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Weather data – the secret ‘source’ for unlocking new business opportunities?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Riello UPS)

The climate crisis is currently very much front of mind for many in the UK. With temperatures due to plummet to -4C across the country, making it the coldest October ever; and environmental movement, Extinction Rebellion, campaigning almost weekly on the streets of the capital – it has become an issue that is hard for many to avoid.

Reports, such as the World Meteorological Organization’s 2018 Statement on the State of the Global Climate, outline worrying developments as a result of rising temperatures. The figures speak for themselves: globally, the average temperature rose more than 1C with the years 2015-2018 being the four warmest periods since records began. In the UK, winter temperatures hit 20C for the first time in early 2019. The consequences are visible as countries including the UK deal with turbulent and unpredictable weather conditions – from flash flooding to extreme drought to premature snow.

Why weather data is becoming more and more valuable to UK businesses

For businesses in industries including insurance, energy, and fuel, transport, and agriculture, the weather has always had a strong financial and operational impact. For example, for farmers certain types of weather conditions to grow crops. However, a less obvious example, is that agro-meteorological information also helps farmers to secure yields and quality, while detailed forecasts of storms and floods help people get to safety on time. For insurers, the use of data from climate models has always been important when making financial risk assessments and planning around national disasters.

However, against this iritic backdrop, abnormal weather conditions are having a greater impact on the threats and opportunities facing UK businesses. For retailers in the UK, unseasonably hotter weather around Easter put a spotlight on existing business models. Those equipped to act quickly to the change, like Sainsburys and Zara, maximised on sunshine-related sales, while those that couldn’t suffered a loss. As the temperature continues to rise, all UK businesses will need to begin strengthening their organisational operations, processes, and infrastructure with weather data.

Up-to-date weather data also opens a vast amount of new possibilities for the optimisation of processes and market products. For example, online stores could automatically offer customers purchase recommendations, depending on temperature and weather, ranging from sunglasses and bath towels to umbrellas and stray salt when night frost is expected. Food logistic companies, on the other hand, could automatically decide whether a refrigerated vehicle is necessary to transport produce based on the temperature levels during the expected route. For automotive companies, future revenue drivers including autonomous vehicles will also need weather data to succeed. For example, weather data can help self-driving cars detect the condition of the roads and hand over control to the driver in the event of fog or ice. The new possibilities for integrating weather data into one's business model are practically endless.

Making weather data freely available

For businesses to successfully use national weather records to adapt their business strategies, central and local government departments must be prepared to make their records widely available. In the UK, the Met Office recently made historical weather datasets freely available to all through its Met Office Integrated Data Archive System (MIDAS), rather than restricted to academic use. However, to truly maximise on the use of weather data, real-time observations are also needed. 

In Germany, for example, the federal government's Open Government Initiative recently made a lot of its weather data freely open to companies, while the German Weather Service (DWD) has provided numerous up-to-date weather and climate data free of charge since 2017. What’s more, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) provides extensive data sources via a data portal on the topics of transport, climate and weather, aerospace and infrastructure. All of this data is available in various machine-readable formats and thus ideal for further within business projects.

In addition to government initiatives, there are also numerous commercial providers of weather data around the world. The Weather Company, for example, is internationally known, offering a variety of industry-specific data solutions.

Keeping a cool head despite rising temperatures

The new possibilities for integrating weather data into a business model are practically endless. However, leaders should keep a cool head and analyse how the integration of weather data can help meet their specific business needs – be it reacting to looming threats ahead of the competition, optimising efficiency within existing processes, or opening new opportunities for future growth.

Since weather data are available free of charge from central sources, the first steps in weather-based business processes can be realised risk-free. On the technological side, the cloud provides the necessary IT resources quickly and easily – again removing risk. To prevent added complexities, a central hub for data integration, with only one data management solution, is needed. This allows companies to connect different data sources, ensure data quality, and map processes for data governance.

David Talaga, Senior Product Manager, Talend