The Met Office gets to grips with weather software and data

Case Study: The Met Office is one of the world's leading providers of weather information services. It needed a way to bring new software products and services to market faster and more reliably.

Founded in 1854, the Met Office is one of the world's leading providers of environmental and weather-related services. It serves many communities of interest, from the general public, government and schools, through to broadcasters, retailers, civil aviation and almost every other industry sector - not just in the UK but globally. Producing and delivering weather data and information about environmental conditions is more than just a public service these days, it's big business.

The Met Office provides weather forecasts and information which allow the public, government and business to make informed decisions about how best to capitalise on, mitigate, or adapt to the impacts of weather and climate.

In order to serve its many customers, the Met Office relies heavily on its technology. It processes 10 million pieces of weather information and issues 3,000 forecasts to organisations around the globe each day. It invests significant sums of money in developing internal software projects, ensuring that it has in place the software to provide weather and climate services as required to its customers.

In order to improve the provision of better and more accurate forecasts to the public and other customers, the Met Office launched the MIDE (Met Office Integrated Development Environment) project as part of a major technology change programme. This involved adopting a new approach to development, based around customer facing teams, an integrated software development methodology, and an integrated software development environment and toolset.

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The Met Office needed to bring new software products and services to market faster and more reliably than it had previously in order to improve its customer service and compete effectively against other public and private sector providers of weather and environmental data around the world. However, at the same time, the organisation also needed to drive its software production efficiency.

After many years of developing software, the Met Office found that its development environment had become fragmented and disjointed. It wanted to introduce standardised processes to align its IT capability with changing business requirements.

In order to improve its delivery performance, it needed to be able to understand and define the requirements of its customers, both within the business and externally, but be sufficiently flexible to adapt when these requirements change. It needed a standardised development process along with staff with skills that could easily be transferred between projects and teams.

In order to do this, the Met Office put in place a technology change programme, including the use of a development tool set, to improve performance and achieve its strategic aims.

Within software development, the Met Office set about process evaluation and change, to ensure that its software projects advanced the performance of the business as a whole.

The Met Office selected Borland's Open Application Lifecycle Management (Open ALM) solution to help it improve delivery of weather and climate products and services for customers. Initially the Met Office signed a contract with Borland to supply products and services to support the first phase of MIDE, consisting of six pilot projects, directly affecting about 50 staff across Technology and Applied Science. Subsequently the main contract was signed for a roll out for up to 250 staff.

Since adopting Borland's Open ALM solution the Met Office has improved product development performance. The use of Borland's StarTeam software change & configuration management (SCM) tool has resulted in a 30 per cent improvement in the efficiency of configuration managers in support of developers using the tool.

Project predictability has improved, with a 40 per cent decrease in the average time spent in exception and a near elimination of significant delays in key deliverables, due to having more established and controlled delivery processes in place.

"The reason we chose Borland was really two-fold. Partly it was the potential for integration of a toolset that covered the entire process. But also it was Borland's willingness to be flexible and work with us in a way that was centred on our needs" said Nigel Reed, head of technology development at the Met Office.

"We selected Borland for more cost effective software development, so we could get even better at meeting our customers' needs and to manage change where projects are modified late in the development, improving delivery of prototypes and finished products."

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Since adopting Borland's Open ALM solution the delivery performance of the Met Office's software projects has improved dramatically. The Met Office uses a range of quantifiable measurements to assess its software development performance. Measuring performance has been made easier by using the Open ALM products.

The Met Office has also benefited from the flexibility that Open ALM has provided it in terms of defining, managing and measuring its own software delivery processes. "Borland's open approach gives us the freedom of having a delivery process which is largely independent of any specific deployment platform or technology. It supports most of the tools and products that we use" said Reed.

Overall, the Met Office has enjoyed a significant improvement in the predictability of project delivery.

One of the problems that the Met Office is tackling by using Open ALM is software requirements capture and management. The need for the Met Office's software projects to reflect changes and developments within the organisation is a critical reason for selecting an Open ALM solution as it fits in with the wider business objective of implementing a customer-centric approach to all of the Met Office's activity.

As well as providing the Met Office with its Open ALM technology, Borland has also helped improve the organisation's internal software processes through its training and consultancy services.

The Met Office expects to finish its overall change programme by April 2008.

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