The BBC’s evidence to MPs over the company’s £125 million failed Digital Media Initiative (DMI) has been brought into question after conflicting information has been revealed to Computerworld UK.
Last week the BBC’s director of operations Dominic Coles told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) about the costs and users associated with the only working part of the DMI project – the Metadata Archive.
Coles was defending the BBC’s decision to completely write off the assets, despite the archive being used by employees within the organisation, by stating that the ongoing costs and limited usage meant it had no value.
His defence followed an accusation by sacked-CTO John Linwood that the metadata archive was being used by “thousands of employees” and as a result should not have been written off.
However, Coles said during his grilling by MPs that he had successfully negotiated the cost of the archive – which has been outsourced to IBM – down from £5 million to £3 million a year, but it was only being used by 163 employees regularly.
When asked by the committee if the BBC was right to write off the IT assets as having no value, Coles was adamant in his response and reference an Accenture review of the system, which found a number of failings with the project.
“Yes, I agree that the benefits are nil. I hoped that off the back of the Accenture report there would be parts that we could find value, but by the end of the review we didn't find anything of enduring value,” he said.
“Three thousand employees have access to the Metadata Archive, of which there are 163 regular users. It's incredibly clunky and was designed for something far bigger and more ambitious – as a consequence it is really difficult to operate and can take 10 times longer than the legacy system.”
He added: “The reason why we decided to write down in full is because it does not have a long economic life for the BBC. We are going to have to invest further money to maintain it.”
However, shortly after the session Computerworld UK was informed by sources close to the project that the costs are much less than this and the number of users much higher.
An online contract award notice states that IBM is in fact being paid £5.69 million over three years for looking after the archive – which works out at approximately £1.9 million a year – not the £3 million quoted by Coles.
Our sources also state that the number of users is higher than the BBC claims, with about 400 unique users a day.
A spokeswoman for the Public Accounts Committee confirmed that “providing misleading information to a select committee would be considered a serious matter”.
If the costs are lower than the BBC claimed during the session and the number of users working on the system higher, this may raise questions about the value of the system going forward and whether all of its assets should have been written off.
A BBC spokesperson said: ""Anyone who has used the system knows it's not fit for purpose which is why user numbers are so low. We are comfortable with what we said to the committee about the number of users.
"People can try and play semantics around just how ineffective the system is, but at the end of the day anyone who has used it can tell you it doesn't do what it's supposed to."
DMI was set up in 2008 as a complex business transformation programme aimed at changing the way that BBC makes content for its audiences. It intended to improve production efficiency by enabling staff to develop, create, share and manage video and audio content and programming on their desktop.
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