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This summer, with its terrible floods, has ensured that one area of government has been particularly busy – the Met Office.

Set up by the Board of Trade in 1854, in a bid to prevent commercial ships getting lost, the Met Office now relies on efficient software development to keep providing weather forecasting products for a range of customers.

Along with the familiar television weather forecasts, the Met Office provides crucial information to the aviation, marine, energy, media, insurance and construction industries and provides support for the armed forces.

Met Office models are also used worldwide – they helped to predict when Hurricane Katrina would come ashore in 2005 and are providing important information about climate change.

Nigel Reed, head of technology delivery, explains that the Met Office “acquires in real-time very large amounts of information” – amounts measured in terabytes per day. “Within an hour or 90 minutes, we’ve analysed it. To do that we have invested a lot of intellectual capability and computing power,” he says.

But in order to keep producing new packages of analysis for its varied customers, the Met Office needed to improve the delivery of its software projects, developing new applications on time and to specification. “Application lifecycle management was absolutely vital,” Reed says.

The organisation wanted both to improve delivery and reduce the total cost of ownership for its products, where “80% of the TCO is likely to be post-delivery support and maintenance”, Reed says.

Met Office – facts and figures

The Met Office processes 10m pieces of weather information and issues 3,000
forecasts to organisations around the world every day.

It has 1,700 staff in total, including 210 IT staff. 150 of these are now working to the new integrated development methodology and processes.

It used Borland’s Open ALM package, with Borland StarTeam, Borland CaliberRM and Borland Together, as well as CodeGear JBuilder, CodeGear C++Builder and Mercury testing tools.

The IT department set up the Met Office Integrated Development Environment (MIDE) project – reorganising software development into customer-facing teams, using an integrated software development methodology, environment and toolset. And it selected Borland’s Open Application Lifecycle Management (Open ALM) package to support the new way of working.

Reed, who was himself originally a weather forecaster, emphasises the importance of linking software development, business aims and operations. “Everything from concept development to operational delivery needs to be managed in a single process.”

He explains: “We’re using an integrated workflow we’ve written using the integrated toolset from Borland.” Creating new products is now “an iterative agile development process”, he says. “We do three different releases [of the software] so the business can see what they’ll get through the lifecycle.”

Reed adds: “We’re making sure [customer] requirement are right at the centre of project delivery and we test everything against those requirements. But customers have the opportunity to change those requirements during the lifecycle of the project.”

The Met Office has concrete measures of its success. Before the MIDE programme, average slippage of software projects against their milestones was 140 days. That average is now down to five days – “a complete transformation”, Reed says, while there has been a 40% reduction of the time projects spend in exception.

And the software delivery teams have dispelled some dark clouds around customer satisfaction too, raising satisfaction levels from 38% to 59% to create a sunnier atmosphere all round.