all about making SIMUL8 accessible on any device, regardless of user preference. We were determined to support our users on whatever platform was best for them whether that was Windows or Mac, desktop or web, mobile or tablet.
Pushing our industry forward with another first
We’re a little competitive here at SIMUL8 Corporation, so not only were we determined to pull off this major piece of R&D, we also wanted to be the first to do it.
Since our inception we’ve delivered many firsts, including some that are taken for granted today. Drag and drop is so core and so essential to all simulation tools. SIMUL8 delivered that first. The ability to run simulations on the web is now another fundamental feature. You might remember the launch of Google Comet sending your CPU into overdrive as it made an animated man run on a street. Well, just a few months after that, in another industry first, YouSIMUL8 brought fully animated simulations in your browser, download-free (without the CPU fan heat!). Offering SIMUL8 as a web service was yet another first that is now considered standard for many simulation vendors today. And now, we’re ready to push those industry boundaries again with the ability to build simulations completely online. It was important to all of us to continue this innovative history, push our industry forward and exceed the expectations of our users. We strive to support our users to the very best of our ability and help evolve their decision-making capabilities with the next generation of simulation tools, ripe for a data-rich era.
“We strive to support our users to the very best of our ability and help evolve their decision-making capabilities with the next generation of simulation tools, ripe for a data-rich era.”
So, we like to innovate, we like to be first and we like to push boundaries. But this was more than a pet R&D project. This was about recognizing a fundamental shift in the market and a shift in your needs. We put SIMUL8 online to better serve you… but hell yeah we’re still giving ourselves a pat on the back for this massive technical achievement!
How will SIMUL8 Online benefit you?
So, in what ways will Online benefit you? Firstly, as I previously touched on, you can now run SIMUL8 on any device. Wherever you have access to a browser, you can run SIMUL8. This means you can also take your license anywhere – without having to have the device you installed it on with you. We can also keep you up-to-date by pushing the very latest SIMUL8 updates live, without the need for you to sit through any installation process. This is especially beneficial as 12 months ago we moved from an annual to a quarterly release schedule. This allowed us to listen to our users’ needs and take a more agile approach to our development, all based on your valuable feedback. The only real downside of this approach was that many of you told us it could be at least 9 months before IT would schedule your upgrade installation! That was so frustrating for us and we know it was even more frustrating for you. SIMUL8 Online helps you to sidestep this frustration and get instant access to new features.
“We can also keep you up-to-date by pushing the very latest SIMUL8 updates live without the need for you to sit through any installation process.”
Are these the only benefits of SIMUL8 Online? Not at all. They are just the beginning of a very exciting set of innovations we want to deliver.
More and more of our users are using SIMUL8 as part of a bigger tech stack. They are turning simulations from one-off analysis tools to productionizing them into real-time operational decision-making tools. Tools that automatically predict issues and new requirements, with the simulation in turn making decisions and adapting itself to changes in processes to keep itself current. We have long believed that is the future of simulation, tightly integrated into operations as a real-time decision-making tool, and it is finally starting to happen. With an abundance of new sources, from electronic health records, to IoT and other smart systems, the data is finally there to continuously feed these simulations with live data. This is the start of new era for simulation.
A new era of simulation for a data-driven world
Putting SIMUL8 on the web is just the first stepping stone to making it even easier for you to integrate simulation into your operational decision-making suite. You are going to see us open up our existing APIs more, as well as providing new APIs for web environments. We’ll also bring back our offerings that enable you to use SIMUL8 as a service – where you can push data in and push out results. We were ahead of the curve time with this offering 10 years ago and we’re so excited that more organizations are ready for this.
We’re also going to continue to push the core functionality and features of SIMUL8 Professional, that you as builders use every day, even further. We will continue with our quarterly feature releases that are voted for by our Annual Maintenance users. You’re also going to see us enhance our result building tools and scenario management features.
We know you need to be able to build simulations as quickly as possible to help you to focus on your analysis. By leveraging our new cloud servers, from our desktop or web edition, we’ll enable you to run as many experiments as possible and optimize your decisions with enhanced scenario management tools.
“We’re also going to continue to push the core functionality and features of SIMUL8 Professional that you as builders use every day, even further. We will continue with our quarterly feature releases that are voted for by our Annual Maintenance users.”
And if all this wasn’t enough, the next step change SIMUL8 Online will deliver is the ability to make your simulations accessible to any stakeholder in the decision-making process. We will be integrating our online simulation viewer functionality from SIMUL8 Studio into SIMUL8 Online, and extending it, of course. We will make it seamless for you to collect data from stakeholders and to engage them in scenario experimentation.
It doesn’t stop there though. We’ll be using SIMUL8 Online to reshape our educational offering and we also have a few more R&D projects that I can’t reveal just yet. Let’s just say for now they are just as exciting as SIMUL8 Online! We’re not resting. We are going to be flat-out in our Product Development Team bringing you the next set of innovations and continuing to deliver more of the same features that have made SIMUL8 so rich and untouchable in its ability to rapidly simulate complex business processes.
Finally, a huge thank you for your input
Thank you to all our Annual Maintenance users who have already been using the beta and for sending us your valuable feedback. My favorite quote so far was from one user on Twitter who said “It really is just SIMUL8 online #gamechanger!”. It really is just SIMUL8 Online. If you’d like to get involved in the beta, or have thoughts of any of the R&D projects we’ve described above, drop me an email. I love to chat simulation!
“My favorite quote so far was from one user on Twitter who said ‘It really is just SIMUL8 online #gamechanger!'”