Sacked CTO John Linwood is taking legal action against the BBC over his involvement in the broadcaster’s failed £100 million Digital Media Initiative (DMI).
The revelation forms part of Linwood’s written evidence to MPs on the Public Accounts Committee, in which he defends his involvement in the project and claims that the core reason for its failure was the BBC changing its mind about DMI’s direction after millions of pounds had already been invested in technology.
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.
In his evidence Lindwood describes that there were three major parts to DMI, all of which fed into each other: Metadata Archive, Production Tools and Digital Archive. He claims that the technology supporting these three pillars worked or could, with limited further testing, have worked.
“It is either in use in the BBC today (e.g. the Metadata Archive) or capable of being used (e.g. Production Tools),” said Linwood.
Linwood argues that the DMI project was conceived by the business and right up until October 2012 he believes that the business “continued to subscribe to their DMI vision”. He also notes that even though there were technical problems with the project, which caused delays, “all major technology issues had been addressed by the project by October 2012”.
Delivered and working
Linwood states that the Metadata Archive (used to search for BBC programme information) went live in June 2012 and is used by thousands of employees still today. Production tools was delivered and tested and was ready to go live in October 2012, and the code for Digital Archive had been written and was waiting to be tested once Production Tools had launched.
The entire infrastructure supporting all this had been bought and was in use.
According to Linwood’s version of events it seems that the main reason for the failure of the project comes down to a decision by the business to change direction and not use a standardised production process, such as had been planned with Production Tools.
“There were different requirements in different departments and they said it didn’t make sense any more to have a single, standardised production process across the BBC. Their vision, upon which the whole project had been predicated, had changed,” writes Linwood.
He claims that this decision had significant implications for the whole of the DMI project. “By way of analogy this change was equivalent to removing the first half of a production line in a factory and still expecting the factory to deliver the original products.
“It affected the way the content and metadata would have to be loaded into the Digital Archive. It meant we would have to interface with different systems. It affected file based delivery which was dependent on Production Tools, it affected how we would store the content and capture metadata.”
He added: “The design and architecture of the Digital Archive depended heavily on processes and functionality that was delivered in Production Tools.”
Linwood claims that he questioned the decision because he had been hearing from the business and different production teams that were actively testing Production Tools that they did want it and would use it.
He adds that Production Tools is now mothballed and the BBC’s vision for the technology solution it wants has changed. “I believe that the DMI project would have been delivered and the benefits realised by now if the business had wanted to take Production Tools live,” said Linwood.
The BBC is also currently using software and hardware assets it has supposedly written off, according to Lindwood’s evidence. He claims that the BBC made inaccurate statements to the Public Accounts Committee stating that, in effect, the “kit doesn’t work” and is “worth nothing”.
A National Audit Office report released this week revealed that the BBC cancelled the DMI without examining the technical feasibility or cost of completing it. Whilst a recent PwC report, commissioned by the BBC, found there the focus and priorities of DMI were on technology build, rather than enabling business-wide change at the BBC.
A BBC spokesperson said: "The suggestion that DMI shouldn't have been cancelled is absurd – everyone knows that throwing good money after bad at a failing project isn't a clever thing to do."
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