Interview with Dr. Richard Pettifer, Secretary General of the Association of Private Meteorological Services (PRIMET)

BACKGROUND

PRIMET was originally established in November 1999 under the name “Association of Environmental Data Users in Europe” (AEDUE) and changed its name to PRIMET in September 2003. With effect from 4th August 2010, PRIMET became a Company registered in England and Limited by Guarantee. The Company Number is 7335206 and the Directors for the time being are the members of the PRIMET Board.The association currently has 20 Corporate Members in 14 European countries.

Could you briefly explain your daily activities at the Association of Private Meteorological Services? What exactly is the role of your team?

The Meteorological Sector in Europe is still quite small and some of the major players are the commercial arms of the larger National Meteorological Services (NMS), (notably those of UK and France). These NMS are, of course, also the national monopoly suppliers of the basic observational and numerical output data that are essential for any value adding commercial operation to produce its products and services. On such a distorted commercial playing field there is a constant need for all of the players in the private sector (but especially the smaller companies) to have a voice in the battle to establish a timely, unrestricted flow of data at the marginal cost of re-distribution, and a genuine single market in which competition is open, fair and unrestricted across national boundaries. PRIMET provides that voice. However, the very high costs currently levied for much of the essential data and the embryonic state of the market in many countries means that funding such a voice is very difficult and so PRIMET keeps its costs very low – contracting only one staff member on a part time basis. As General Secretary, I spend most of my time interacting with members and on their behalf with organisations such as the European Commission, ECOMET (which is the data suppliers trade association), other trade organaisations (such as the PSI Alliance), national governments, and other international organisations.

How is the liaison with other international organizations as Eumetsat or ESA?

We currently have almost no contact with Eumetsat or ESA but we interact on a regular basis with ECOMET and are seeking to extend contacts with such as WMO, ECMWF and similar bodies.

Could you comment on the possible European policies which helped the private meteorological services to develop the meteo market?

The main European policies that contribute in this way are the drive towards a single market, the framework provided by the PSI Directive (which is currently under review, a process to which PRIMET is contributing) and the competition policies. However, the clear precedence of subsidiarity in the implementation of European policies is a severe restraint on the overall development of the market.

PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMATION

In the US, open and unrestricted access to public sector information has resulted in the rapid growth of information intensive industries particularly in the geographic information and environmental services sectors. Similar growth has not occurred in Europe due to restrictive government information practices. The scenario is being changed nowadays

In few words, how has PRIMET responded to the recent Commission Communication and proposals for amendments to the PSI Directive ?

PRIMET has a long record of drawing attention publicly to the benefits that would arise within the national economies of member states if the concept of “free” PSI were fully implemented. This has included, over several years, papers published in the open literature of peer reviewed journals, papers and presentations made to a wide range of conferences, consultations given to several formal enquiries set up by the likes of the European Ccommission and formal submissions to the Commission and to the European Parliament during their review of the Directive. It is vital that the evidence for the overall economic benefit that would accrue across the EU from the removal of “profit making” charges for PSI in all sectors is fully and robustly set out.

How do you see the evolution in Europe to open data policy?

There are some encouraging signs but there is still a long way to go. Increasing amounts of data have been and are being made available at the marginal cost of re-distribution but there remains a very great deal of data that is protected behind high tariff barriers. In the meteorological sector in particular it is important to distinguish the basic observational and numerical output data which are needed to generate value added meteorological products, from the issue by public bodies of processed (value added) products such as site specific general weather forecasts provided free to the public under the provisions of the National Meteorological Services’ “public task”. These latter are often claimed by governments to be part of the “free PSI” but in reality they do very little to add to the economic benefit arising from the sector. Only the “free” issue of the basic, underlying data can achieve that.

How could PSI affect the economic impact in making new business out of the meteo information?

The current high charges for the necessary basic data are a massive barrier to the development of new business and new businesses. These charges make the provision of weather services at the low price, high volume end of the market uneconomic for small players and prevent new businesses from breaking into the market. They are a form of the traditional “defensive marketing” ploy of erecting high entry barriers to exclude new competition. A small, start-up company located in, say, Luxembourg, would need to pay an absolute minimum of around 250,000 Euro annually to acquire the most basic set of data necessary to service a few contracts each likely to be worth around 10,000 Euro. If this data cost were reduced to the cost of re-distribution, such a company would have a chance to establish itself and to generate further business through innovative product development.

Will the private sector intermediaries be increasingly important players in the rapidly developing information economy?

While the present data charging regime remains in place, the prospect of rapid growth in the meteorological sector arising from innovative, entrepreneurial enterprise remains small.

How is the preservation of intellectual property rights treated in the re-use of PSI data?

The IP in the basic data belongs to the taxpayers who paid for it to be generated, collected and held. This right is vested in governments who have the power to license the use of the data at the cost of re-distribution. All re-users need licenses for the re-use so that they can establish clear contractual relationships with their customers and so that the data suppliers have clear obligations to supply the data. The IP in the value added products created from these data is vested in the producer and can be exploited as those producers see fit.

PRIVATE SECTOR

Meteo services providers are typically a team of highly qualified meteorologists who understand the effect that the weather has on the day to day operations of businesses of all kinds.

The majority of the people employed within the commercial meteorological sector are employed by the National Meteorological Services. These (principally the UK and France) also dominate the total turnover of the market. I can speak only for PRIMET members to which the figures below refer.

To understand the figures:
Estimated size (companies) of the European market, 30
Number of employees, They employ around 600 persons
The actual revenues? The most recent estimate (2009) for this is around 150 million Euro/year.
Range of meteorologically related products and services in different segments The range of products is very considerable, from media products (both print and on-line) to retail sector products to off-shore operational products and products to support a very wide variety of industry and commerce including sport and leisure.

How much time has the meteo industry taken to understand the business model, to give the information to other sectors in order to manage their business effectively and efficiently by offering solutions that are innovative, tailored, flexible and responsive?

There has been an active commercial meteorological sector in Europe for at least 20 years and the business model has been developed and refined more or less continuously for most of that time, reacting to changes in the trading environment such as the development of the internet, personal computing and mobile communication systems among many other market drivers.

Industries such as farming, construction, insurance, and transportation are all cashing in on the benefits of industry-specific weather information – the kind of information provided only by the private industry. In your opinion who is the key to access to those sectors?

This type of weather information is not provided only by the private sector. The commercial arms of the large National Meteorological Services compete fiercely and protect their market position vigorously in these markets. The key to access these (and indeed all) markets is to know the customer requirements and to provide high quality products that match those needs at a price that is commercially attractive. As in any sector, this means being close to your customers and understanding the economic structure of their business; there is no magic bullet!

Cost and effect analyses are crucial for companies in the infrastructure business where accurate forecasts for specific locations become crucial to companies financially. (Construction projects are only allowed a certain number of working days. When weather causes delays, companies can face late penalties…) how could these “cost and figures numbers” help to develop awareness of the capabilities of earth observation?

I am not really well qualified to comment on how earth observation products of the type you deal in can be applied within these areas. The need for accurate meteorological information, especially predictions, is more or less self evident. What is less clear is the true economic value of such products to the customers and this is where the need for good marketing information becomes vital.

QUALITY SCHEME AND STANDARDIZATION

How important is it for your industry to have standardized products?

In terms of the basic data, “standardization” is vital. Fortunately within meteorology there is an international structure of standards for observations to which all governments conform. There is much less requirement for standardization in value added products such as forecasts and these can be tailored to individual customer requirements.

Is there any development of a quality scheme for the meteo products? How important is the liaison with the users?

There is no general quality scheme associated with the sector. In the UK, the Royal Meteorological Society is pioneering a form of “kite mark” for companies who produce value added weather products but this is at an early stage and progressing very slowly.

How do you feel about the idea to have a library/ taxonomy of meteo custom tailored products?

Such a library/taxonomy already exists for the basic data. It is organised and managed by the National Meteorological Services through the World Meteorological Organisation . But for value added products the concept does not have much traction within the meteorological sector.

COOPERATION & PARTNERSHIP WITH EO INDUSTRY

In your opinion:

What type of dialogue mechanism could take place between “meteo” and “EO service industry” to develop innovative products and services?
This would be a matter between individual companies who have ideas and feel there may be merit in co-operation. It is possible that organisations such as PRIMET and EARSC could play a role in bringing such companies together but this has not been explored so far to my knowledge.

Do you have a view on the impact of possible new alliances of space companies on the competitiveness of European space industry? Did the meteo community experienced some similar business models?
The meteorological sector is quite small and fragmented. Amalgamation across national borders is very difficult because of the problems of data supply, which is held as a monopoly by the National Meteorological Services within their own national boundaries. This may be a lesser problem for the EO world given the international nature of much of the basic data and such alliances might make access to the data less complex in this case.

What are the lessons to be learnt from the meteo community?
Don’t expect rapid progress – the time frame for every initial business plan should be extended by at least 100%!

GMES

How importance is GMES for your business activities?

In general not very but this could change if there was a free flow of data available

What is the model of the meteo companies to access the data and deliver the products?

The model is peculiar to the Meteorological sector. The data are generated world wide under internationally accepted protocols and are exchanged freely between all National Meteorological Services. Some such services (notably the USA and Japan) make all of the data they have available free to any re-user but in order to protect their value-adding commercial business many of the European National Meteorological Services forced through a resolution of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO Resolution 40) that prevents, with the exception of certain agreed data sets, Services in one country giving away free data from any other country. They then set up an organisation, ECOMET, (very similar to a cartel but not quite) which controls the supply of all data to commercial players. Each Meteorological Service sets the price for its own data and anyone wishing to receive it can apply to ECOMET to set up the appropriate supply arrangements. This in theory provides all the commercial players with a single point of contact but also protects the National Services from the requirement to supply at a published price any data that they have not declared to be in the ECOMET catalogue. They sometimes will supply such data but negotiate prices on a case by case basis. No other sector has such a “closed” data supply system. It is unlikely that a similar data supply system would apply to GMES data as a whole.

FUTURE

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges the commercial earth observation industry is facing in the years to come? What kind of downstream service industry would Europe benefit from?

Probably the biggest challenge in the next few years is going to be sustaining the funding that keeps the EO satellite systems running.

As for the kind of downstream industry that would benefit Europe, the scope is almost endless; from pollution episodes and control to land use and hundreds more. I am no expert in these sectors so would not wish to be more prescriptive than this.

BIOGRAPHY
Dr Richard Pettifer is the General Secretary of PRIMET. Richard has been a professional meteorologist throughout his entire career. He is a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, a Chartered Meteorologist and a Chartered Environmentalist. After 28yrs working in the UK Met Office he moved into industry and was for 13 years the Managing Director of Vaisala (UK)Ltd. He then started his own Consultancy business. For 8 years he served as the Executive Director of the Royal Meteorological Society and also undertook a wide range of consultancy contracts. He now runs the PRIMET secretariat under contract to the PRIMET Board.

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