10 questions with Charles Ewen, CIO and Director of Technology, Met Office

Computer Futures’ Marc Powell asks the questions in this monthly quick-fire interview series with Senior Tech Leaders. This month we hear from Charles Ewen, CIO and Director of Technology at the Met Office.

1. What technology process or activity is the most important in creating superior user experiences to boost user/customer satisfaction?

Excellence in capturing, analysing, understanding and acting on user data, especially behavioural.

2. What are the most important principles when building high performance teams?

Multidisciplinary teams that respect and challenge each other. For them to do this they need trust from above which develops over time as the team performs. Equipping teams to perform with appropriate skills development, resourcing, clarity of purpose etc. and then engaging them with business problems to solve or opportunities to realise that grow in magnitude as the teams perform works for me.

3. How do you retain your employees?

Our location, mission and excellence as an organisation all make significant contributions. In addition, I have always found that in the end, providing opportunities for people to develop and extend themselves with training, placements and so on, despite making them more employable in theory, makes them more likely to stay in practice.

4. Tell us about a business challenge you recently solved through technology?

We have a significant number of people that do not work in our main location in Exeter and have traditionally done what we can to use IT to give them the best working experience that we can in terms of remote access and so on - with limited success. Our new approach is almost entirely location ambivalent and all of our systems are being made ‘cloud native’, such that so long as you have an internet connection, everyone has the same experience. It will take years to complete but this new perspective is starting to unlock significant benefits in terms of remote, home and flexible working.

5. How do you stay up to date with technical trends?

In short, in a very ad-hoc manner!  I am a thoroughbred geek and as such, read, watch and listen to lots of content, perhaps unusually quite a lot of science and research, but am privileged at the Met Office to be able to talk to world leading experts from world leading tech companies. All of these things help me to build my own picture of what and where technology is.

6. What is your greatest achievement in technology to date?

I don’t really measure success in terms of technology but in terms of outcome. In that regard, the times that I have used a technology lens to truly transform organisations have been the most rewarding. There are some thriving organisations out there that I played a part in using technology to transform or even disrupt the business model at times when if they had not, they may not still be there.

7. How will automation impact the job market?

Completely. That said, I do not personally see this as catastrophic as some do. My view is that whilst change will probably take place quite quickly in comparison to other big changes such as ubiquitous computing, the market will drive new ways to use people as opposed to machines, to differentiate from competition.

8. What are your thoughts on the recent rise in cryptocurrencies?

I struggle to see where the value is being generated to fund the economics of some of what we are seeing in terms of inflation in this area. I am not an economist but suspect that as the finance industry comes to terms with new secure ledger approaches, things will settle down but certainly not something I would even try to predict the future of.

9. What advice would you give to someone in education looking to pursue a career in technology?

Keep all STEM options open. I think that a broad STEM base can often deliver more choices and can be more useful in the end than specialising too early.

10. If you could give your 18 year old self some advice, what would you offer?

For circumstantial reasons, I could not fulfil my aim of going straight to University to study Physics (and never did!).  Instead, I joined the RAF as an engineering apprentice.  I would tell my 18 year old self that in 30 years’ time, you will probably see that as a good thing.

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