Charles Ewen made the weather at the Met Office in 2016. He delivered a supercomputer project at a capital cost of around £100m, three months early and within budget. He initiated an ambitious and wide-ranging transformation programme that has IT change at its core but is led by the business rather than IT. And his department exceeded all measures in operations and service delivery.
Director of technology (CIO)
How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
The Met Office is a world-leading organisation delivering weather and climate science and services to government and industry. Its customer base is diverse, as are its customers’ needs. As the only technology specialist on the executive board, I work with my teams and colleagues to develop an approach to structure, measure, analyse and ultimately deliver, an improving customer experience. We are an ‘information business’, and understanding our existing and future place in the nascent information economy is a challenge. Science and technology is at the heart of our capability and in a rapidly changing world the way in which we strive to achieve our mission to ‘protect life and property’, and contribute to wider social and economic benefit is also changing rapidly. In that landscape, technology is increasingly seen as an advantage and enabler rather than a limitation, and our brand measures, reach and financial position are all improving.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
In the last 12 months we have delivered the world’s largest operational weather and climate supercomputer project at a capital cost of around £100m, three months early and within budget. In addition, we have initiated an ambitious and wide-ranging transformation programme that, while having IT change at its core, is led as a business and digital transformation programme rather than an IT project – this has been my goal for two years. In addition, the 350-strong technology directorate is on track to exceed all measures in both operations and service delivery.
New product releases in iOS and Android apps have been very successful, with the iOS app being rated as one of the top 10 of 2016. In addition there have been significant new product releases in aviation and media markets that have exceeded target expectations.
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
- Products: The big data challenges of the domain have resulted in a very new approach to product development – broadly a move from end-user applications to an API economy, with end-user applications delivered elsewhere in the value chain. I have worked hard in industry, government and internationally to drive a change in thinking about how value is realised in the weather and climate domain. At a more operational level, I have restructured teams around a ‘multimode’ IT model that allows us to use the most efficient and effective blend of in/outsource, on/off-premise and delivery methodology. This is well understood by the wider business, and engagement levels in multi-disciplinary team (agile) approaches are high and effective.
- Business model: As above, the business model of the organisation is developing quickly as a result of technology-driven change in the big data and analytics space. I have worked with teams, colleagues and stakeholders to recognise and adapt to these changes with an increasing level of ‘self-disruption’.
- Technology: Our innovation in technology is internationally recognised. Most recently, our approach to HPC (supercomputer) exploitation via decoupling and cloud-based infrastructure has been a focus and one in which I have led conversations with key partners such as Cray and Amazon (AWS).
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
As part of our transformation programme, many of the concepts developed and implemented in technology will be adopted by the wider organisation. Approaches to multidisciplinary teams, vendor strategic management and federated delivery models are all specific examples. I am seen as the primary change advocate and constantly challenge both my teams and the wider organisation to think about how outcomes and customer experience can be improved by ‘doing differently’.
I have set up a lab whose job is to develop new approaches to both existing and future challenges through innovation. Despite being only 12 months in, the lab has delivered some outstanding examples of internal culture change, especially in the interactions between science and technology as well as working with partners.
How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
We have invested in new productivity and corporate social tools in order to communicate change itself via digital channels. For the Met Office, ‘digital’ has two distinct meanings that are well understood.
First, at a technical level, it referees the ‘peripheral technologies’ with which we interact with the outside world. This ranges from the most used public website and apps to an increasing emphasis on APIs, SDKs and developer programmes to maximise the value that we can deliver.
Second, it refers to a culture and attitude that puts the customer at the heart of everything that we do, and recognises that, ultimately, this is all that matters. One of my key challenges is the degree of ‘heavy lifting’ IT that the Met Office has to undertake as a function of its role. While some of this is in the cloud, and more will continue to move to there, HPC is some way from that, so ‘digital’ approaches can be hard to apply. In addition, we are rolling out a new suite of tooling, centred on the Microsoft 365 offer as well as an aggressive mobility programme. This in itself is transforming the organisation and allows the advantages of a ‘digital’ approach to be experienced.
How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
We work extensively and strategically with many of the large technology companies and have formal programmes with Amazon, Twitter, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and BT. These are true partnerships where we explore how improvement can be made both to the vendor offer and our consumption of it.
At the extreme end of big data, processing something over a petabyte of data every day, the Met Office can test many technologies for scale, and this is a role that we undertake with a range of companies, large and small. I facilitate and participate in forums with large and small technology companies, especially those in the south-west. The lab interacts with a number of startups in relevant areas, and contributes IP and experience in relevant areas.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Part of the justification for the mobility programme is to assist in developing a more diverse workforce, especially one in which working women and those with limitations on their ability to get to work are thought about. Our diversity statistics suggest that we are marginally ahead of average in all measures and improving. I undertake guest lectures and STEM activities at which we are clear about our aspirations for diversity. We run a very successful IT trainee programme, which offers those who have acumen, but no formal IT qualifications, the opportunity to develop with a range of vocational, academic and professional activities; it has been in place very successfully for three years. We have an award- winning STEM volunteer team that engages with typically primary students to encourage them to continue with STEM subjects. I work in a group that is seeking to advance the wider Exeter area as a place of excellence for technology, data and digital skills – this is also in part aimed at encouraging a more diverse workforce.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
All operational IT at the Met Office sits within the technology directorate, which is broadly 350 permanent staff flexed with up to 40 contract staff. In addition, technology is a core skill of many of our 600-strong science team. I take accountability for the ‘technology theme’ across the Met Office as well as the line management of the three groups that sit within the technology directorate.
For us, data, digital and change concerns are encompassed by my role, and we run specialist teams that look specifically at those areas. I have restructured the teams around a ‘run, grow, transform’, model at senior and financial level, with an overarching goal to minimise run costs so that more can be invested in grow and transform.
I also separate operational technology from key governance roles such as enterprise architecture, assurance, information and knowledge management, cyber and the lab. All of those functions have a small core team, but areas such as policy development, technical compliance and so on are federated using top-level guidance, principles and, ultimately, operational assurance.
I have a technology strategy that links directly to the corporate strategy’s ‘18 elements’ (internal jargon, sorry!). Personally, I spend at least 60% of my time and focus on business activities and have a full understanding of the wider Met Office such that I can effectively understand how technology can advance our customer experience, as well as corporate goals and objectives and how those corporate objectives should be influenced by technology.
What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
- Microsoft 365 five-year agreement
- AWS direct connect and cloud agreement
- Akamai renewal
- Virgin 100Gb/s datacentre interconnect.
What are your key strategic aims for next year?
- Maintaining an improving customer experience, service and project delivery at the same time as delivering transformational change.
- Addressing public sector pay for technology.
- Making the above affordable!
How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
We have a dedicated Brexit team including a technology representative and will continue to manage a specific risks, issues and actions activity.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Direct to CEO
Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
I employ a chief digital officer and other roles so we can effectively work with industry and government. However, we have a successful holistic approach to technology, and I am the sole accountable role on the executive board.
How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
At least five days a month, at least one hour a week one-to-one.
How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
Around £35m (there are also budgets that I direct, but do not manage).
What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
62% run, 30% build, and 8% transform. However, this will change markedly in 2017.
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- CIO peers
- Industry bodies
- Analyst houses
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
Yes, I have a reporting CISO who is also part of the seven-strong senior (technology) management team and a direct report.
Met Office IT department
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?
- enterprise applications
- machine learning/artificial intelligence
- devices (mobile)
- devices (desktop)
- mass storage.
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- enterprise applications
- machine learning/artificial intelligence
- devices (mobile)
- devices (desktop)
What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
This is a core area for the lab, working with organisations in the public, private and academic sectors. It is largely focused on impact prediction.
Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?