BBC insists former CTO John Linwood's claims are wrong, in ongoing DMI row

The BBC has responded to former CTO John Linwood’s claims about its failed digital media project, insisting there were still considerable IT problems

[Update: 13:00 3rd February 2014: John Linwood has responded to the BBC's latest statement -see end of article for more]

The BBC has responded to former CTO John Linwood’s claims about the status of its failed digital media project, insisting there were still considerable problems with the technology before the £100m project was scrapped.

MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) are due to question Linwood and senior BBC executives today over the failure of the Digital Media Initiative (DMI) and the subsequent write-off of nearly £100m of licence-fee payers’ money.

Linwood, who was sacked in July 2013 as a result of the failure, wrote to the PAC last week citing changing requirements from the business as a key factor, and insisting that much of the IT works and is still in use.

But the BBC has now sent a response to the PAC in advance of today’s hearing, insisting that several of Linwood’s claims are wrong.

In particular, the BBC said: “It is incorrect to state that all major technology issues with DMI had been addressed by October 2012. Equally, it is incorrect to state that DMI technology could have worked with limited further testing.”

The document quotes from a number of internal progress reports that detail continuing problems in October 2012 – the time that Linwood identified as when the broadcaster decided to initially scale back requirements for DMI before later scrapping it.

The BBC said that 506 out of 590 tests on a key part of the development, known as Production Tools, were still uncompleted as of October 2012, and that user testing had not started.

“It is therefore incorrect [of Linwood] to state that Production Tools were ‘delivered and tested and ready to go live in October [2012]’,” said the document.

The BBC also claimed that changes in business requirements were not the main factor in delays to the project, as Linwood has claimed.

“The DMI Change Log indicates that, of the 160 changes accepted by the Change Board from November 2009 to October 2012, the majority (68%) were related to technical or schedule changes – all items that fell within Mr Linwood’s remit on the project,” said the BBC document.

“Any change in business direction and conclusion that the original DMI vision was no longer valid can be attributed to the lateness of delivery. This resulted in the commodity production tool market overtaking what DMI was delivering.”

However, the BBC response only includes counter claims for six of the 53 paragraphs of Linwood’s PAC submission. Computer Weekly asked the BBC if that means it agrees with the chief technology officer’s other claims, and we received the following statement from the corporation:

"The BBC's submission deals with the points we see as most immediately relevant to the PAC's inquiry and the fact that it does not deal with every assertion made by John Linwood does not imply agreement with any other statement made by him in his submission," said a spokesman.

Last week, in response to Linwood's claims, a BBC spokesman 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."

The Digital Media Initiative project was scrapped in May 2013, with the BBC writing off nearly £100m of licence-fee payers’ money spent on the development. 

The National Audit Office (NAO) criticised the BBC last week, saying the broadcaster was “too optimistic” and the BBC management team “did not have sufficient grip of the programme”.

DMI was intended to link digital Production Tools with a central, digital archive for BBC staff to access throughout the production process.

Linwood, the senior IT executive overseeing the project, was initially suspended when the programme was scrapped, and sacked in July 2013.

Update 13:00, 3 February 2014: John Linwood responds to the BBC

After the above article was published, Computer Weekly learned that John Linwood has issued a further statement to the PAC in response to the BBC statement above. 

He is standing by his original statement, and said, "I am concerned that the BBC is not providing the Committee with a fair or accurate picture and therefore provide this following information which I hope will assist in informing the PAC’s understanding of the issues."

His statement contains a point-by-point riposte to the BBC's claims, but he returned in particular to his original claim that changes initiated by the business were a major factor in the DMI project delays. 

"Throughout the project the team informed me that the biggest single challenge facing the project was the changes to requirements requested by the business. This was also the finding of a senior technologist in BBC Future Media who carried out a technology review of DMI in August 2012," said Linwood.

“He stated in his report, following his review, ‘Without fail, every member of the DMI core leadership team pointed to a lack of clear requirements as the top issue on the project.’ Further, in a document which was a summary of DMI issues dated 24 October 2012 prepared by the BBC’s Head of Special Projects, Policy & Strategy and a consultant from PA Consulting working for the BBC, they stated, 'DMI has also suffered from a lack of clear and consistent direction with respect to the business requirements and priorities. Business representatives were not empowered to make decisions on behalf of the whole production community, and regular reprioritisation of requirements has impacted the efficiency of programme delivery'."

Regarding the BBC's claims that the majority of change requests were of a technical nature, Linwood said, “Being technical or schedule changes, this does not mean they were not driven by changes requested by the business: often technical changes were required precisely because the user requirements had changed. By the very nature of the log, the changes that end up in the change log are changes to the technology. Whenever the business made changes to their requirements or provided inconsistent requirements these were then translated into changes to the technology.”

He cited two examples of business requirements undergoing significant change that caused additional work for the development team. 

In one case, Linwood claimed that users wanted a function to produce a "rough cut" of video output, which was subsequently developed, only to be told that those users now wanted to use an off-the-shelf product from Adobe instead. Once the IT team had integrated that Adobe product into the DMI software, users then said they wanted to use a different Adobe product altogether, said Linwood.

In another example, he quoted changes to requirements for search functionality, at each stage requiring "significant and challenging" extra work, according to Linwood.

"These changes caused delays in delivery which were appropriately reported at every stage," he said.

He concluded: "I thought that the BBC’s decision to abandon the entire project and write‐off the full value of the project and the technology we had delivered was beyond belief and unjustified.”

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