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BBC Technology Principles

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Spencer Piggott | 10:00 UK time, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

I'm Spencer Piggott Head of Technology Direction. I work in a department within BBC Future Media & Technology called Broadcast & Enterprise Technology Group (B&ETG).

B&ETG is responsible for the technology backbone of the organisation, from desktop PCs and tapeless production to camera procurement and much, much more.

Today we have published a new document (see PDF below) which will outline the direction for technology activities within the corporation for the next two to five years.

The world has changed and technology is increasingly at the fore of everything the corporation does. There has been a fundamental shift in the pace of change of both business (think cloud computing) and consumer technologies (iPhone/notebooks); alongside this of course there has been a massive change in audience behaviour in line with these developments.

The fact is we can't rest on our laurels; this new direction is a response to these internal and external demands on the BBC. The shift to fully tapeless content production, file based transfer for media and the production and delivery of High Definition all put greater pressure and emphasis on technology. With growing demand we can see that we need to make efficient considered investments now to build an agile platform for the BBC's technology activities over the coming years.

What's also been interesting is that we've been seeing convergence between our traditional enterprise technologies such as backend office and business systems and the new media solutions. For example the success of BBC iPlayer has meant the systems it's built on have needed to become much more robust and adopt the scalability and reliability principles of the business enterprise solutions. Conversely, the back office solutions have needed to become more open and modular as they are now playing an increasingly important role in providing data for some of the BBC's audience facing services.

These different drivers have culminated into an approach which focuses on four key areas which are:

The core building blocks - Ensuring the BBC has sustainable networking, telephony, storage and other core services which are needed to support the growing demand across the BBC.

Being connected and collaborative - Breaking down the technology barriers to allow our partners to easily work with the BBC and support for flexible and remote working.

Fostering Innovation - Embracing the growing capabilities of consumer devices for professional use and ensuring that innovative technology is able to be developed and grown within the BBC.

Delivering Value - Minimising customisation across technology, driving standardisation and use of commercial off the shelf products as much as possible.

These focus areas are underpinned by a set of principles which will guide technology decisions in the BBC from now on and represent the first step to developing a fully detailed approach for the BBC. For example some of the key principles describe the need to drive standardisation of technology so that it simplifies our ways of working and also on the ability to use appropriate consumer technologies in the workplace.

Over the coming weeks we're developing a set of individual technology roadmaps which will respond to these focus areas. These will outline specific goals and approaches for all aspects of technology from networks, storage and core infrastructure to IPTV, mobile and other audience facing technology.

I'll keep adding to this blog over the coming weeks with more detail as it comes in. In the meantime, take a look at the PDF document below.

The BBC has an obligation to make sure it stays in touch with the growing demands of the licence payer. At the end of the day the BBC is here to inform, educate and entertain and technology is playing a more and more important role in maintaining this purpose.

Spencer Piggott is Head of Technology Direction, B&EGT, BBC FM&T

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Good paper, detailing a well thought out strategy and set of principles. Good luck!

  • Comment number 2.

    "The importance of metadata to enable connected and efficient workflows cannot be underestimated." (Top of page 7)

    Shouldn't this read 'cannot be overestimated'?!

  • Comment number 3.

    Unfortunately some of it reads like it was authored by Donald Rumsfeldt. I would strike some degree of concern about your outsourcing strategy, it has a strand of direction which leads to going for what seems the cheapest option where it may be better to carefully select what will become industry standard avoiding the snakeoil salesmen en-route.

  • Comment number 4.

    It looks great, but isn't there an important section missing - what is BBC technology doing for the public?

    As a public service broadcaster, surely this should be at the heart of your business and technology strategy. The BBC could make a massive positive difference to the entire industry if it took a leadership role in the following areas:
    * Adopting standards that promote accessibility - for example, screen readers for people with limited vision, or subtitles for those with limited hearing. HTML5 and ARIA are good examples.
    * Adopting open source technologies that anyone can contribute to and use. For example, why use the H.265 video codec (or worse, Flash) when you could promote and invest in open alternatives such as Ogg Theora (or Dirac!). This move could sway the industry and act enormously in the interests of regular consumers who shouldn't have to pay license fees to produce and distribute video.
    * Creating open tools to help consumers create and manage content. Couldn't the BBC open source their internal editing and management tools for video and audio content, so that anyone could use them? After all, we citizens have already paid for their creation!

    The document reads like a great corporate strategy to strengthen the BBC, but it doesn't focus so much on how the same technology could strengthen the public! Put another way, the BBC is special because of its mission, what are you doing with your technology to carry out that mission?

  • Comment number 5.

    This is a glimpse of the future direction of IT i.e. simplification, standardisation, integration and alignment of Business and Information Technology on a global scale. Watch this space!

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi chrisfj,

    You're making a good point here, and though I'm sure Spencer and his team will be able to respond, I'd also point you at the R&D Blog for posts on technology development that look at the impact on "UK plc" and the broader broadcast industry, as well as our audiences. Spencer's role is very much to make sure the BBC is well equiped to do it's job, but the BBC overall has a wider remit as you point out. On the R&D blog we do try to make clear the wider benefits of our work, and having read your post, we'll make a real effort to report on that specifically in the near future,

    Cheers

    Ant

    Editor, BBC R&D Blog http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/researchanddevelopment/

  • Comment number 7.

    One thing missing is the fact that broadcasting to day is moving to the internet, the internet is world-wide. The BBC has to face the challenge of being a word-wide broadcaster (systems, rights negotiations etc).

    It is very disappointing that the first success the BBC has had (the iPlayer) is UK only. They need to bight the bullet and get working on world rights to broadcast. If they don't Hulu and many others will overtake them very soon. You cannot wave this issue away by saying it would cost too much, you have to negotiate with rights holders and get a solution.

    The second comment I would make is that the BBC should focus on program production and management, not on consumer solutions. They should stop at providing audio and video streams and electronic program guides and let the commercial market take care of delivery.

    Lastly nothing is said here abut DRM. this is a sensitive subject which has to be addressed. I am against it and would like to see the BBC renounce all use of it. (Think HD TV).

  • Comment number 8.

    Excuse me, but where's the strategy? This looks like an excellent example of 'buzzword bingo' to me.

  • Comment number 9.

    7. At 4:25pm on 27 Jan 2010, Doge wrote:

    "It is very disappointing that the first success the BBC has had (the iPlayer) is UK only. They need to bight the bullet and get working on world rights to broadcast. If they don't Hulu and many others will overtake them very soon. You cannot wave this issue away by saying it would cost too much, you have to negotiate with rights holders and get a solution."

    "Doge", you seem to be a little confused as to how copyright and rights licensing works: It's nothing what so ever to do with the platform host or broadcaster, it's to do with the rights holders to the content - put simple if they do not want to sell world-wise rights to a broadcaster or platform host then that is it, QED, end of discussion. Hulu is in exactly the same position as the BBC is in this respect.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    Mr Piggot says: "B&ETG is responsible for the technology backbone of the organisation, from desktop PCs and tapeless production to camera procurement and much, much more."

    Part of the 'much, much more' is that these people, under their previous name of Technology Direction, were responsible for bringing technical progress in the BBC to a halt, through outsourcing. Here they are, saying how great their prototype tools are in 2004: http://www.cio.co.uk/article/196/the-heir-apparent/ Now those top names are gone, but the technology they brag about is still just prototypes and power-point, after a five-year black hole of non-progress and non-implementation.

    Nearly 100 "technical direction" people were brought in to manage the outsourcing process, and while the top names are gone, dozens of the rest of them are still there, still pontificating, still delivering PDFs and PPTs and vision statements. Meanwhile the BBC is now behind virtually every other European broadcaster, in the conversion from videotape to file-based working.

    Until ALL the technical direction people are weeded out, technology in the BBC remains in the hands of people who 'write about the things they cannot do'. http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/brigadoon/theloveofmylife.htm

  • Comment number 12.

    #11. At 10:50pm on 31 Jan 2010, Diogenes wrote:

    "Nearly 100 "technical direction" people were brought in to manage the outsourcing process, and while the top names are gone, dozens of the rest of them are still there, still pontificating, still delivering PDFs and PPTs and vision statements. Meanwhile the BBC is now behind virtually every other European broadcaster, in the conversion from videotape to file-based working."

    Not sure I follow your logic, it's not a race, being 'first' isn't the goal, being the best surely is? Many of the early adopters of file-based working have found problems with those early examples of deployment, some were solvable others not, especially at the end of the chain (play-out/TX).

  • Comment number 13.

    Thanks to all for your comments on the strategy and to Adrian for spotting my typo in the paper!

    Chrisfj, in addition to the response from Ant Miller;

    We do have a team who focus on accessibility for audience systems/services and one of the individual technology strategies mentioned in the paper is on this topic. The strategy will have a broader scope though as it covers both internally facing and external accessibility ambitions. This paper along with all the other individual strategies will be published in due course.

    Open standards is a broad topic and as you probably already know BBC R&D do a lot of work with regard to the development and adoption of open standards for broadcasting and media. For internal use it's not always going to be possible for everything we do, but we recognise the value of adopting them for all the reasons you mention and to help us acheive our standardisation goal.

    With regard to the BBC's internal editing and management tools, the BBC tends to use industry standard and widely available solutions. However, where we have or are developing solutions we do look to share what elements we can, such as the media integration and asset management data model - SMEF. http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/smef.shtml

    Spencer

  • Comment number 14.

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  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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