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From enabler to shared leadership

Charles Ewen, Director of Technology and Chief Information Officer, describes how the role of technology has evolved at the Met Office.

Everybody uses technology - from the seemingly simple emails we send every day to the incredibly complex supercomputer used to create weather forecasts and understand climate change - technology at the Met Office has a huge sphere of activity.

Since I started at the Met Office I have witnessed the role of technology at the Met Office evolve from being an enabler to adopting a position of shared leadership.

Journey of evolution

This journey has involved not only simplifying a complex IT infrastructure but also creating a clear hierarchy of leadership and responsibility within the Met Office Technology Directorate. Overall, when combined, these changes mean that technology at the Met Office is now more efficient and outcome-based. We manage development more effectively, and are also able to start and stop projects easily.

As the role of technology at the Met Office has grown, so has our technological expertise. Our implementation of the new supercomputer is the biggest example of this, but technology is pivotal in a variety of Met Office work - whether it's developing the new Met Office Weather app, launching the Met Office's highly sophisticated weather visualisation software, Visual Cortex, or offering an improved cloud-based solution for collecting and managing observations through WOW, our Weather Observations Website.

Technology is now better positioned to respond to what's required so there is much less of a gap between delivery and strategic intent. But, more importantly, technology is no longer just an enabler or deliverer of services. Technology has a seat at the table, contributing right from the start with ideas at the early formulation stage. Crucially we are also now in a good shape to respond to the challenges ahead.

Multidisciplinary future

The Met Office deals with huge amounts of data every single day. In recognising and tackling the challenges of 'Big Data' it is essential that the Met Office is moving away from a fragmented structure, working in separate teams, to working closely together in multidisciplinary teams.

Over the last three years, the Met Office has changed the way that it works, using an 'agile' approach, bringing together people with different skills from around the Met Office and external partners to create multidisciplinary teams. This has reduced paperwork and improved efficiencies and outcomes as the approach has matured.

Another example of this is the Met Office Informatics Lab, a small team of programmers, designers and scientists that is exploring innovative ways of using data and making it available in ways that are most useful. This way of working is something that is increasingly being replicated across the Met Office, especially in service delivery teams - where the 'rubber hits the road'. In fact, the digital space is often where regular outputs or projects must be multidisciplinary to succeed.

This way of working is often more agile and is something that was first developed in the technological working environment. Subject matter experts, working in combination on common themes, can accomplish so much more than working in traditional silos. Of course, large parts of the Met Office still need to operate as consolidated groups of experts. However, to deliver successfully we must deliberately create unstructured, multidisciplinary teams. For me, this is the nature of a truly diverse workforce - one that values different ways of thinking and perspectives. I believe that in this way we are ahead of the game and ready for the complex challenges that we are sure to face in the future.