The Digital Media Initiative was suspended in the autumn of 2012. It would have enabled all BBC production staff to effectively create programmes from their desktops, had been suspended last autumn. Established in 2008, it had been viewed as a key plank in the way digital video was shared around the corporation in the light of the move of programmes such as Breakfast and Blue Peter to the new facility in Salford, Greater Manchester.
The programme was cancelled in May 2013 after the BBC concluded that most of the £125.9 million it had spent had been wasted. The NAO report concluded that problems with getting the system to work contributed to a growing gap between technology development and what users expected. The executive did not have a sufficient grip of the programme and did not appear to appreciate the extent of the problems until a late stage.
The BBC’s chief technical officer John Linwood was suspended. His contract came to an end in July 2013 and not renewed.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “The BBC Executive did not have sufficient grip on its Digital Media Initiative programme. Nor did it commission a thorough independent assessment of the whole system to see whether it was technically sound. If the BBC had better governance and reporting for the programme, it would have recognized the difficulties much earlier than May 2012.”
Diane Coyle, Vice Chairman BBC Trust, said the NAO report reinforced the conclusions of an earlier review by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. “It is essential that the BBC learns from the losses incurred in the DMI project and applies the lessons to running technology projects in future. The NAO’s findings, alongside PwC’s recommendations will help us make sure this happens. As we announced last December, we are working with the Executive to strengthen project management and reporting arrangements within a clearer governance system. This will ensure that serious problems can be spotted and addressed at an earlier stage.”
Key Findings of the report were:
- When the BBC took over responsibility for developing the DMI technology from Siemens in July 2009 it had little time left to meet critical internal deadlines.
- The BBC did not establish clear requirements or obtain a thorough independent assessment of its technical design to see whether the DMI was technically sound.
- The BBC completed the most straightforward of its new technology releases for the DMI but these proved not to be a reliable indicator of progress.
- Technical problems and releases not meeting user expectations contributed to repeated extensions to the timetable for completing the system, eroding user confidence and undermining the business case.
- The governance arrangements for the DMI were inadequate for its scale, complexity and risk. The BBC did not appoint a senior responsible owner to act as a single point of accountability and align all elements of the DMI. Reporting arrangements were not fit for purpose.
- The BBC did not adequately address issues identified by external reviewers during the course of the programme. For example, it was aware that business requirements for the DMI were not adequately defined.
- The BBC estimates that it spent £125.9 million on the DMI. The BBC offset £27.5 million of spending on the DMI against transfers of assets, cash and service credits that formed part of its financial settlement with Siemens. This left a net cost of £98.4 million. The BBC cancelled the DMI without examining the technical feasibility or cost of completing it.
- The BBC wrote off the value of assets created by the programme, but is exploring how it can develop or redeploy parts of the system to support its future archiving and production needs.