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Forecast: Innovation

Divina Paredes | Nov. 26, 2013
The flipside of Alistair Vickers' business card features a rugby ball -- and a reminder how MetService plays a role in the victory of the All Blacks at a final game at Eden Park."

MetService is a state owned enterprise, but does not get government funding. "I can't go to the government minister and say, can we have a supercomputer? "Everything needs to be justifiable, so we have to provide a business case if we want more investment," he says and this proposal goes to the board.

"Everything is very, very commercial," he says. "So in some respect, we are more like a small private company than a government agency."

It is a model that impacts the way the information services team works across the organisation.

MetService has around 240 people across the globe, of which about 180 are based in New Zealand. Its international offices are in the United Kingdom, Sydney and Hong Kong. The service desk, which runs in three shifts, is based in Wellington. The role of the CIO and the role of technology in MetService has grown and changed quite a lot over the years, says Vickers.

"The analogy I use for my group is a town planning perspective," he says. "The architects decide with the business whether we want roads or trains or something else and where to build; whether it is a two-lane road or a 10-lane road.

"Then the infrastructure team builds the roads, with servers and storage and networking and everything. The application support team keeps the roads open."

Taking on the hat of an entrepreneurial CIO is a critical part of his job at the state owned enterprise. Recently, he and CEO Peter Lennox went to Europe to meet with a number of companies they are doing business with, including the BBC.

MetService provides weather information that can impact operations and decisions both in the corporate and consumer markets. For example, one of its subscribers is a local photographer who needs to know whether it will be a good day to schedule a photo shoot. There are also food manufacturing and consumer companies that need to know when will be the first "barbeque weekend" in summer so they can stock up on related consumables like sausages and steak.

In the pipeline with their development and product teams are several new and enhancement of products that can be supplied 'as a service' across the globe. One of these is Weatherscape, software package that can be used in different ways by television companies. A television station, for instance, can personalise the programme by assigning a weather presentor, as all information, including graphics, are provided by MetraWeather.

These commercial services mean the IT team is also becoming "product focused". The service desk has moved out of IT and now report to the general manager of communications. "They are in the front line of the business," explains Vickers. "That way we have a consistent message across the public and our customers."


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