24 May 2013 - 11:16am | posted by | 3 comments

BBC director general scraps Digital Media Initiative after three years costing £100m

BBC director general scraps Digital Media Initiative after three years costing £100mBBC director general scraps Digital Media Initiative after three years

The BBC has decided to scrap its Digital Media Initiative having spent nearly £100m it has announced internally this morning.

New director general Tony Hall has informed staff at the corporation that it plans to stop the project three years in, and will also write-off all assets related to the project in the name of prudence.

The Digital Media Initiative, as described by the BBC Website is "a suite of desktop production tools that delivers a new digital production environment and archive for the BBC." The project was initiated in order to help the corporation work more collaboratively internally, but now looks to be the latest victim of the corporation's deep spending cuts.

Hall released a statement admitting that the project had wasted "a huge amount of money"

He added: "I saw no reason to allow that to continue which is why I have closed it. I have serious concerns about how we managed this project and the review that has been set up is designed to find out what went wrong and what lessons can be learned. Ambitious technology projects like this always carry a risk of failure, it does not mean we should not attempt them but we have a responsibility to keep them under much greater control than we did here.”

The National Union of Journalists has described the decision as a "shocking waste of money."

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “It seems the BBC cannot afford a fair pay rise for staff who create the top quality content that licence fee payers want, but it is able to squander vast sums of public money on hopeless projects like this. It is right that the director general has stopped it in its tracks and no doubt there will be more such decisions as he unearths all of the skeletons lying in BBC cupboards. Tony Hall said he will be taking appropriate action, disciplinary or otherwise, and I hope the executives who are to blame for this are called fully to account.”

The BBC Trust has now launched an independent review to establish the problems behind the project.

The full email from Hall can be read below:

Dear All,

Following a review of the Digital Media Initiative (DMI), we have decided to stop the project in its current form. Since 2010, we will have spent £98.4m on DMI. Today’s decision means that we are writing-off all of the assets related to this project. That’s a prudent thing to do.

We believe it is better to close it now rather than waste more money trying to develop it further.

DMI was an ambitious project when we launched it in 2008. The intention was to build new digital production tools to allow teams to develop, create, share and manage content digitally from their desktop as well as retrieve archive footage direct from the BBC’s vast archive at Perivale.

After we brought the project back in-house from Siemens, we relaunched it in 2010 and rolled out the first parts across the BBC in 2012, including the Fabric Archive Database. But DMI has continued to face challenges. It’s struggled to keep pace with new developments and requirements both within the BBC and the wider broadcasting industry. There are now standard off-the-shelf products that provide the kind of digital production tools that simply didn’t exist five years ago.

The need to produce content digitally hasn’t gone away. We will continue to work on ways to move, store, find and retrieve media from a central, digital archive at the BBC. The existing Fabric Archive database will also continue to be used across the BBC. However, we will stop developing our own in-house production tools, and instead use the industry-standard production systems that are now available.

As the Olympics, W1 and North migrations showed, the BBC can deliver major technology projects superbly. But sometimes it’s important to call time on a project if it’s proving too challenging and, more importantly, too costly to get it right.

Projects of this scale are not without risk and we are not alone in suffering from problems delivering them. But we have a responsibility to spend licence fee payers money as if it was our own and I’m sorry to say we did not do that here. We will now work with the Trust on a full review of what went wrong.

We will be looking into what has happened and will take appropriate action, disciplinary or otherwise. The immediate situation has been brought under control and we have put appropriate safeguards in place around major projects so that this can never happen again. Our intention is to draw a line under DMI, make sure we learn from it, and ensure BBC Technology, Distribution and Archive is explicitly focussed on providing you with the best systems and products available to help you make programmes.

Best wishes,

Tony

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Comments

24 May 2013 - 13:22
tillmechanic73781

I suppose it's only £1.50 a year for each licence payer. The big BUT is, what do they have to show for it, are there a load of surplus servers about to get skipped?

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24 May 2013 - 14:01
middleagedneurotic

Good for him.

Too many IT projects in both the public and private sector are based on the principle of "NIH" (not invented here) and become 'zombies' that simply live on because nobody has the courage to challenge the wisdom that underpinned their creation.

A toolset created specifically by and for the BBC would in time have required an expensive 'priesthood' to keep it in working order and up-to-date and that is money that is better spent on production tools where someone else is taking the development, support and maintenance hit and amortising it across dozens of broadcast organisations and corporates with internal needs.

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28 May 2013 - 20:12
lsjaf20693's picture

I wonder if this scrapping has anything to do with the iPlayer never materialising in the US. It was announced to debut two years ago as a commercial, paid service (i.e., income generating) at about $8 a month. Anyone with info please contact: lsjaffee@uk-cue.com

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