BBC response to NAO report on Digital Media Initiative

Date: 28.01.2014     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.02
Category: Corporate
The BBC has today issued the following response regarding the NAO report into the now-closed Digital Media Initiative (DMI) project.

Dominic Coles, the BBC’s Director of Operations, said:

“As we have previously acknowledged, the BBC got this one wrong. We took swift action to overhaul how major projects are managed after we closed DMI last year. DMI aside, we have a strong track record of successfully delivering major projects such as BBC iPlayer and the digital Olympics and we will continue to innovate to deliver new technology to the public."

Executive response

We are grateful to the NAO for its report. As we have previously acknowledged, the BBC got this one wrong. However, we have taken swift action to overhaul how major projects are managed after the new management team closed DMI last year.

The failure of DMI should be set against a long track record of the successful delivery of other complex technology-enabled projects such as the BBC iPlayer, or High Definition on Freeview. Indeed, whilst DMI was ongoing, the BBC was also successfully delivering the digital Olympics, BBC North, and the move to New Broadcasting House.

The decision to close DMI was not taken lightly, but we believe it was the responsible thing to do. Dominic Coles, the BBC’s newly appointed Director of Operations, led a careful and considered review process.  The process was designed to:

  • consider this complex technology project - what it was intended to do, how far it had been developed and how well it was working;
  • commission an independent technical review (by Accenture, whose report we are also publishing today) of key elements of the project to assess the likelihood of the project delivering successfully; and
  • update the business requirements for digital production systems to reflect what is now available directly off-the-shelf, thereby being clear which parts of the original DMI solution we still needed to build.

As a consequence of this review, DMI was closed.  The BBC’s Chief Technology Officer has since left the BBC.

We are now considering how we can best meet the BBC’s future digital production needs.  A new ‘End to End Digital’ project will fully reflect the lessons of DMI.  For example, the digital production challenge has been split up into separate, independent 'bite size' steps, each of which will have benefits in their own right and will not be part of a single, 'all or nothing' integrated technology solution. All with appropriate programme oversight to ensure consistency and compatibility across all areas of activity.

This project, although only at the planning stage, and like all our other major projects, is now subject to new, stringent project management control including the setting of clear objectives that are directly linked to tangible business need.

We have also very carefully considered the views of Accenture, PWC and the NAO, as well as our own assessment of what went wrong, to implement a series of measures addressing the future governance of our major projects:

  • We have reviewed all our major projects, getting independent assurance where appropriate that they were properly designed, that objectives are fully agreed and well understood, and that there is clarity about the content and scope of deliverables.
  • We have amended our reporting arrangements so that the Executive Board will now get monthly reviews of the risk status of all major projects, enabling closer scrutiny and earlier actions when necessary. We are also improving our reporting to the Trust and increasing the number of Non-Executive Directors so there is greater challenge.
  • We are changing our governance framework and culture so that accountability for major projects now lies with clearly identified individuals (a senior responsible owner for each project).
  • We are ensuring all our major projects have an integrated assurance and approvals plan, including regular and independent project assurance depending on the complexity of the project.
  • We will be reinforcing our monitoring of the way recommendations made by internal or external audits and assurance reviews are implemented.

Further Background

DMI was an ambitious project which the BBC believed would help it embrace fully the benefits of digitisation. The project had first got into trouble whilst it was contracted out to Siemens. After the BBC brought the project back in-house, it rolled out successfully the first parts, including a basic Archive database.

However, these initial stages were the easiest to develop and, with hindsight, were not good predictors of the feasibility of the whole process.  The complexity of the programme had been under-estimated. Despite significant delays, and many attempts to reconfigure the order in which the different components would be released, the programme failed to deliver technology which worked. Over time, this led users, primarily in Television Production, to lose confidence in the project’s ability to deliver. In the same period, useful production tools, albeit not delivering the full initial BBC ambition, were starting to appear on the market, making the DMI solution far less critical for programme-makers. So the need for the full DMI solution weakened, whilst its achievability appeared less and less certain.

BBC Press Office