Tue Feb 4th, 2014 at 11:46:59 AM EST
Independent - Suspended BBC tech chief who oversaw wasted £100m digital media project will sue his former employer
The BBC technology chief who oversaw a disastrous project that wasted £100m of licence fee money is suing the BBC after it ended his employment.
John Linwood was suspended as the BBC's £287,000-a-year Chief Technology Officer in May when the failed Digital Media Initiative (DMI) was closed down. His contract was ended in July 2013 and he was not given a pay-off.
The National Audit Office reported today on how BBC bosses failed to react as the fiasco developed: "The BBC 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 spec sheet for DMI sounds very similar to that of the ENPS (Electronic News Production System), which has been running at the BBC since late 90s; that of the journalist being able to access digital archives and edit them from a desktop.
What we in IT all noted back then was that while the concept was laughably unrealistic given the technology then available, the senior BBC management (including the then Head of News, one Mr Tony Hall) were so enthused that it was obvious careers could be "limited" by mentioning the impracticalities.
In the end, most of the "capabilities" with which the designers sold the system proved as impractical as we knew, and a much simplified ENPS system was introduced which was substantially improved over time. But the original vision has never gone away and the DMI was intended as the final conclusion to the Grand Project.
However, in the period since ENPS was first commissioned the BBC has lost all its in-house IT expertise. The staff who were forcibly transferred to other companies have now been sold on again and then lost their jobs in another contract change. Even the IT auditing capability to check whether the suppliers are doing their job properly and in contract has long been contracted out.
Having lost the expertise, my eyebrows raised when I saw that, lacking an experienced partner for DMI, the BBC were doing all of the development in-house. So, they'd brought in a new cadre of programmers and managers to run a project after it had been specified, budgeted and signed off. And then they are surprised when this happens;-
In his written evidence to the NAO, Garrett writes:
"Too many staff members' and contractors' jobs depended on DMI continuing, many of them recognised the project had little chance of success however speaking up would impact their careers and livelihood. Many senior figures had reputations invested in DMI."
or even this
"The thing that worried me most about DMI is the fact that people said we knew all about that, but no one said. That's a problem of culture where fingers are pointed and people don't feel they can own up and say something's wrong," said Hall in an interview, we learn from Ariel, the BBC's staff mag.
Shifting the blame to the workers, rather than the management, for the project's failings is odd - since the DMI's shortcomings were widely known.
but they've really only got themselves to blame...
"Once thirty desks had been provided for the 'concept team' on the ground floor of the Broadcast Centre, back in 2007/8, you knew nobody else in broadcasting would be daft enough to embark on this sort of venture," noted one former BBC manager back in February 2011.
or to criticize it in-house.
and you end up with damaging stories like this, which are entirely avoidable if only your senior management could bring themselves to listen to people at the sharp end without threatening them.
The BBC lied to Parliament by giving MPs and auditors glowing progress reports on a £100m computer project that embarrassingly flopped, it is claimed.
The project in question, the "strategic" Digital Media Initiative (DMI), has now been abandoned at a cost of at least nine figures; a rapid decision by the new BBC Director-General Tony Hall. The DMI was supposed to modernise the broadcaster's storage of footage and other material, but it ballooned out of all proportion.
However, the internal Beeb body with the statutory responsibility to represent TV licence fee-payers' interests, the BBC Trust, failed to provide oversight and encouraged the expansion of the utopian project, which became a kind of evangelical mission; it is a failing that raises doubts about the current arrangement of "internal arm's-length self-regulation" at the BBC.
Astonishingly, in 2011 the BBC Trust urged that scrutiny of the DMI should look beyond "narrow financial thresholds", and urged conventional cost-benefit analysis be thrown away or expanded to include new (and intangible) Kumbaya benefits, such as enabling people to do "mash-ups" and third-party access to the BBC archive. The watchdog had gone feral.
Tony Hall is to be congratulated for putting the project out of its misery and they are currently blaming Alan Thompson, the previous DG, for the dreadful mess. But if you want my opinion, you should look at Greg Dyke, the man who famously "saved" the BBC back in 90s from the low morale of the Thatcher period. He did this by allowing departments to spend as much as they liked and gradually over his 5 year tenure created something like a £300 million hole in BBC finances. A hole that was filled just before he left...by selling BBC IT.
With the exception of the first story, all quotes are pulled from The Register