by Mark Chillingworth

BBC execs must accept blame in Digital Archive disaster

Jun 11, 20134 mins
IT LeadershipMedia and Entertainment Industry

“There was not enough technological expertise around either the Trust table, or the executive board table, to actually go ahead on something of this scale and complexity,” said Anthony Fry, a member of the BBC Trust since 2008, when the failed Digital Media Initiative (DMI) was launched. Fry was speaking to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

BBC CTO John Linwoodwas suspended on May 24th, 2013 over the DMI project. But the admission by a BBC Trust member that the board he sits on and the executive board of the BBC does not have the technology skills and knowledge to provide critical business oversight to a major project highlights the perilous nature of the CIO/CTO role.

BBCchief Tony Hall said that the organisation had “wasted a huge amount of licence fee payers’ money” and that an independent review has been set up to find out what went wrong when he cancelled DMI.

John Linwood, in his submission to the recently launched CIO 100 by this title, stated clearly he is not a member of the executive board, but he was on the Future Media and Technology Group Board.  Perhaps if Linwood had been given a place on the executive board some of the problems that DMI faced could have been discussed openly with senior leadership.

It is this title’s opinion that the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee needs to address the make-up of the executive team at the BBC.  The media has always been a sector that is dominated by, reacts to, and is led by technology.

That Fry highlights the technology skills issue with the Trust and executive board at the BBC is right, but as a member of the Trust since 2008, he too may have to accept a degree of the blame.

In the media frenzy surrounding the BBC in the wake of the Jimmy Savile child abuse claims, and the forthcoming licence fee negotiations, it is beneficial to other media outlets, especially those whose reputation has been tarnished of late for improper practices, to give the licence fee paying public the impression that DMI is an example of BBC profligacy. The truth is that almost all media organisations are considering or implementing platforms similar to the DMI project.  In the media business, a DMI technology strategy is essential, just as retail CIOs must focus on multi-channel. If the BBC had not been developing a DMI strategy, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee or rival media outlets would have accused it of being out of touch with modern media methods.

Consider also the size and age of the BBC as a media organisation, formed in 1922 and continually broadcasting ever since and known throughout the media business as one of the most productive media companies in the world, it’s archive is massive. As the technology world is bombarded with “Big Data” messages from vendors and analysts, the scope and scale of the BBC DMI project cannot be over looked.

A number of CIOs have expressed to this title that Linwood is being used as a scapegoat and this is a timely reminder that despite the digital revolution taking place, many executives still do not understand technology and the role of the CIO. At CIO UK we will keep an open mind to who is ultimately to blame for the demise of DMI, but we hope the final outcome will be for the BBC and other organisations to realise the importance of having the CIO on the board. But not only on the board, but having an honest and frank relationship with the CIO to ensure everyone understands the implications of technology and change.