BBC shuts down “wasteful” Digital Media Initiative

The BBC is to close its Digital Media Initiative (DMI), which was designed to bring production and archive operations to a fully integrated, digital way of working, after director-general Tony Hall said the initiative had been a waste of money.

“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,” said Hall. “I have serious concerns about how we managed this project and the review that has been set up is designed to find out what went wrong and what lessons can be learned. 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 DMI set out to create new digital production tools and link them with a central, digital archive that would allow BBC staff to access a digital chain throughout the production process, from camera to archive. It comprised new production tools that could be used to create content digitally on a desktop; a store to house the newly created digital content; a database to search BBC archives and a place to store production reports digitally.

The contract to deliver the technology solution for DMI was originally awarded to Siemens, and was brought back in-house to the BBC by mutual agreement. In 2012, the first parts of DMI were rolled out across the BBC, including the Fabric Archive Database, a system to allow users to search and request access to the BBC’s archive of tapes and other media.  The BBC also installed technical infrastructure to underpin its move to a digital, tapeless way of working for the future.

BBC director of operations Dominic Coles said that the DMI had proved to be “a challenging project” that had to be continually adapted in response to user feedback. Technological progress in the years since the initiative was launched has seen the emergence of off-the-shelf digital production tools that did not exist at its inception.

The project involved a high element of investment in hardware and software that would only have value if the DMI was completed, said Coles.

“It is clear DMI has not delivered what was expected and in order to learn lessons from this experience the BBC Trust has launched a wide ranging independent review to establish just what went wrong. We will also be taking disciplinary action where appropriate,” said Coles in a posting on the BBC website. “We are very aware that the mistakes made must not happen again. We never forget we are spending licence fee payers’ money and we will learn some hard lessons from this experience.”

Coles said that in future The BBC would do more to mitigate risks in such projects and that current reforms would lead to a simpler organisation that takes better decisions, faster. “The need to work digitally and ambitiously remains but, moving forward, the BBC will deliver this digital environment in more manageable stages with stricter project management controls and clearer objectives that reflect the current business and technological requirements,” he said.

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