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Changing how BBC Online works with suppliers

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Jonathan Kingsbury | 15:40 UK time, Friday, 29 October 2010

As outlined in March’s Strategy Review, there are changes coming for BBC Online. A proposed 25% cut in spend by 2013, and a rationalisation of 400 websites to make way for fewer, clearly-defined, products will impact audiences and the BBC itself.

External suppliers to BBC Online, critical to the success of the service, will naturally be thinking about what this means for them, and it’s important that we are clear.

Firstly, from the beginning of November we will be running a 2-month pilot to publish opportunities for BBC Online commissions across all BBC divisions for work costing upwards of £20k. We’re making this change because the industry’s been telling us that there’s sometimes confusion about the opportunities available. The system will be more transparent and we will be testing the number and quality of responses we receive.

Secondly, we’ll establish a roster to create a framework for commissioning large-scale, predominately tech-based projects, like the development of mobile apps, user experience and software development.  The intention is to make the tender process for more sophisticated technical deliverables more efficient.  Multiplatform commissions continue to be invited via the usual routes and the process is unchanged. This means that anyone wanting to pitch a creative idea to the BBC can still do so – whether they are pitching a digital concept as part of a TV commission or if they have a pure-web proposal.

We see the roster as a way of making it easier to outsource more tech-based work in the future, not less. Applying to be on the roster will be via an open, EU procurement process. This means that it will be open to all with the necessary skills to apply. The roster will be in place for 2 years, with the option of an extension and we expect there to be approximately 30-40 suppliers to meet our requirements over a range of “lots”. We do not want to shut the door completely to suppliers who do not get onto the roster this time. To that end, projects worth up to £50k will not need to go to roster suppliers. Firms wishing to apply to be on the roster can find out more by visiting the Supplying the BBC website from 5 November.

Lastly, as the digital media industry and our own external advisory group has suggested, our current Approved Suppliers List, with over 350 suppliers on is too unwieldy. There’s a feeling that this could be decommissioned, but we’ll be reviewing the impact of publication of opportunities mentioned above before making a final decision on this.

It’s important to note that the dedicated technical roster I mention above does not directly replace the existing approved suppliers list, as has been suggested.  The publication of opportunities for commission on our site will clarify where the invitations to tender are, regardless of divisions.  But, the technical roster is there for a very specific type of work.  This won’t have any bearing on the routes to multiplatform commissions.

It's also worth reading Erik Huggers’ recent blog on the adoption of product management within the BBC, which talks about the importance of technology and editorial working hand-in-glove to meet a clearly-defined audience need and ensure the success of the digital products and services that have become part of our daily lives. 

Be in no doubt that the BBC is open for business.  We hope that these straightforward operational changes for engaging with external suppliers will send a message to the digital sector that far from narrowing opportunity we are committed to broadening the gene-pool of talent to make BBC Online even better for audiences.

Jonathan Kingsbury is Head of External Supply for BBC Future Media & Technology.

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