John Linwood, the former chief technology officer (CTO) who was sacked over the BBC’s failed Digital Media Initiative (DMI) project, had been planning to leave the organisation for a job at Deutsche Bank, it has emerged.
During his evidence, it was revealed that Linwood, who was on £287,000 a year at the BBC, had been planning to leave the corporation for a role at Deutsche Bank before the DMI was cancelled in May 2013.
The BBC claims that as chair of the DMI steering group and the project’s sponsor, Linwood was ultimately responsible for the DMI project and its demise.
However, Linwood argued that he was being made a scapegoat because the project, which 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, did not play as big a role for him as the BBC claimed.
According to the Guardian, the project took up an average of just five percent of his “working time as CTO”, Linwood said, and he said that the BBC had delivered “hundreds of projects successfully” during his four-year tenure.
He also said that he was the “admiral of the fleet”, rather than the “captain” of DMI. His comments are supported by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which recently concluded that one of the failings of DMI was that there was no single individual with overall responsibility for delivering it.
Despite this, when the tribunal asked if Dan Webb, technical lead for DMI, was correct when he said that Linwood was the “accountable senior person” for the project, Linwood replied, “Yes”.
At the tribunal, Linwood was asked about an internal email that discussed a “plan B” to DMI that was being proposed after the project came up against more than two years of delays.
The corporation argued that the email indicated that Linwood was trying to hide the technological problems of DMI because information about plan B was said to be on a ‘need to know’ basis.
Linwood denied that there were ulterior motives behind not sharing the contingency plan details more widely.
“[BBC North chief operating officer] Alice Webb discussed with me that [BBC North in] Salford was very nervous and were there any more delays they would like to have a fallback plan in place,” he told the tribunal.
“The steering group was fully aware there was a fallback plan in place but at this stage I didn’t want my team...to be aware that we were putting a plan B in place.
“These people were working incredibly hard putting their heart and soul in this system and it would have been hugely demoralising to say, ‘Sorry guys, we’re putting a plan B in place’. What I didn’t want was to have the development team being upset that all their work was being potentially replaced by a back-up plan.”
In addition, Linwood said that the delays were “not all down to technology issues. Many of the delays were...because of change or unclear requirements coming from business”.
But Linwood’s former colleagues did not back his side of the story.
During his disciplinary process, Linwood asked the BBC’s HR director Clare Dyer to speak to DMI consultant Alastair Ford and DMI programme and director of supplier management Peter O’Kane.
Ford said that the business had “not [been] fundamentally changing its requirements” and that the project always seemed to be “close” to delivering on its targets, but was held back by technical difficulties.
Meanwhile, Kane said that the DMI was “a failure without question”.
Siemens was originally contracted to build the DMI 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 project was already running 18 months behind when the BBC’s in-house development team took over.
The BBC eventually failed to complete the programme and cancelled it in May 2013 at a cost of £98.4m.
The tribunal is ongoing.
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