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Improving analysis from simulations

Case Study with DWP

It’s hard to imagine anything more pressurised for a data department. A whole nation trusting the figures you produce for government ministers to rest their decisions on.

For the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), these decisions affect employment income, savings, and the national budget. They began a search for the most reliable tool to do the required analysis. One that runs faster than their old program, is easier to use, and makes the most accurate financial diagnosis’.

After a two-year in-depth evaluation of some specialist tools, find out why DWP chose to use AnyLogic simulation software for financial forecasting and comparison.

 The AnyLogic software is built for handling large simulation models of any size, no matter how complicated the system

For many years, DWP used their own in-house tool for simulation modelling but as their models grew in complexity their run-times became excessive and the models harder to maintain.

Crucial to their work is the ability to simulate progression over time. Not only for someone’s individual journey through employment, but within their household and alongside work-related government agencies too.

Over the course of a lifetime, all of these entanglements can shift, be it a change within the family unit or a change to the UK’s pension policy. DWP needed to find a way to produce more complex simulation models and at a greater scale for more accurate results.

The old technology was “clunky, slow, and not especially easy to use,” says Joe at DWP who is tasked with improving efficiency. There were “issues with run time and with models falling over,” he continues. “It was flaky.”

One particularly large model would run overnight but didn’t always run successfully, so the analysts would lose an entire day recovering from the loss of data.

Other failures were worse.

“It could take weeks or months to get a simulation model running again,” says Joe, “which makes it difficult to diagnose exactly what’s going on”. So he began a formal in-depth review of three pieces of software to improve operations and enjoy greater flexibility in building the kinds of models they need to use to make better decisions.


 Get all the information needed before investing in new simulation software

To find out if he could build a new simulation system into DWP’s process, Joe ran the exercises they already perform within a few specialist tools—including AnyLogic simulation software—to see how they held up. Then he compared them against a list of non-negotiable requirements:

  •  Simulation models run quickly
  • The software can handle huge models of the size DWP produces
  • It can be programmed easily
  • The interface is good
  • The developer is reliable

Some of the results from DWP’s simulation modelling are used in fiscal events like the Chancellor’s Budget and the Spring Statement. Others inform high-level senior discussions in government about policy reviews and investigation. Joe had to be sure that the AnyLogic software was robust, so he spoke with DSE Consulting’s founder, David Buxton, to help with his evaluation.

“Dave was particularly helpful, especially in the early days when I was looking through things — he’s brilliant at talking things through,” says Joe. “Dave gave us talks on what we needed to know, which were really helpful. His approach makes a difference.” Because choosing simulation software for a task of this magnitude is not easy.

“It’s been a long game,” says Joe, “but AnyLogic is a great product. You can do potentially lots of different kinds of modelling with it. I’ve been focused on one particular thing, but other people are using it for other purposes — it’s versatile.”

Michael, who works with Joe at DWP likes the look and feel of AnyLogic. “It runs quickly and it’s got the functionality we need,” he says. “But I’m aware I’m using only a small amount of its functionality.”

Which is where SimulAi steps back in.

Never stop growing knowledge of the AnyLogic software

SimulAi exclusively provides the AnyLogic software licence in the UK, but we offer ongoing training and mentoring as well. That individual support helps to move quickly past any sticking points.

“We had a session where SimulAi came over for 2-3 days and that was helpful,” says Michael. “It was just us one on one, talking through the model. They have a deep understanding of simulation modelling so are able to make useful suggestions. It’s about getting down to more of the nitty-gritty and seeing how it’s working.”

DWP first played around with the AnyLogic software in 2013 and spent almost two years testing it against the other options. Now they’ve been using it on a day-to-day basis for a few years, the team isn’t looking for a replacement any time soon.

“Some of the analysts working in discrete and system dynamics who had struggled before say the sky’s the limit for their projects now,” says Joe.

“When we picked AnyLogic, there was some euphoria about the reprogramming of our systems. Certain sorts of analysis just couldn’t be done before or in the time-frame we needed; time to run took many times longer than it does with AnyLogic now. On the ground, that’s what’s important to people, running the model quickly and making changes fast.” — Joe, DWP