PwC delivers damning report into failed £100m BBC digital initiative

By Graeme Burton
18 Dec 2013 View Comments
BBC's John Linwood

The PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report into the BBC's £100m Digital Media Initiative (DMI) IT disaster has slammed the organisation for its "broken" system of governance that enabled a runaway IT bill to be run-up on an unworkable system.

DMI, which ended up costing £98.4m before it was embarrassingly scrapped, was intended to provide a completely digital platform for BBC programming and archiving, enabling video tape to be consigned to history. It would also enable clips and complete programmes to be uploaded, downloaded, edited or archived as necessary.

But the BBC was slow to act on rising concerns that the project was spiralling out of control, despite the fact that former finance head Zarin Patel, chief technology officer John Linwood (pictured), and former director general Mark Thompson were all involved in the "business direction group" overseeing the project.

Furthermore, the one piece of technology to be delivered from the project, called Fabric, is widely regarded by staff as worse than Infax, the system it is supposed to be replacing. Fabric is an archiving system that is supposed to enable staff to call up programmes and clips electronically, so that videos don't need to be biked between London and the BBC's new production centre in Salford.

As a result of the damning report, the National Audit Office and the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee will be looking again at the project and, no doubt, calling back key people to answer further questions.

One of those people may include BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten, who has rejected a Freedom of Information request for a copy of a paper on DMI that had been referenced in publicly released executive board minutes in June 2011.

Whistleblowers have suggested that the project was in trouble three years ago, and that senior managers at the organisation were warned that it was going badly awry - yet allowed the project to continue without significant intervention.

The 2011 report, they believe, will contain key clues as to how much senior managers really knew about the state of the project, while raising new questions about why they did so little to bring the gathering IT disaster under control.

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