Futurist Thomas Frey said, “He who controls the weather will control the world.” Shaping economies, geographies, and lives, there are few game-changers as powerful. And although we might not be able to control weather, accurate and timely forecasts can save lives and businesses. In the past, such information was either doled out by the government, gleaned from experience, or provided with dubious accuracy by the media. That changed in 1962 when meteorologist Dr. Joel Myers founded AccuWeather and began providing weather data on a global scale. Today, AccuWeather is using Microsoft technologies and cloud services to power real-time weather and business decisions.
Handling 17 billion daily weather requests
For more than 50 years, AccuWeather has been the world’s top provider of lifesaving weather information. Today, more than 1.5 billion people rely on the company’s products and services, a responsibility the company takes seriously. “We have users in just about every country,” says Chris Patti, Chief Technology Officer at AccuWeather. “It’s very important to us that our users be able to depend on us for critical, lifesaving weather information content. And we have to be able to deliver it in a reliable, fast way to people all around the world.”
To keep on target with its mission, the company expanded its use of Microsoft technologies. First, AccuWeather migrated its application programming interfaces (APIs) to Microsoft Azure, and it began using an increasing array of cloud services including the Cortana Intelligence Suite. Microsoft Dynamics 365 is also an integral part of the company’s technology platform.
Moving to the cloud helped the company scale out globally and provided a better foundation for more business opportunities. AccuWeather’s APIs currently handle more than 17 billion requests per day, more than triple the volume when the migration project started in 2012. The conduit for most of the company’s services, the APIs are used by AccuWeather and its customers to create customized apps for mobile devices, websites, and social media.
Besides scaling better, the APIs expanded possibilities by integrating new data sources and functionality, including radar feeds, imagery, and device sensors. AccuWeather now provides its Minute by Minute™ forecasts with Superior Accuracy™ for any longitude and latitude on earth.
Keeping up with business that changes with the weather
Thousands of organizations—including more than 240 of Fortune 500 companies—rely on the company’s customized enterprise solutions, which AccuWeather delivers with help from Microsoft. Using Microsoft Dynamics 365 has transformed the company’s business environment by putting current customer and financial information at the fingertips of global analysts and sales teams. “With Dynamics 365 for Customer Service the business intelligence lag has shifted from weeks to days, and now it’s moving toward real time,” says Patti. Because that’s the crux of our challenge—weather is real time. It changes every second, and as a result, so does our business.”
Real-time access to information is only part of the benefit. AccuWeather has multiple business divisions, each with its workflows and strategies for monetizing services. “There were other products we looked at that were very rigid and not very customizable,” say Patti. “In contrast, Dynamics 365 enables us to modify workflows in real time. And because it’s so plug-and-play, it works really well with all the other Microsoft tools like Office 365. We have a central, hub-and-spoke system, and we didn’t have to learn 25 different products.”
AccuWeather is also implementing Dynamics 365 for Operations, and plans to go live with the product in January 2017. The solution will enable the company to track the relationship between sales and weather events more efficiently and accurately. “If there’s a big storm somewhere, we can use Dynamics 365 for Operations to look at how it’s affecting our advertising inventory. Being able to see money going in and out in real time is a tremendous advantage that we’ve never had before. Because again, with a business moving as fast as the weather, we many have to make decisions on an hour-by-hour basis, and it was almost impossible to do that before. Soon, we’ll be able to do that in near-real time.”
With Dynamics 365, AccuWeather is taking business intelligence a step further. “Microsoft Dynamics 365 does something really interesting, in that it combines CRM and ERP solutions with Power BI and provides that built-in intelligence,” says Patti. “Being able to look at sales data, revenue information, and bring in custom content gives us real-time guidance for business decisions, when before it was an extremely manual effort. Now, everything is in one spot, and it opens up the world to our remote sales force.”
Saving lives and millions of dollars with predictive analytics
Ultimately, making better business decisions means creating solutions that save lives and businesses. For example, on May 26, 2016, an AccuWeather enterprise solution warned Union Pacific Railroad that a tornado was going to cross a track in Kansas in about half an hour. The railroad stopped eight trains that were scheduled on that route, saving lives and millions of dollars. AccuWeather was also the first to predict the historic January 2016 blizzard that slammed the Eastern and Midwestern United States. With five days’ advance notice, big box retailer Lowe’s was able to get much-needed weather supplies to stores ahead of the storm.
And to improve supply-chain operations with predictive analytics, the company is using the Cortana Intelligence Suite to integrate sales data with weather information. In a recent project with Starbucks, AccuWeather helped the coffee giant solve seasonal problems like running out of ice and cups in hot weather. And in another example, AccuWeather helped a global candy manufacturer identify which products sold best, and if the sales spikes were weather-related.
While improving supply-chain operations might seem like an odd direction for a weather company, it’s not surprising when you consider that AccuWeather is all about using data to enhance lives. “Microsoft technologies enable us to innovate much quicker,” concludes Patti. “I think that the great story here is that there are so many integrated tools now that streamline workflow, consolidate data, and automate prediction so that we can stop worrying about infrastructure. We can just focus on our job, which is forecasting.”