The BBC has suspended its chief technology officer, John Linwood, for wasting £98m of licence fee payers' money on an internal content-sharing project that never got off the ground.
The Digital Media Initiative (DMI), first launched in 2008, was designed to give BBC staff better tools to “develop, create, share and manage video and audio content and programming on their desktop” as digital content grew in use at the corporation.
However, it was beset by problems from the start. The contract was first handed to Siemens, but this was never finalised so the project was brought back in-house. Technology innovations later rendered the project unnecessary.
BBC director of operations, Dominic Coles wrote in a blog post: “The pace of technological and digital change has been rapid; business and production requirements changed within the BBC; and the industry has developed standardised off-the-shelf digital production tools that did not exist five years ago.
“Developing such an ambitious and technically complex solution that was able to cope with the myriad demands BBC programmes would place upon it – due to the variety and complexity of our content – proved far more challenging than expected, which led to delays.”
In light of this the DMI has now been scrapped, as confirmed in a letter by BBC Trustee Anthony Fry to Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge. “Between April 2010, when the project was brought back under direct BBC control, and the point at which the project is halted, DMI will have cost the BBC £98.4m, having generated little or no assets,” he admitted.
“This is because much of the software and hardware which has been developed could only be used by the BBC if the project were completed, a course of action which, due to technological difficulties and changes to business needs, would be, I fear, equivalent to throwing good money after bad.”
Fry also confirmed that, “an individual has been suspended”, which the BBC confirmed was chief technology officer John Linwood. Technology controller for journalism, Peter Coles, will be the interim CTO while Linwood is on suspension.
BBC director-general Tony Hall voiced his annoyance that such a large amount of money was wasted in the name of technology. “The DMI project has wasted a huge amount of licence fee payers’ money and I saw no reason to allow that to continue, which is why I have closed it. I have serious concerns about how we managed this project,” he said.
“Ambitious technology projects like this always carry a risk of failure, it does not mean we should not attempt them but we have a responsibility to keep them under much greater control than we did here.”
The incident underlines the issues facing IT chiefs working in fast-paced sectors where ideas that require long implementation times can be rendered obsolete by the pace of change.
Despite this failed IT project, the BBC has had some notable success in recent years, with its iPlayer service in particular becoming a widely used tool on both desktop and mobile devices.
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