BBC still paying IBM £3m for DMI system used by 163 employees

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.


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. 

Speaking in front of a parliamentary committee today, current director of operations Dominic Cole was denying claims made by sacked CTO John Linwood that the Metadata Archive was being used by “thousands of employees” and as such should not have been written off as having no value.

Cole said that although thousands of employees had access to the system, it currently only has less than 200 regular users because it takes 10 times longer to use than the legacy system, which cost the BBC £780,000 a year to run and was 40 years old.

Ex-CTO Linwood is taking legal action against the BBC over the £125 million DMI debacle and claimed this week that the organisation wrongfully wrote down IT assets that did have value and that the project failed because of a last minute change in direction by the business, rather than anything being wrong with the technology.

When asked by the committee if the BBC was right to write off the IT assets as having no value, Cole was adamant in his response.

“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 chunky 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.”

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.

Linwood told the committee today that it was not credible that technology issues were stopping the project.

An apology

Mark Thompson, director general at the BBC when the project was live, was also giving evidence to MPs today and made a public apology for the failure of the project, which was cancelled early last year. He also dismissed Linwood's claims that DMI could have continued.

“Everything I have heard makes me feel that DMI was not a success, it failed as a project. It failed in a way that led to a loss of public money. I just want to say that as the director general that was at the helm when DMI was created and developed, I want to say sorry and apologise to you and to the public for the failure of this project. It definitely failed,” he said.

Thompson also made a point of disputing Linwood's claim that the BBC changed its mind and didn't want the project to work. he instead believes that the business users were not happy with the technology being delivered.

“One of the issues, there was a pronounced and a growing difference of opinion between the team making DMI and the business users about how effective and how real the technology was. I can smell business obstinacy – when the business is unready and not ready to play ball. I can understand what John was doing and I can understand that he was a very passionate advocate of the project, but in my observation I thought great effort was made by the business, by colleagues within BBC Vision, BBC North and elsewhere to get DMI to work,” said Thompson.

When asked if the technology function looking after DMI had been gung-ho in its development and if the business users on the ground didn't think the system was working as well as they were led to believe, Thompson replied: “I believe that was definitely what started happening.”

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