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BBC taken to task over Digital Media Initiative

The BBC was too optimistic about its ability to implement its ill-fated Digital Media Initiative (DMI), the failure of which led to a storm of public criticism of the corporation and the departure of chief technology officer John Linwood, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report published by the BBC Trust yesterday. 

The abandonment of the Digital Media Initiative, which was supposed to create a fully integrated digital production and archiving system across the organisation, cost the BBC £125.9 million (€152.8 million), about £98.4 million of which has been written off.

The NAO said that problems with the system contributed to a gap between technology development and what users expected, and that the BBC executive did not have a grip on the programme or appreciate the extent of problems until a late stage.

The report found that when the BBC took over the DMI from Siemens in 2009 it had little time left to meet critical deadlines, and that it did not establish clear requirements or obtain an independent assessment of the design of the programme. While the BBC completed some straightforward technology releases as part of the programme, these were not a reliable indicator of progress, the report said.

Other findings included that the governance arrangements for the programme were not adequate and that the BBC did not properly address issues identified by external reviewers.

The NAO also found that the BBC canceled the DMI without examining the technical feasibility or cost of completing it.

“The BBC Executive did not have sufficient grip on its Digital Media Initiative programme. Nor did it commission a thorough independent assessment of the whole system to see whether it was technically sound,” said Amyas Morse, head of the NAO. “If the BBC had better governance and reporting for the programme, it would have recognized the difficulties much earlier than May 2012.”

Former BBC director-general Mark Thompson is to appear again before the UK parliament’s Public Accounts Committee next week to face further questions about the project in the wake of the report.

Separately, former technology chief Linwood has revealed in written evidence to the Public Accounts Committee that he is taking legal action against the corporation. Linwood accused the BBC of making inaccurate statements to the committee and said the vision of how the DMI was intended to work had changed over time, including a change of mind on the BBC’s part on the value of standardised production tools.