iphone

Doing things differently

1 July 2010

There's a quiet revolution taking place at the Met Office. Over the last 18 months, different teams have been working to develop new initiatives that will enhance the way the organisation delivers its weather products and services to the public, its customers and stakeholders.

A smart choice

On 29 January 2010, the Met Office launched its free iPhone weather app. - providing accurate and reliable five-day forecasts and severe weather warnings.

Since its launch, it's become the top free weather app. in the UK, with over 500,000 downloads. Not only that, it now ranks in the top 100 free apps - an impressive achievement especially considering there are more than 50,000 free apps available. With such resounding success, there are now plans to roll out similar applications for other smart phones and devices.

As Mona Lukha, Manager of Met Office Media, explains, "The iPhone has proved to be a fantastic opportunity to understand the mobile market. Users can leave feedback and rate the service - which has been invaluable and helped us to direct and steer new services."

As well as providing general weather forecasts, we're planning to introduce service-specific apps for groups such as surfers, sailors or mountain climbers. As Mona points out, "Where there are weather related activities, there's an opportunity for an app. in its own right."

Online and on the move

The Met Office has also developed content for other web-enabled phones. Designed with fewer graphics, it gives the user essential information that loads faster than a standard website. It's not just new services for mobiles - we're expanding our online presence too.

Eighteen months ago we launched our first Twitter feed, featuring weather warning services. Today, the service has expanded to include job vacancies, general news alerts and links to sources of information on subjects such as climate change. There are also a number of regional Twitter feeds that users can subscribe to.

Have your say

Heading up the Met Office's Web Team is Charlie Ewen, Head of Web and Online Content. He says, "We've recently launched the first step of a project that will use Twitter to gather user-generated observations. Our plan is to use the internet as a conversational medium, rather than just to broadcast information." This new project is inspired by another hot topic at the Met Office - contextual weather.

Come rain or shine

Charlie says, "Different weather scenarios are good or bad for different people. Contextual weather aims to provide a picture of certain activities such as sailing, cutting grass, hanging out the washing, operating a crane... and how the weather will affect them." This contextual understanding can be applied to make the weather more meaningful to people with specific requirements - which is why Invent was set up.

Currently under development, Invent is a showcase of plans to present web-based contextual weather forecasts, products and information. Designed to give customers what they want, Invent gathers feedback from users, which is then used to shape and refine the future technology.

From the inside out

Generating new ideas for products and services can be difficult. Creativity needs to be nurtured, given the right environment and time to blossom. No one appreciates this more than members of the Met Office ThinkUP Team.

Team member, Gary Holpin says, "In 2008, a few of us realised we didn't have enough ideas for new products in our markets. So we asked ourselves, how can we come up with better ideas? There are all these innovative companies out there - what are they doing that puts them ahead of the rest?" This small group became known as the ThinkUp Team.

Over the first few months, the team met with senior people from Google, innocent and Shell and asked what made them innovative. Armed with inspiration, they adapted some of the methods used by these companies and are trying a few out at the Met Office.

As Claire Hooper, another team member explains, "One of the most important things we've learnt as a team is that creativity isn't some elusive trait that only special people have. Creativity can be nurtured using some simple tools and techniques or simply being prepared to try and do things differently, and more creativity leads to more innovation."

To help make the Met Office an even more innovative place, the ThinkUp Team has applied its research on innovative companies to deliver a whole range of activities, including facilitating creative sessions to generate new product ideas, and running one-day courses for staff where they can learn to be more creative in their day jobs. They have also created a website to share what they've learnt about creativity, and offer a 'ThinkTank' room equipped with tools to help all Met Office staff to be more innovative.

As Gary says, "Our goal for this is if, in ten years' time, you ask people to name a company that's really innovative one of the first things they say is the Met Office."

Latest innovations

We're keen to take a more creative look at the way we can use all available technology to provide our customers and the public with the very best weather service possible. Here are just a few of our recent endeavours:

iPhone application

Released at the end of January 2010, it fast became the top free weather app. download. The app. provides clear, five-day forecasts and weather warnings.

Twitter

The main Twitter feed provides corporate information, press releases and job vacancies. There are also five national feeds and 14 regional feeds for users to view weather warnings for specific areas.

Weather widgets

Users can tailor a Met Office weather widget to sit within their own website.

Mobile phones

The Met Office has developed content for web-enabled mobile phones with fewer graphics, to speed up loading time.

Invent

A web-innovation being used to trial and develop new ways to communicate weather and climate information, so that it is more meaningful to people who are planning specific activities.

ThinkUp team

An internal team established to boost creativity in the workplace, to maximise the creative potential of the Met Office capabilities and staff.

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