Lack of business and IT engagement led to BBC DMI failure, say MPs

The BBC’s £100m Digital Media Initiative was a 'complete failure', and lack of engagement between IT and business was a major factor, say MPs

The BBC’s £100m Digital Media Initiative (DMI) was a “complete failure”, and a lack of engagement between IT and the business users of the system was a major contributory factor, say MPs.

A report published today into DMI by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) criticised the BBC for wasting almost £100m of licence fee payers’ money while getting “virtually nothing in return”.

DMI was intended to link digital production tools with a central, digital archive for BBC staff to access throughout the production process. Originally the contract was awarded to Siemens in 2008, but was brought back in-house after the supplier failed to deliver the technology and began to hit large delays.

But DMI was eventually scrapped in May 2013, and BBC chief technology officer John Linwood was sacked as a result.

Linwood has insisted that a lack of direction and engagement from the intended business users of DMI was at the heart of the problems, and the PAC report acknowledges the contribution this made to its ultimate failure.

“No single individual had overall responsibility or accountability for delivering the DMI and achieving the benefits, or took ownership of problems when they arose. The BBC did not appoint a senior responsible owner with overall responsibility for the DMI,” said the PAC report.

“The BBC’s chief technology officer was responsible for the DMI system but not for achieving the projected benefits across BBC divisions. There were different views among those responsible for developing the system and the intended users about the effectiveness of the technology and how engaged business areas were in the programme. 

"The absence of a senior responsible owner to take responsibility for resolving these different views led to a situation where the DMI programme team spent years working on a system that did not meet users’ needs.”

Linwood is suing the BBC over his dismissal.

The PAC report also criticised the overall governance of DMI, and pointed out that only one TV programme was ever made using the system despite BBC executives previously telling the committee it was as “absolutely essential to have” and that DMI was being used to “make many programmes”.

“There was confusion within the BBC about what had actually been deployed and used,” said the report.

“The main output from the DMI is an archive catalogue and ordering system that is slower and more cumbersome than the 40 year-old system it was designed to replace. It has only 163 regular users and a running cost of £3m a year, compared to £780,000 a year for the old system. 

"The BBC told us that it still intends to digitalise its production process and, through its ‘end-to-end’ project, is considering how it will create an alternative to DMI.”

PAC chair Margaret Hodge added: “Lack of clearly defined responsibility and accountability meant the corporation failed to respond to warning signals that the programme was in trouble. No single individual had overall responsibility or accountability for delivering the DMI and achieving the benefits, or took ownership of problems when they arose.”

The BBC said in a statement: "As we said at the time, the BBC didn't get DMI right and we apologised to licence fee payers - since then we have completely overhauled how these projects are delivered so there is crystal clear accountability and transparency."

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