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The BBC announces the closure of the Digital Media Initiative - DMI

Dominic Coles

BBC Director of Operations

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We have confirmed today that the BBC’s Digital Media Initiative (DMI) is to be closed before the project has completed and a review will be launched to establish what lessons we can learn from this experience. The blog below provides some background on DMI.

The BBC’s Digital Media Initiative (DMI) was originally approved in 2008 as an ambitious and complex transformation project that set out to move the BBC’s production and archive operations to a fully integrated digital way of working.   

At the heart of DMI’s approach was the strategy to link new digital production tools with a central, digital archive that would allow BBC staff and partners to develop, create, share and manage content digitally, from a desktop. DMI’s digital archive system would help production teams find content from the BBC’s vast archive.  In addition, new digital production and desktop tools would help ensure future content and data could be captured, edited and made available at each step of the production process. (This, incidentally, is not to be confused with digitising the existing tape archive, which is a huge undertaking and not part of DMI.)

The contract to deliver the technology solution for DMI was originally awarded to Siemens, and was brought back in-house to the BBC by mutual agreement. In 2012, the first parts of DMI were rolled out across the BBC, including the Fabric Archive Database - a system to allow users to search and request access to the BBC’s archive of tapes and other media.  In addition, wide ranging technical infrastructure was installed to underpin the move to a digital, tapeless way of working for the future.

Since its inception five years ago, DMI has proved to be a challenging project and even as services have been rolled out they have had to be adapted in response to user feedback. The pace of technological and digital change has been rapid; business and production requirements changed within the BBC; and the industry has developed standardised off-the-shelf digital production tools that did not exist five years ago. Developing such an ambitious and technically complex solution that was able to cope with the myriad demands BBC programmes would place upon it due to the variety and complexity of our content, proved far more challenging than expected, which led to delays.

After becoming Director of Operations, I, with the approval of the Executive and BBC Trust, made the decision to pause the programme in October 2012, and take stock of progress to date. Since then, I have led an internal operational review that examined whether DMI still met the current business needs for digital, tapeless production at the BBC.

That review has now concluded, and it is clear DMI’s ambitions have not been met. As outlined above, a number of factors have resulted in DMI falling well short of that ambition, and after discussing it with new Director-General Tony Hall, the decision has now been taken to stop the project at a total cost to the BBC of £98.4m. The cost is so great because much of the software and hardware which has been developed would only have a value if the project was completed and we cannot continue to sanction any additional spending on this initiative.  (Essential development work will continue on the Fabric Archive Database but at no additional cost over and above the total figure above.)

It is clear DMI has not delivered what was expected and in order to learn lessons from this experience the BBC Trust has launched a wide ranging independent review to establish just what went wrong. We will also be taking disciplinary action where appropriate.

We are very aware that the mistakes made must not happen again. We never forget we are spending Licence Fee payers’ money and we will learn some hard lessons from this experience. By their nature technology projects, especially those that attempt to break new ground, are high risk. This is not unique to the BBC. But in future we will do more to mitigate those risks. We will be quicker to act when projects are not delivering. The work I have been leading in the Operations Review, working with the Operations Board and content divisions, will arm us to do this. It will lead to a simpler organisation that takes better decisions, faster.

The need to work digitally and ambitiously remains but, moving forward, the BBC will deliver this digital environment in more manageable stages with stricter project management controls and clearer objectives that reflect the current business and technological requirements.  

The BBC delivers brilliant technology projects such as the BBC iPlayer, the digital Olympics and the migration to New Broadcasting House and BBC North. These are the benchmarks that we aspire to and have proven we can deliver. However, DMI did not work and we must ensure that there can be no repeat of a failure of this scale. The lesson isn’t that the BBC shouldn’t be bold and ambitious in charting new territory. The lesson is that we must put in place the right steps to ensure our major infrastructure projects deliver.

Dominic Coles is Director of Operations



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