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Flurry of ICT changes at BOM

by Sam Murphy •
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The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) is expecting a new mobile website, a new supercomputer and a new Chief Information Officer (CIO).

Although not formally confirmed by BOM, Intermedium has it on very good authority that Leslie Seebeck is set to become BOM’s new CIO, following the departure of Robert Lovery in March 2014. Seebeck will move from the Department of Finance where she has been the Assistant Secretary of Digital Government Investment and Assurance, according to Finance’s Organisation Chart.

Mobile website trial

BOM has provided a preview of its mobile website, designed specifically for smartphone users.

According to a BOM press release, “The mobile weather website is the Bureau's first mobile product offering for smartphone users.”

Director of Meteorology at BOM, Dr. Rob Vertessy, revealed at a Senate Estimates Enquiry in May 2014 that 54 per cent of all the Bureau’s website views were from mobile devices equating to over 220 million hits from phones and tablets. Vertessy said, mobile device users are “demanding to know exactly what the situation is where they are standing. So fresh data, locationally aware data, is all the rage now in the digital world and it is very strong in the weather scene”.

The Bureau’s website is the 25th most frequently visited website in Australia and the most visited government website, according to web analyst Alexa. While BOM provides data to a number of mobile weather applications it has not previously commissioned its own.

In addition to the mobile website, the Bureau is actively developing mobile applications. In February 2014, BOM approached the market for ‘an award winning mobile application developer, with experience in building large scale mobile apps for public usage’ to design its first mobile weather forecast application app.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, Simon Birmingham told Senate Estimates, “I expect to see apps for some of the major platforms of mobile devices rolled out before the end of the year,” adding, “We are very conscious that increasingly users are accessing the Bureau's information through mobile platforms, and making that as user-friendly as possible is important.”

Supercomputer

The Government indicated its intentions to fund BOM’s upgraded supercomputer in its 2014-15 Budget, however, it did not indicate how much it would allocated.

Vertessy confirmed to the Senate Estimates Hearing that the figure was not published because “we are going through a tender process at the moment—or we will shortly initiate a tender process I should say”.

The tender process is due to begin in August. Vertessy estimates it will take a year to complete the procurement process and contract negotiations. The supercomputer’s lifespan is anticipated to be five years from July 2016.

Senator Birmingham described the decision to fund the supercomputer as one that “should have been taken earlier”.

This is the eighth upgrade of the Bureau’s supercomputer since 1988. The current supercomputer is estimated to have cost $52.6 million by the time it reaches end-of- life in mid-2016. It has been in operation since 2008.

According to Vertessy the upgraded supercomputer will be the equivalent of”strapping together about 25,000 desktop computers all in one place. They are all connected by this superfast communications connection technology that is probably about 10,000 times faster than a home broadband connection”.

The supercomputer will be required to cope with 500 million unique website visits per year downloading almost 3 billion pages worth of information, as indicated by Vertessy. It will process all observational data, undertake research and underpin daily forecasting activity.

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