The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has branded the BBC’s £100 million Digital Media Initiative (DMI) a “complete failure” that delivered “virtually nothing” after finding that the system had been used to produce just one TV show.
This is contrary to what the BBC told the PAC in a progress report in February 2011, when it said that the DMI transformation project was “absolutely essential” and that a lot of the corporation’s future was tied up in the successful delivery of the DMI.
“The BBC also told us that it was using the DMI to make many programmes and was on track to complete the system in 2011 with no further delays. In reality, the BBC only ever used the DMI to make one programme, called ‘Bang Goes the Theory’,” said PAC chair Margaret Hodge MP.
A lack of understanding of the programme within the BBC led to this inaccurate progress report to Parliament, the PAC said. To stop this from happening again, it said the broadcaster should use clear milestones when reporting on major projects, to provide an accurate and unambiguous account of progress and any issues.
An overconfident BBC
DMI was set up in 2008 with the aim of developing new technology for BBC staff to create, share and manage video and audio content and programmes from their desktops.
Siemens was originally contracted to build the system, though the BBC cancelled this contract and brought development in-house in September 2009, without obtaining independent technical assurance for the system design or ensuring that the intended users were sufficiently engaged with the project.
The PAC said that the BBC was ‘far too complacent’ about the project’s troubled history - it was already running 18 months behind when the BBC’s in-house development team took over - and the ‘very high risks’ involved in taking it in-house.
“Given the gaps in the BBC’s in-house capability, it is in retrospect unclear to us why the BBC ever thought it could complete what Siemens had been unable to deliver,” the committee said.
The BBC eventually failed to complete the programme and cancelled it in May 2013 at a cost of £98.4m.
Although the BBC sacked CTO John Linwood over the project, the PAC said that one of the failings of DMI was that there was no single individual with overall responsibility for delivering it.
It concluded that the BBC needs to beef up governance and assurance for its major programmes and projects, with a senior responsible owner appointed for projects like the DMI with the necessary ‘skills, authority and determination’ to implement them successfully
“The BBC’s chief technology officer (CTO) was responsible for the DMI system but not for achieving the projected benefits across BBC divisions,” the PAC said.
“There were different views amongst those responsible for developing the system and the intended users...The absence of a senior responsible owner to take responsibility for resolving these different views led to a situation where the DMI programme team spent years working on a system that did not meet users’ needs.”
The BBC should scrutinise its major projects more quickly and more rigorously, in order to limit potential losses, the report added.
Furthermore, the PAC said that, in response to its report, the BBC Trust should set out what changes it will make to ensure it can properly monitor the BBC Executive’s performance in delivering major projects.
It also called for the BBC to consider which of its original requirements for the DMI still need to be met, before setting out how, when and at what cost it expects to fulfil them.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that the BBC is currently paying IBM £3 million a year for a system that is the only part of its failed Digital Media Initiative (DMI) currently in use, and only by 163 employees.
That equates to costing the BBC almost £18,500 a year per employee regularly using the system.
A BBC Executive spokesperson said: "Tony Hall was right to scrap the DMI project when he took over as DG last year. As we said at the time, the BBC didn't get DMI right and we apologised to licence fee payers - since then we have completely overhauled how these projects are delivered so that there is crystal clear accountability and transparency."
A spokesperson for the BBC Trust said: "As we have said before, this represented an unacceptable loss to licence fee payers. Acting on the conclusions of previous reports into DMI, we have strengthened reporting to the Trust so that problems are spotted early and dealt with quickly. We are also carrying out follow up reviews once projects are completed to make sure the lessons from DMI are being implemented."