Taking care of business
As one of the Met Office's Business Group Senior Leaders, John Harrison is at the forefront of several innovative business areas. Here he reveals how a head for business and spirit of collaboration is helping the group meet the needs of Met Office customers today - and into the future.
John Harrison's connection to the world of business began at university. A degree in Business and Modern Languages led to an overseas graduate scheme with a major European drinks company that owned breweries across the continent - a dream job for many young graduates. But after working for a few years in France, Spain and Portugal and sensing it was time to return to the UK, a role at the Met Office beckoned.
"I spend a lot of time outdoors and enjoy surfing, so I've always had a natural interest in the weather and environment," says John. "I was drawn to the way the Met Office links scientific expertise with public and business needs - whether that's improving road safety or simply helping people decide whether or not to hang their washing out to dry."
Supporting industry - from shopping to sports
John's now part of the Business Group Senior Leadership Team, following roles in the Met Office's Commercial, Aviation and Products divisions. His wideranging background is proving invaluable. "It helps to have a broad knowledge of different industries, the various customers we serve and the capabilities we've got that could support them," John says.
The Group's focus is on services to industry, spanning air transport and energy alongside the two areas John heads up - surface transport, and innovation and emerging markets.
"In a nutshell, we're trying to better understand our customers' needs so we can shape our services to benefit them into the future."
That means John's time is split roughly three ways: managing and leading his teams, developing new opportunities and products, and getting out meeting customers and partners.
"I'm working closely with our current customers, such as county councils, but I'm also forging relationships with potential partners and new industries - including intelligent transport systems providers."
Right now, John's Innovation and Emerging Markets team is concentrating amongst others things on the retail sector, to better understand how weather and climate affects shopping behaviour and the supply chain. They're also working with water companies to strengthen their operations. While Met Office services already benefit major events like Wimbledon and the Open Golf Championships, John's excited about opportunities to take support for the sports world further.
The spirit of innovation
Many of these businesses have been Met Office customers for decades. In fact, some county councils and highways agencies John works with have been accessing Met Office services for over 30 years. But as technology advances at lightning speed and the move towards a digital economy continues apace, John sees how those services must evolve to continue to meet the shifting needs of today's businesses. John points to the Internet of Things - where physical objects are interconnected and exchange information - as a source of inspiration.
"Rather than thinking of what we do at the Met Office as a one-way process, delivering forecasts to a county council gritter, for example, we're looking at how our weather information and expertise could be integrated throughout the whole transport system - making things even more efficient for our customers."
That idea has already begun to filter into the new Transport Weather Manager product which we are currently developing. "We're now going beyond data delivery and actually supporting our customers in the decision-making process, helping them make a choice that will ultimately have a positive impact on their operations."
A once-in-a-generation opportunity
John believes what's happening in the Business Group is a pivotal moment. "We're at a point where we've got both the mandate and the momentum to explore and develop new technologies, and deliver enhanced services that we know can help our customers - so things are coming together at the right time," he says.
Having worked across various Met Office divisions in his career, John points to the organisation's multi-disciplinary strengths and collaborative culture as crucial to Group's success. The swift benefits they've already brought to customers mean the future is looking bright.
"I don't want to work somewhere that is slow and ponderous. I want to work somewhere that moves fast and is always looking to improve. I can already see that what we're doing in the Business Group has upped the pace - and the energy here is invigorating."