Science and technology across the board
5 August 2013
Andy Brown and Charlie Ewen have recently been appointed to the Executive of the Met Office, as Director of Science and Chief Information Officer respectively. We asked them about the role of science and technology in the Met Office.
For Director of Science Andy Brown, a career at the Met Office was the logical conclusion after a Physics degree at Oxford. Meanwhile Chief Information Officer Charlie Ewen started his career in the RAF before working in a number of FTSE150 businesses and setting up a successful technology company.
Charlie has no doubt he is in the right place. "If you want to be at the cutting edge of technology, there are only a handful of other brands in the UK that would enable you to work at the same scale and span of technologies that we do."
Similarly, Andy takes great pride in the huge range of world-leading science carried out in the Met Office. Ask either Charlie or Andy about the role of science and technology at the Met Office and they will point you towards the 'bow-tie' representation of the organisation.
On the left hand side are the Met Office's scientific and technological capabilities, and on the right hand side are the services they deliver to customers. The diagram shows that the organisation has to translate fundamental science to create relevant products and services for customers. Technology is instrumental in this.
"On the left hand side you have the technology associated with an academic research association," explains Charlie, "And in the middle you have the operational infrastructure that is as resilient and robust as anything in the retail environment. On the right hand side you have all the technology to support all the very large scale web presence, including the most visited Government website in the country."
From science to service
The flow from capability to service delivery is crucial to the Met Office's ongoing success. To make sure it continues to function effectively, Charlie and Andy have been involved with a number of new initiatives.
Firstly, a series of workshops - that focused on particular customer sectors, such as utilities and insurance - have brought together staff from science and business teams to investigate how best to meet customer needs. The business teams shared insights into what customers are hoping to see in the future. Meanwhile the science teams reported on the new capabilities that have been developed over the last two years, such as the high resolution forecasting for the UK.
"The crucial thing is making sure we have both the customer understanding and the science capability understanding, so they can push and pull both ways."
Collaboration like this can lead to new initiatives, and new opportunities at both ends of the bow-tie, as Andy explains: "The crucial thing is making sure we have both the customer understanding and the science capability understanding, so they can push and pull both ways."
The application of science
Alongside the workshops, Andy's team has also been working on a new applied science and scientific consultancy directorate, led by Doug Johnson. The Met Office focuses on delivering customer-relevant science, and to that end we are looking at how we translate science through to particular business sectors. "It's something we've always done well," says Andy, "but we want to do it better still." The team has been identifying roles within certain sectors, making sure that there are more scientists who bridge between the deeper science and its customer-focused application.
Technology shaping change
There have also been some exciting developments in Met Office technology. Information Communications Technology is an office-wide strategy to encourage everyone to engage with ICT. As Charlie says, "IT is beginning to have a role akin to science. It can deliver new capability and, in a commercial sense, new strategic advantage." The ICT strategy is encouraging everyone to see the technology used as a force for change rather than a tool for delivery.
Andy is sure that technology will continue to have implications in his field too. "Aspects of both the underpinning research and the translational science work will change because of the changes in the technology available," he explains.
"If you want to be at the cutting edge of technology, there are only a handful of other brands in the UK that would enable you to work at the same scale and span of technologies that we do."
Both Andy and Charlie see science and technology continuing to drive work and deliverables at the Met Office. Andy points out that science will not only be used to improve forecasting and weather, but to broaden the scope of what the Met Office can do for customers. Climate Service UK is an excellent example of this, using science to give people the best possible climate information to help them make decisions.
Communicating this to customers is vital, adds Charlie. They increasingly expect to see data-driven products that visualise weather and forecasts, so his team is working closely with the Communications team to create infographics and informatics to disseminate information. "Data-driven products on climate services are definitely coming," says Charlie.