In the new interview with an External Guest we meet with Andrei Borshchev, who is the co-founder of AnyLogic – an extremely well-known and respected simulation technology.
In our Chat, Andrei wows us with the story of his career path – one of the most straightforward and yet impressive careers you’ll ever hear about.
Andrei explains why AnyLogic is such a great tool (which from our experience we know is brilliant!), shares some honest lessons for the other entrepreneurs and surprises us by saying that business is the most stable part of his life.
He is clearly a connoisseur and appreciator of the finer things in life – be it fashion, good drink or his own tech product, which he strives to perfect for the good of all who would benefit from simulation (which he argues is pretty much all industries).
You co-founded and own AnyLogic. Tell us about the company’s journey and where the company is heading?
- Before 2000 we were a university-based group, working for food (doing software development); we wanted to pursue the idea of building an “abstract cool tool for modelling”.
- In 2000 AnyLogic debuted at WinterSim. From there, through the early 2000’s, and working closely with early adopters, the software was made useful for business needs.
- Around 2004, we were able to focus fully on AnyLogic. Since then, we have been gradually adding features and improving the product – 3D, GIS, industry libraries, database functionality, and so on. By 2015, AnyLogic had become the most popular simulation tool for business applications.
- In 2015 we started the second product, anyLogistix, a simulation-based tool for supply chain design.
- In 2017, we launched AnyLogic Cloud to provide an online execution environment for simulation models. Using AnyLogic as a training and testing platform for AI came shortly after that, in 2018, through collaborations with leaders in applied AI.
- In 2019, we started development of AnyLogic 9 to make use of the most modern technology stack. It’s a great development that will merge AnyLogic cloud and be available as SaaS, as well as a server application. These are on the horizon, along with anyLogistix 3.0 which will also run as a server application with web interface.
What do you love and what do you want to change about AnyLogic (1-3 fundamentals)?
I am of course proud of all the things we pioneered. We were the first to:
- Combine the three modelling methods in one tool and let them interoperate.
- Offer a practically useful agent-based modelling environment.
- Incorporate GIS into dynamic simulation models.
- Separate the model logic and the physical space markup.
- Introduce 2D and 3D simulation animation in the browser.
- Launch a public simulation cloud where thousands of modelers contribute and collaborate.
- Make simulations training and testing environments for applied AI.
AnyLogic has tons of functionality. This is cool and unique: no matter what kind of business problem you are dealing with, we guarantee you will find the right constructs to conceptualize it. On the flip-side: it takes time to explore and learn the product. Our job is to help as much as possible: from tutorials and how-to videos, to extended tech support – set up to suggest the right modelling techniques. And of course, in AnyLogic 9, UX is our focus, we are simplifying a lot usage and learning.
Some things I would like to change:
- The AnyLogic model editor needs a new UI, we are now moving to a completely new technology stack; AnyLogic 9 is a client-server application with state-of-the-art web interface and scalable backend.
- Java as a scripting language has worked great for us for 20 years, but now there is high demand for Python (data analysts, AI developers), so both languages will be on board in AnyLogic 9.
- AnyLogic animation is browser-based. This is great because it works anywhere (iOS, Android, Linux, MacOS, etc.). Versatility, though, may affect performance. Our job is to minimize that.
What is the single biggest thing you like about your company?
After 20 years, it’s still young, dynamic, and innovative, with minimum hierarchy and minimum bureaucracy.
What are the top 3 lessons that you learnt running a business that will be useful for other entrepreneurs to hear?
- Striking a balance between what you want to do and what your clients want you to do is the key.
- Another important balance: new features and quality. Focus on what’s already great or what can potentially be great; don’t spend time on things that are just nice to have.
- Don’t hesitate to say goodbye to even long-time colleagues and partners if they fail to perform.
The top 1-3 highlights in your career?
My career is very simple and straightforward: Peter the Great St.Petersburg Polytechnic University -> Teaching at the same University -> PhD -> Founding AnyLogic -> Working as AnyLogic CEO. Outside that path there was a two-year employment at Hewlett-Packard Labs UK in mid-90s. I am happy and thankful for everything that happened and everything that did not happen.
Some thought it was a crazy move of mine to discontinue employment in the UK and return to Russia in 1996, but I think otherwise – I would not have been able to build what I built, because Russia was full of opportunities by then. Now, Russia is taking a very sad direction politically and this is the greatest disappointment of my life, but that is another story. For the company, it is international nowadays and business-wise, we don’t care.
What would be your dream project and client?
With regards to our clients, almost half of Fortune top 100 are already using AnyLogic, so we’ve achieved a lot of our dreams.
Our business, developing tools and technologies for dynamic simulation, is pure B2B. It would be cool to do something on top of our technology and experience B2C, addressing the public and a much bigger market. Of course, there are games out there, which are simulations restricted to certain scenario sets. But the last thing I want to do is enter the gaming business, I believe the world would be much better without most computer games. For us, we’d have to do something completely different.
Are there companies out there you admire and why?
I choose Tech and Fashion.
Tech: Shazam – a great example of a piece of science & technology that makes us happy, Uber for transforming the physical world in one elegant tech move, Amazon for excellence, Google for everything, Microsoft for sustaining technology leadership for so many decades, Adobe for Photoshop.
Fashion: Demobaza, Boris Bidjan Saberi, Julius, Masnada, Isaac Sellam. For the style.
What industry or technical challenges intrigue you the most?
The biggest barrier to the rapid expansion of simulation in industry remains the complexity of developing useful simulations. And it is not about “coding required” or “no coding required” (which is nonsense of course), it is about thinking in four dimensions (space plus time), understanding interacting parallel processes, understanding continuous and discrete, being skilful with data, and, of course, it is about the ability to conceptualize, to map the problem to the modelling language at the right level of abstraction. In general, the skillset required for a good hardcore simulation modeler is more rarely found that than of a good software engineer.
At AnyLogic, we think that any move made towards relaxing those requirements, is a good move. A lot can be done in particular verticals, where we can suggest the right abstraction level and better guide the user through the model development process. AnyLogic Material Handling Library is an example of such a solution.
Another interesting challenge comes from Applied AI – potentially, a new market, a new user type for simulation. Are we able to serve the AI industry with efficient virtual learning and testing environments for AI to be used in business applications? It is not only the new performance requirements, but also the right API, the ability to easily deploy and run simulations in cloud environments, etc. AnyLogic pioneered linking simulation and Applied AI by building the Reinforcement Learning experiment type, RL API, and establishing the technology partnership with Microsoft Project Bonsai, Pathmind, and other industry leaders.
Where do you see the industry in a 3-year time?
Our observation is that we do not compete much with other vendors, we rather compete with “do not use simulation at all”, other types of analytics, Excel of course, and so on. We still do a lot of evangelization work. That means the market is very far from saturation and I anticipate growth, subject to the general inertia of B2B world. Trends like digital twinning/digital transformation will continue and certainly contribute to growth.
As I said before, AI may or may not create a new substantial demand for simulation, in three years, we will know it.
On the modelling methodology side, the last breakthrough was agent based and multi-method modelling (again, pioneered by AnyLogic). We are still capitalizing on that, expanding the simulation application to problems where traditional process modelling does not work well, such as e.g., supply chains; other vendors try to follow us. I do not foresee more game-changing events in modelling “theory” in the nearest future.
Simulation is already taking advantage of cloud computing and simulation-in-the-cloud will become mainstream in the next three years. Some time ago, I thought that model execution will move to the cloud while the model development will stay desktop; now I have reconsidered that. AnyLogic 9 has a server- or cloud-based model development and model execution environment with a 100% web interface and no need for local installation. Apart from the modern UI, there is also the ability to efficiently embed simulations into operational workflows and use the CI to maintain them and keep them up to date.
What are the challenges you face at work?
My original background is technical (maths and computer science), and I love creating things (designing algorithms, architectures, languages, UIs, solving technical problems, coding, etc.). As the company was growing, I had to spend more and more time on management tasks, which I don’t enjoy that much – a very typical situation, I guess, and definitely resolvable.
How do you deal with frustrations and downs that having a business brings?
I can’t say business brings me any significant frustrations, quite the opposite, it is the most stable part of my life that I can rely upon. All major frustrations are not related to my work.
Does your family understand what you do for work?
Yes, more or less. Simulations are visual, that helps.
How do you unwind?
Lagavulin, Yamazaki, Laphroaig, Talisker, Balvenie, Caol Ila, El Capo Extra Anejo, Chateau Latour, Opus One, good Californian Chardonnay will also do.
If the above does not work: beach volleyball, tennis, badminton, lots of travel.