back to article BBC suspends CTO after £100m is wasted on doomed IT system

The BBC has suspended its chief technology officer on full pay - after it spunked almost £100m on a "tapeless" digital content management system that didn't deliver. The £98.4m figure attributed to the failed Digital Media Initiative (DMI) may be a conservative estimate: the BBC Trust has commissioned an external technical …

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  1. Chris Miller

    Make no mistake

    Deputy heads will roll.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Make no mistake

      You know it.

    2. Shagbag
      FAIL

      I suspect it's a diversionary tactic

      The BBC worried about wasting the License Fee? Pull the other one.

      The BBC doesn't give a flying fuck about value for money. Like most socialists they have no idea about how hard it is to earn a £ and their only experience with raising revenue is through taxation. My God, if they were allowed to, the BBC would have borrowed itself up to the eyeballs just like the last Labour Government.

      No, the BBC is full of peado-protectors and labour-voting lefties (there's a reason why their colour scheme is predominantly red).

      I see this a nothing but an attempt to bury some other bad news they've released.

      1. KitD

        @ShagBag

        You've omitted any reference to immigrants and climate change. How can we take you seriously?

      2. Enrico Vanni

        Re: I suspect it's a diversionary tactic

        (there's a reason why their colour scheme is predominantly red).

        ...and BBC 3's colour scheme is predominantly pink *innocent face*.

        1. FrankAlphaXII
          Thumb Down

          Re: I suspect it's a diversionary tactic

          there's a reason why their colour scheme is predominantly red

          You forgot the troll icon.

          And if we follow your logic NBC's logo is a Peacock. So should we assume they're pushing a liberal Burmese agenda?

        2. Scorchio!!
          Angel

          Re: I suspect it's a diversionary tactic

          "(there's a reason why their colour scheme is predominantly red).

          ...and BBC 3's colour scheme is predominantly pink *innocent face*."

          Some wag recently said they ought to be named the 'PBC'.

      3. Defiant

        Re: I suspect it's a diversionary tactic

        Going off the negative reps given you I'd say a lot of these Socialist parasites from the BBC have paid the site a visit

  2. g e
    Facepalm

    Ooops

    Siemens. Hmmm......

    Atos... Hmmmmmmmm (aren't they the rail/public transport timetable people? I seen some of that output...)

    Seems to me they shoulda phoned Amazon or Google, I think that'd have been my first idea. Actually it just was... hohum.. £280k/year... I think I could possibly handle that - you don't have to deal with any dumb BBC politics, for that, right?

    1. Ru

      Re: Ooops

      Seems to me they shoulda phoned Amazon or Google

      Or perhaps not fired their own eminently capable techies in the first place.

      1. Tom 13
        Devil

        Re: their own eminently capable techies in the first place.

        But wouldn't that route cost an even larger fortune? I mean, first you have to fly them in from the other side of the world, and then you have to put them up in a hotel for a couple of months. And then you have fly them all back home again.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ooops

      With the number of failed projects happening over the decades many organizations are only tendering contracts on a Private Finance Initiative like contract.

      That is you get paid on successful delivery. The money you receive is dependent/proportional to the amount of money it saves.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @km123

        The most charitable explanation for your post is that you know nothing about PFIs.

        What you should have said is "The money you receive is a commercial secret. You will be guaranteed an inflated rate of return and face zero commercial risk. The beauty of the arrangement is that even though the taxpayers will have paid many times over the odds for your 'services', eg: £300 to change a light bulb, they will not end up owning any of the assets they have paid for."

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @km123

          You forgot the bit about "as long as you employ the correct ex-civil-servants".

  3. bag o' spanners
    Devil

    All hail to the commissioning process.

    I often wonder at the largesse involved in public sector IT contracts. Doing stuff on the cheap never quite turns out to be cheaper over the course of a badly written contract for an amorphous, badly planned system. Oversight only seems to kick in once the press get wind of the huge volumes of cash being flushed down the khazi. I'm fairly certain that none of the contractors minded being paid a fortune to deliver fool's gold.

    Very few of the people who sanction these massive ballsups appear to have a clue about the speed of evolution across the entire sector ("just show me the headline figures, Carruthers"). Better to spend half a million quid talking to tech companies and software developers, to see where their R&D is likely to be leading them, than build an obsolete, unworkable proprietary dustbin.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Speaking as someone who is often forced by politics and funding to do things on the cheap there are 3 ways to proceed:

      1: Don't do it.

      2: Do it badly (often a result of mobile goalposts)

      3: Do what you can, assume the targets given are bollocks and try to pick your technology so when they finally realise there isn't enough cash for the job and stump up enough readies, you don't have to chuck out everything so far and start over.

      #1 gets you fired, #2 gets you vilified in the final reports and #3 atracts a lot of heat to start with but is often the best long-term strategy.

      HOWEVER: For the amount of money involvedin this report, there was more than enough to do it right first time, several times over. It looks to me like the usual heads were in the feeding trough again.

      1. theflashyblade

        Let's be clear. This ain't a BBC specific problem. This is an IT failure. As ever, IT people blind non techies with their dreams and somehow they get organisations in private and public sector to pay for their follies, Millennium Bug anyone? NHS? Ford Motors purchasing software?

        It's easy to avoid this. Try a small experiment on a local scale, Perhaps in an island site where their may be local chaos, but not systemic failure. But for the love of God, stop believing the shit that IT people talk, that you have to spend a fortune on game changing technology.

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          @theflashyblade

          I, and many others, find IT easy. I would imagine half the people who read this online-rag would be able to have achieved something workable on this in a year by dragging and dropping a few existing programs together.

          What we cant do is to knock any sense into management - that group of people who will tell you that management is an art that requires no real knowledge of the thing managed. It might work in accountancy but in every other field its a complete fuck up.

          Every IT failure I've had the pleasure to work on has been a management failure. I've even had the code I wrote in a meeting that did 90% of a management requirement be taken off me, given to outside contractors and then returned two years later performing 70% of the original requirement ... occasionally.

          Its not the shit IT people speak - its calling shit 'managers' that's the problem.

          1. theflashyblade

            Re: @theflashyblade

            Of course, ultimately in any major project, it's a management problem. The grunts just do the programming or buying/testing of software/hardware.

            But I have so many experiences of IT contractors promising the world and massively under delivering. So the non techie managers must take some blame for being gullible. But IT managers should learn to under promise and over deliver. But consistently they know they can blind people with their shiny solutions. And often these projects take so long that it's those left behind who get it in the neck.

            The BBC project was Ashley Highfield's baby. He left early enough to leave with glowing words in his ears, and get a big job at a long standing regional newspaper group which he's currently ruining. He's management as you would say. He's IT management as I would say.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @theflashyblade

            Bad management is only half the story. Its the skills of the people hired also to blame.

            You will find the companies are basically just going through the motions to deliver the project instead of fully understanding what they are doing. The design is done for the sole purpose of delivering design documentation.

            Software design is required to ensure the system captures in full the users requirements and the software developed has a good architecture so that it is able to scale accommodating lots of requirements code before turning into spaghetti code. Modules with good interfaces and object abstraction ensures the work is comprehensible as the work grows in size.

            Because the people employed lack basic software engineering skills you end up with a million line plus piece of code that only delivers 60% of the functionality. Adding more functionality breaks existing functionality as its all a mess of spaghetti code. A good engineered product would achieve such functionality in under a few hundred thousand lines of code. Module interfaces and abstraction would ensure parts of the software don't break at the slight modification of the program.

            Its about time future software projects are delivered by experienced software designers.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

        3. Don Jefe

          @theflashyblade

          You realize what site you're on don't you? The Victorian School of Luddite Project Management is located elsewhere.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @theflashyblade

            "The Victorian School of Luddite Project Management is located elsewhere."

            Explain.

            You may have a point to make.

            On the other hand, from the industry that brings us techniques of the week like 'agile' and even 'LEAN agile' while almost without exception ignoring the wisdom of things like The Mythical Man Month, I'm frequently not sure what the point is.

            It's almost certainly nothing to do with engineering best practice.

            1. Don Jefe

              Re: @theflashyblade

              You've never seen a typing pool have you? A secretarial pool? Entire floor of office buildings full of mechanical draftsmen or blue printing teams? How about an office mail boy? How about real office shorthand? IT has improved nearly every aspect of office and manufacturing operations.

              You've obviously been involved in some bad projects, but to blame 'techies' alone is foolishness and will never help you successfully complete any sort of project in the future. Most bad projects are down to conflicting specs and/or the client not really knowing what they want. Besides it takes many players to scupper a project. In all my years I've never not one time been involved in a project that one group or person was solely responsible for screwing up an entire project.

              As a successful mechanical engineer with my own firm and 31 great employees I'll tell you that small scale tests can always be made to work, it is when you scale that things get wonky. You'll inevitably be dealing with legacy systems (or software in the IT case) that nobody even knew existed, are poorly documented and or held up by sheer force of will. No matter how hard you study and plan things get weird as you scale and its never anyone's fault, it's just the way it is. What matters is how you respond to the reality of the situation.

            2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
              Facepalm

              Re: @theflashyblade

              On the other hand, from the industry that brings us techniques of the week like 'agile' and even 'LEAN agile' while almost without exception ignoring the wisdom of things like The Mythical Man Month, I'm frequently not sure what the point is.

              I'm sure of that because you clearly missed what the Mythical Man Month was about and how "agile" may be able to help - at least in a certain number of cases.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Define 'IT people'

          Do you mean actual proper techies who are usually only heard once fuckwit middle management have made a total shambles of everything and are looking for a way to bung their arseholes and take all the glory? Or do you mean fuckwit middle management types who think they know IT because they once configured a Wi-Fi router at home (badly)?

          If it is the latter, then you are right. Otherwise, I can only guess you haven't done much public sector work. Real techies are way down the food chain - they would never get in front of a board with spending power.

        5. CaptJ

          Funny that's what they did and abandoned it

          "It's easy to avoid this. Try a small experiment on a local scale, Perhaps in an island site where their may be local chaos."

          Which is EXACTLY what they did in DMI V1. But when Siemens got cold feet (A very risk adverse company) when offered the opportunity to bail out they did in short order. The original local deployment was orphaned and a completely new solution was designed. Siemens were in fact very close to producing a working system, albeit limited. In came Mr Linwood and his cronies, eager to prove how they could do better. Any dissenting voices were silenced by a culture of bullying.

          Cue a lot of people losing their jobs and consultants making millions.

          That original local deployment is still in daily service, but nobody likes to talk about that.

        6. Sirius Lee

          @theflashyblade

          Any project that has not been done before is likely to be late and over budget. Almost all software projects fall into this category. Building a bridge? Done it a million times. However the first suspension bridges were enormously expensive and, early on, had a habit of falling down. Of course that's forgotten now because the cost is absorbed and the existing templates and practices are stamped out all over the world.

          Likewise, any project that requires software that's been used before cost peanuts by comparison because you are installing and configuring existing software that's known to work.

          If it's not been done before the costs of any project are unpredictable because users are *useless* at specifying what they do and need. Any specification is from 50,000' and, except in a small number of cases, there's no detail (from the point of view of the person implementing the intended system). Of course the implementer doesn't know that until well into the project when they, too, have become domain experts. But that's usually too late.

          Think about specifying getting up and going to work. *Everything* you think about saying will be at the 50,000' level. Even though you are expert at getting up every morning (well maybe not after a skinful the night before) and going to work you'd not have a clue how to specify that seemingly simple task so that, say, a robot could also do it in any circumstance. Everyone reading this request for a specification, if they offered anything at all,would not account for any, let alone all, the things that could go wrong.

          Meanwhile the budget and timescale will have been fixed. So cut the IT guys some slack and focus your ire on users who do not have a clue and managers who fail to recognize that reality.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The old adage often fails with the (mainly) the public sector.

        You can have it:

        Cheaply

        Quickly

        Properly.

        Choose 2 out of the 3.

      3. Getriebe

        @Alan Brown

        I like your analysis. And 3 would be my pick if I ever worked with any public body. In my big Yank company the salesmen are taken outside and shot if they mention they are working with anything Public. And righlty so.

        We were scarred 16 years ago - and the collective memory remains

  4. a well wisher

    on the side lines ...

    Lets hope he is sidelined too!

    But can't see being any job which counts as being 'sidelined' paying 1/4 of a million a year

    On the other hand this is the BBC we are talking about

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Coles

    “Technology controller” Peter Coles will take over as acting chief technology officer. Coles will report to BBC operations director Dominic Coles."

    These two aren't related are they?

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Coles

      Naw. Couldn't be? Could it?

      1. Mr Spock

        Re: Coles

        They'd be better off with Norris Cole. At least he makes a point of knowing what's going on all the time.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Money? it's not real money

    Why would the BBC start worrying about spending money irresponsibly? It has not bothered them in the slightest up till now. How much did they (WE actually) pay J.Roth? How much is spent on the ludicrously stupid Top Gear? They spent millions moving the Birmingham studios out of a purpose built studo center at Pebble Mill which was virtually rent free, then millions more moving into a totally inadequate building in the town centre.

    The latest disgraceful craziness of course is the stupendously inappropriate move to Salford....the taxpayers should not have to bear the awful costs of these irresponsible people. The BBC has been financially independent for decades now, ever since they became a commercial organisation, so to continue to drain billions of punds from the public is utterly incredible!

    1. Maharg

      Re: Money? it's not real money

      While I aggree with much of what you say, I'm pretty sure Top Gear makes the BBC quite a bit of money with DVDs, CDs etc and selling it overseas, its when they make spend time and money to employee people to look at twitter during Question Time, thats a pointless waste

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Money? it's not real money

        In other countries, if tv companies make programs with public money then manage to sell it overseas or on DVD, they're expected to pay that money back, with interest.

        Of course, creative accounting can make any profit look like a staggering loss, and it can also be used to explain the inexplicable such as expensive moves to less suitable/more expensive premises. Following the money trail on those premises is often a circular affair.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Money? it's not real money

      "How much is spent on the ludicrously stupid Top Gear?"

      Probably a negative amount in that it makes a profit. Of course, the usual method of criticising the BBC is to complain when they make popular stuff because it's "commercial" and complain when they make unpopular/specialized stuff because its a "ratings loser".

      "The latest disgraceful craziness of course is the stupendously inappropriate move to Salford....the taxpayers should not have to bear the awful costs of these irresponsible people."

      The BBC did not want to move to Salford. Blair held a gun to their heads and asked if they'd like him to pull the trigger or go to Salford. They went to Salford.

      "The BBC has been financially independent for decades now, ever since they became a commercial organisation, so to continue to drain billions of punds from the public is utterly incredible!"

      Yeah, well, of course in the private sector no one ever has an IT scheme fail and if they did they would never, ever, recoup the loss by simply passing it onto the public.

      Except, ha ha, this mess was largely made by private companies (Seimans/ Atos) who, er, passed it back onto the public in the form of the BBC who tried to rescue some value from it and failed.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Money? it's not real money

        Yeah, well, of course in the private sector no one ever has an IT scheme fail and if they did they would never, ever, recoup the loss by simply passing it onto the public.

        You sarcasm is commendable but I'm not so sure you know what you are actually talking about.

        Except, ha ha, this mess was largely made by private companies (Seimans/ Atos) who, er, passed it back onto the public in the form of the BBC who tried to rescue some value from it and failed.

        So how did they manage that mysterious feat of "passing it back onto the public in the form of the BCC?"

        And spell Siemens properly, please.

  7. P0l0nium
    FAIL

    A "five year in the making" public sector IT project superseded by newer technology...

    Never seen THAT before.

    1. Chris Miller

      Doesn't matter whether it's public or private

      No 5-year technology project can possibly 'succeed'. Even if you implement it to perfection, in 5 years:

      1. The technology will have changed.

      2. The people (especially the sponsors at the top) will have changed.

      3. The business will have changed (though I hesitate to call the BBC a business, it still changes radically over a 5 year period).

      So my rule is - no projects will be undertaken that can't be completed and delivering benefits in 6 months. Inevitably the cry goes up: "Oh, but my vital megaproject can't possibly be implemented in less than 5 years." To which the answer is: break it up into 10 subprojects each with deliverable benefits, or it ain't happening on my watch.

      1. Don Jefe
        Thumb Up

        Re: Doesn't matter whether it's public or private

        I agree with that sentiment 100%.

      2. Getriebe

        Re: Doesn't matter whether it's public or private

        @Chris Miller

        Yes, oh yes! And that was my reaction when I read the story. The scope is too big and I guessed there were no checks, milestones, along the way so they could row back if what had been achieved fatally changed the plan.

        This sort of thing has to be management failure, and, as always, the top management. it’s their job not to understand code or short term outcomes, but 'the big picture' and importantly to know what the 'big picture' IS.

        As a big project manager - herding the cats is relatively easy, it’s getting people who will not see, to see

      3. Tomato42 Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Doesn't matter whether it's public or private

        definitely this

        that's the posts that make me read El Reg comment section

  8. Maharg
    Facepalm

    "the BBC Trust has commissioned an external technical inquiry"

    How much will the inquiry cost to tell us they wasted money?

    1. Jess--

      we won't know until the inquiry into the inquiry has been completed

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I might suggest that the first place to look for a reason as to why this happened would be an institutional culture that first considers it okay to pay £280,000 to a CTO and then considers it okay to suspend him on full pay when he cocks up.

    They keep cocking things up because they believe themselves immune from the consequences of their actions.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge
      Holmes

      "They keep cocking things up because they believe themselves immune from the consequences of their actions."

      But apparently they are, aren't they?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh the humanity

    Suspended on full pay? How TF is that a punishment?

    1. Richard 26

      Re: Oh the humanity

      'Suspended on full pay? How TF is that a punishment?'

      It's not. Whilst it might be satisfying if the BBC told him to clear his desk today, they would be paying him off for unfair dismissal tomorrow.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh the humanity

        fine - settle the unfair dismissal suit for any amount that he asks, even if it's ten times his full pay. After subtracting the entire cost of the project for which he was responsible, of course.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Oh the humanity

      "Suspended on full pay? How TF is that a punishment?"

      Punishment for what crime or misdemeanor ?

      John Linwood was appointed in April 2009; the DMI project started in 2004...

      The BBC took the project back in house in August 2009 and the NAO had this to say:

      "However, since taking the Programme back in house, delivery of the system has progressed well, and users have responded positively. The real test of value for money of the Programme as a whole will be the take up by users across the BBC and elsewhere, and on this it is too early to conclude."

      Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 1 February 2011 (http://www.nao.org.uk/report/the-bbcs-management-of-its-digital-media-initiative/ )

      It is currently unclear as to why, other than internal politic's and needing a "head on the plate", John should of been suspended over this project.

      As for his renumeration I suggest reading his biography (http://www.bbc.co.uk/aboutthebbc/insidethebbc/managementstructure/biographies/linwood_john/ ) as it adds some perspective.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ashley Highfield

    wrote that memo, and then disappeared off to Microsoft later that same year.

    I was briefly attached to that project doing some functionality testing. The lack of specification was amazing...

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Ashley Highfield

      Oh now that's interesting.

      1. keithpeter
        Windows

        Re: Ashley Highfield

        5 year project, about £100 million. BBC has IT spend of 400 million per year so 2000 million over the 5 years. Project is roughly 5% of total IT spend over the period.

        Is that percentage loss on a large IT project about changing how the main business operates dire, bad, or just unfortunate by private sector standards? Anyone any metrics?

        The beggar: My employers could refresh all our kit for less than the interest on the project cost. We soldier on...

        1. Chris Miller

          @keithpeter

          The BBC has 23,000 staff (and no doubt many more contractors) so simply keeping the joint running in terms of desktops, laptops, fondleslabs and associated networking and server hardware and software probably takes up £200 million a year. Add to that a very substantial web presence (BBC comes just below Apple and above Adobe on website hit lists) and I seriously doubt that there's more than £50 million which could be called 'discretionary spending', probably a lot less. A huge chunk of that has just been pissed away.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Ashley Highfield

      This might explain a lot of things about MS's email systems (and office 365)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    Here we go

    Cue lots of derogatory comments about how crap this all is by people that, despite obviously being fully qualified to design and build such large scale projects, were somehow overlooked for this one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Here we go

      It's possible to understand what won't work without necessarily being able to create something that will, on the principle that crap tends to have something of a whiff about it.

  13. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Director of future media?

    Simple way to cut costs - go through an organisation and fire anybody called "a creative consultant visionary" or a "director of social media inclusiveness"

    Not only will you save their inflated salaries, you will improve morale and reduce the overall level of stupidity

  14. nuked
    Alien

    I'd love to see what they spent £400m on that is now apparently only fit for the dustbin.

    And of course, this u-turn has nothing to do with the rampant and seemingly unstoppable theft of digital IP across the globe...

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      "rampant and seemingly unstoppable theft of digital IP across the globe..."

      Must be happening in another dimension. Or maybe it's irrelevant?

    2. david wilson

      >>"I'd love to see what they spent £400m on that is now apparently only fit for the dustbin."

      Even if the project had worked out, how much of the kit which had been bought over its long duration would have been naturally written off by the time it finished?

  15. Alan Denman

    Why it took so long - pay by rewards !

    "why it took so long to kill DMI"

    Obviously it was rewarding for so many to continue on the gravy train.

    Thinking positive, there would have been a million pound losing bonus in the private sector.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    private sector

    While i was working for another well known broadcaster (mainly in the factual and nature end of programming) they were also dealing with the issue of a vast (decades worth) library of tape.

    They were also dealing with new ways to sell their programming over seas, without having to fedex a box of tapes and the required language track.

    While i didn't see the full costs, this was being done for only a few million, with alot of that going on storage (alot of Isilon kit with multiple fibre connections, i seem to remember).

    All projects can go very bad, but in the private sector cash usually keeps people focused, at least a little.

    1. keithpeter

      @ AC 14:54 Re: private sector

      "All projects can go very bad, but in the private sector cash usually keeps people focused, at least a little."

      Possibly less 'game changing' vision stuff and more 'we need to get the tape digitised and made available, what is the easiest way to get that done?'

      Not just money, more to do with mindset.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: private sector

      "in the private sector cash usually keeps people focused,"

      You're not familiar with the "enterprise apps" market sector (say, as a random example, SAP etc) are you?

      If you were, you might not make silly statements like that one (even acknowledging that you said 'usually').

      In the private sector, companies have no need to be accountable to the public and are often good at keeping their failures (including IT failures) quiet, unless it visibly brings down whole parts of the company (it happens, sometimes).

  17. Anonymous IV

    DAB

    Let's hope the DG now has a look into DAB, and bins it for a better alternative.

  18. Shasta McNasty
    Facepalm

    Give the CTO some credit

    It takes ineptitude beyond the levels of a normal IT manager to spunk that much money away and deliver nothing at all.

  19. Midden View

    Interesting the CTO gets in the neck and not the project board as well - who presumably signed off on the goals and budget. And in a project of this scale, that's probably all the way to the top.

  20. Pete 2 Silver badge

    The email spells DOOM from the start

    There are simply too many buzzwords and trendy cliches. That tells you it was written by someone with no firm grasp (or even a single clue) what it was meant to achieve - or what problem it was supposed to solve.

    The final paragraph contains this gem: essential for the BBC to remain relevant to our ever evolving audience. Well, I don't know if the BBC audience is evolving, or what it is evolving in to, but to make that claim when the Beeb is still screening 40 year old repeats of Dad's Army - and that they're getting better viewing figures than a lot of contemporary programming - shows a level of disconnection with reality that only an organisation with no concern for where it's finance comes from could ever get away with.

    1. Vic

      Re: The email spells DOOM from the start

      > it was written by someone with no firm grasp (or even a single clue)

      It was written by Ashley Highfield. The bloke that insisted there were no more than 600 Linux users in the country. Just before he hopped off to work for Microsoft...

      Vic.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad management

    I worked on this project a couple of years ago and I have never seen the like of it in 20 years of in IT. It was an absolute shambles. The senior management made decisions which made no sense whatsoever. People signed contracts to buy hardware and software that wasn't compatible as people with technical knowledge were not involved at all in the decision making process. Everyone knew the design was fundamentally flawed but still the senior management ignored all the warnings, and ploughed on. Any reasoned voice of dissent was ignored.

    Separate consultancy firms were given separate areas to work on, therefore almost nothing fit together and understandably these companies put their own profit and billable time above the success of the project. Accenture, Deloites, IBM, PA Consulting were all present. One company was charged with developing an area another with supporting it. Nothing was done end to end. Hardly anyone on the project had working experience of the BBC and general buy in from other departments was very poor.

    There were a lot of very talented individuals working on the project but very poor management and overall unrealistic technical design meant it was doomed to fail. An absolute waste of money, other internal teams at the BBC had built systems with similar capabilities for a fraction of the time and money.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Bad management

      Our CS department got a research grant to work on this in the early 2000s

      It was insane - the idea was that a BBC person in any BBC office in the country could use any machine to edit any bit of content from anywhere in the BBC.

      Asked why anybody would need to do this - why would somebody in BBC Belfast suddenly need to edit the raw camera footage for a BBC wildlife unit documentary in Bristol?

      The answer as that staff could move around to make better use of resources. So if you are in London and all the edit suites are booked, you can fly to Belfast and use an editing machine there and the wonderful iCloudy goodness would give you full access to the data store

      The assumption was that internet bandwidth would increase at the same rate it had done in the 90s and that there was no issues of access or control because everybody in the BBC as one big happy family - and presumably there was no outside content, no content being sold to other broadcasters and no rivalry between programmes.

      1. localzuk

        Re: Bad management

        @YAAC - how can your CS department have got a grant to work on a project in the early 2000s when it wasn't launched until the late 2000s - ie. 2008?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Bad management

          Because you generally do research on ideas you want to implement before you write a cheque for the servers.

          BBC techie poeple had been into the idea of making everything remote and digital for years, this is just the latest actual implementation to cost a lot of money

    2. Bhairava
      Pint

      Re: Bad management

      Ancient history alert: sounds almost identical to the broadband side of the Enron fiasco.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bad management

      Oh grief, that first paragraph sounds depressingly like some major projects where I work.

      But what I really don't understand is that to a good extent It management tends to be promioted people who once started as techies (same in other games too). Admittedly rarely the top echelon techies, as we often lack the different skills required for management (and management must require a whole lot of skills, otherwise management wouldn't stuff up so often), but techies neverthe less..

      Ok a few are just idiots who are drowned in ego, believe their own bull**** and who would be better escorted quietly off the premises, but they really are the minority. But from where I sit I can see obviously stupid technical decisions being made by people who were competent enough middle echelon techies five or ten years ago, with all common sense and reason having gone out of the window. What the hell happened to them?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bad management

      It was a success. A great part of that money disappeared into the private sector - lots of luverly profit there.

  22. ecofeco Silver badge
    Pirate

    Lose 100 million

    Get paid vacation.

    Marie Antoinette had nothing on this guy!

  23. Pu02
    FAIL

    100:1 it was due to DRM as well as stupidity

    I bet the root cause is some buffoon's requirement that the system implement and enforce DRM.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)
      Happy

      Re: 100:1 it was due to DRM as well as stupidity

      I'll take you up on that, Pu02.

      I suggest £50. Now show me the money.

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: 100:1 it was due to DRM as well as stupidity

        They DON'T do DRM internally. That would be partially a smart decision in most businesses (confidential data, also known as encryption). But most places consider the data to be "safe" and just burn it to DVD/CD/USB/external HDD and pass it on to the other guy. Mean while the cleaning staff potter about the office. No risk what so ever. ;)

        But as for broadcast editing, I don't think DRM is anywhere in the requirements of such a system. It will be a closed network or trusted sites only (locked offices :P ).

  24. PassingStrange

    Looking at this the wrong way.

    It's a given that every project includes risks, and therefore also a given that, occasionally, a project will fail - that's a fact of IT life. And, viewed dispassionately, pulling a failed project is far better use of public money than burying your head in the sand, pretending the problem isn't there and throwing more good money after bad. As an (uninformed) first reaction basis, my thoughts were "Kudos to whoever finally had the balls to say ' Enough is enough'." Yes, it's massively embarrassing that money of such astronomical proportions was spent on this before it was pulled; questions are clearly in order, and heads probably need to roll. But they have to be the right heads - because the sort of witch-hunt mentality that won't tolerate failure isn't in anyone's interest.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Looking at this the wrong way.

      Is the plan not to fail sensibly and safely though? Airbags, steering wheels, breaks. These allow a car to "fail". But driving at 100mph at a hairpin corner is not a failure of the car, but the driver. So was it the IT that failed, or the "driver" of the project?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    may be a conservative estimate

    read: "they haven't got a f... clue how much". Hint: it was probably much, MUCH more". Well, there goes my 100 m down the drain. Oh well, either that, or the nhs sinkhole. Or the mod sinkhole (by lunchtime). Or the track-an-immigrant sinkhole.Homo sapiens can be remarkably resourceful when it comes to "mis-management" of other people's money :)

  26. strangelybrown
    Stop

    It takes two, baby.

    Take a massive monolithic organisation run by ruthlessly ambitious backstabbing 'career manager' types whose skills begin and end with the ability to endlessly spout corporate buzzword non-speak, and trust it to design, sell, and implement a complex solution to the BBC?

    I've only rarely been involved with selling to Public Sector, but I think one of the fundamental problems is that as commercial rules don't really apply to the Public Sector, they seem to be unable to grasp that anyone might possibly flog them something that isn't very good - The assumption being that because IBM/Atos/CSC/whoever is big then they must be on the level.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    TV License

    I am just about had it with my TV License - My understanding that the TV license is largely about giving the BBC budget to create and deliver content.

    The BBC should be doing the bare minimum in terms of IT, Web etc - it should focus on commissioning and creating content and then delivering that content.

    The BBC is losing it's way in quality programming to Sky and other commercial services. Sky Arts really trumps BBC2 and BBC4 put together on quality factual programs and the BBC's news channel is looking tired and unimaginative. The best comedians have long since gone and why? Because we are slashing all the stars and program budgets so IT can flush 100,000,000 down the toilet.

    No overall I am disillusioned with the BBC and I feel really bitter that I am forced to pay for a TV License so that it can be wasted on screw ups like this and spent on services I can get for free elsewhere. I am happy to read the news with a banner down the side. But I am not happy reading ad-less the news at the expense of another niche content or radio team at the BBC has been shut down.

    Probably the only people who can sort the BBC now are the government - they certainly can't sort themselves out - it's one scandal after another with the BBC these days. Enough is enough.

    1. localzuk

      Re: TV License

      Content is on multiple platforms - TV is just one. The BBC needs to provide content on the emerging platforms as they appear, as that's part of its purpose.

      IT is needed to deliver content.

    2. TheVogon Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: TV License

      We should just pay Sky to launch some replacement FTA channels for a fraction of the price and shut down this money wasting mess...Put the replacement channels up for commercial rebids every 5 years or so to ensure quality and efficiency...

      1. Youngdog

        Re: TV License

        I find it ironic that your display name is drawn from a radio series commissioned by, yes, the BBC

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: TV License

          Douglas Adams was responsible for that. The BBC was just the platform...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: TV License

        If you believe the BBC is rubbish because of the licence fee, then paying Sky public money to make quality programming is idiotic, it would turn Sky into the same thing!

        The problem at the Beeb is the middle management trying accountancy tricks to "save" money from their own budgets without realising (or perhaps caring) that it increases overall costs - probably there are too many of them. Some issues are due to civil service or politician interference.

        One thing I've noticed is that each time certain parts were outsourced and each time there were the radical reductions in permanent staff for other reasons, the "really great" employees turned freelance, and made more money. The "mediocre" and "poor" stayed on staff, and now rely on hiring the freelancers back at freelance rates for almost every show, costing the BBC more for less output.

        Right now there's a part of management trying to fully automate studios to "fix" this, which is of course a disaster in the making.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: TV License

          "middle management trying accountancy tricks to "save" money from their own budgets without realising (or perhaps caring) that it increases overall costs - probably there are too many of them." (etc)

          This tactic is far from unique to the public sector. The corporate private sector, with things like their "approved supplier" lists hiding cosy arrangements with the purchasing department, can be just as bad.

          The private sector is generally better at keeping it all hush hush though, and if any outsider comes along and says "why are you paying so much for x y z" or worse still actually shows how it can be done for less, their salary continuation plan may come to a rapid end.

        2. TheVogon Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: TV License

          I believe the BBC is rubbish because it is a public sector type organisation. The License fee in itself isn't the issue. But that funding could be far me effectively used via commercially competitive organisations imo.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: TV License

            "that funding could be far me effectively used via commercially competitive organisations imo."

            Absolutely. Just look at the health sector, or energy supply, or railways. Or even deregulated telecomms. I mean, what could possibly go wrong.

            Your opinion is not supported by any worthwhile evidence, mate. But you're welcome to it.

            As for the BBC being a "socialist" organisation... I assume the Tea Party people must be here...

            1. TheVogon Silver badge
              Mushroom

              Re: TV License

              Health Sector - lots of private companies doing very well , and quite efficiently and effectively. Ditto energy supplies (although thanks to our government's inability to make a decision we don't have enough generating capacity for the future) . Railways - mostly doing quite well except for the bits still controlled by the government such as Railtrack - Telecoms - loads of commercially efficient companies and a highly competitive market - so your point was?

              As for the BBC being a Socialist organisation - havn't you noticed that they only tend to advertise BBC jobs in the Guardian?

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: TV License

                "Health Sector - lots of private companies doing very well "

                Companies may be doing well, but the people paying for it (eg via PFI), and the service users, aren't so happy.

                "Energy supply - lots of private companies doing very well "

                Companies may be doing well, but the customers being ripped off aren't so happy and they will be even less happy when the lights go out or the gas stops working.

                Repeat until message sinks in. Telecoms: lots of race for the gutter competition in profitable areas, elsewhere in the non-cherry-picker areas, a BT monopoly just like the old days, but without the ability to control what they do with their "last mile" operations. Rail: Grayrigg mean anything to you?

                "they only tend to advertise BBC jobs in the Guardian?"

                Citation needed (I used to know a Guardian reader). Counter evidence includes everything from their economic coverage to the Thatcher state funeral. The Guardian hasn't been a left wing paper for years anyway.

                1. TheVogon Silver badge
                  Mushroom

                  Re: TV License

                  "Health Sector - lots of private companies doing very well "

                  Companies may be doing well, but the people paying for it (eg via PFI), and the service users, aren't so happy.

                  FAIL - PFI is only government projects - not private healthcare.

                  "Energy supply - lots of private companies doing very well "

                  Companies may be doing well, but the customers being ripped off aren't so happy and they will be even less happy when the lights go out or the gas stops working.

                  That's just rubbish - we have numerous energy suppliers to choose from including 6 large ones and the industry works on extremely low margins similar to Tescos! The fact the market price of power is high is because we don't have enough capacity - due to years of government indecision - e.g. the failure to support new Nuclear Reactors that forced Centrica to drop out of the project to build them....and the government forcing our suppliers to build expensive renewable generation facilities - see http://www.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_9631000/9631864.stm

                  Telecoms: lots of race for the gutter competition in profitable areas, elsewhere in the non-cherry-picker areas, a BT monopoly just like the old days, but without the ability to control what they do with their "last mile" operations. Rail: Grayrigg mean anything to you?

                  Again simply not true - lots of large and small carriers in the market at all levels of service - BT are no longer a monopoly due to local loop unbundling, and the widespread roll out of highspeed cable networks.

                  GreyRigg - again a government controlled organisation failure (Railtrack).

                  "The Guardian hasn't been a left wing paper for years anyway."

                  Well just LOL - I can only assume you are a member of the Socialist Workers Party if you class the Guardian as not left wing. Try reading the weekly media section every Monday and look at the reams of BBC jobs....

    3. cnapan
      Pint

      Re: TV License

      By all means rant about the licence fee but please try to do it with its correct spelling.

  28. Richard Scratcher
    Pint

    No Problem

    Just turn the whole escapade into a compelling new drama series (or maybe an hilarious comedy) that can be sold for mi££ions by the company's commercial arm - BBC Worldwide.

    Hurrah!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      IT Angle

      Re: No Problem

      "or maybe an hilarious comedy"

      Hmmmm...good point. IT comedy. IT project. Crowds of techies. What should we call it?

  29. All names Taken
    Joke

    Silly so-and-so

    He should know the publicly funded organisation mantra:

    waste 100 million and you are the problem

    waste 100 billion and you will be bailed out, promoted and eventually given a ginormous pension and termination (as in redundancy) package.

    ?

  30. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Digital Media Initiative cancelled ..

    What kind of technology was the Digital Media Initiative supposed to run on?

    What exactly were the failings that led to the cancellation?

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Digital Media Initiative cancelled ..

      No doubt we'll revisit this - from what I've heard they went through quite a lot of tech before it went out of control.

      C.

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Digital Media Initiative cancelled ..

        "They went through quite a lot of tech", we can all do that though with a BBC credit card and a swoop through PCWorld... plus a sledge hammer! :D

  31. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Standardised off-the-shelf tools?

    "The industry has developed standardised off-the-shelf digital production tools that did not exist five years ago", Dominic Coles

    It says here on page 16 *, that they were using commodity hardware and Open Source software.

    "Linwood said the availability of “off-the-shelf tools” had prompted the BBC to shift the focus of DMI from production to archive", Aug 2012

    See also The BBC’s management of its Digital Media Initiative ..

    1. Vic

      Re: Standardised off-the-shelf tools?

      > It says here on page 16 *, that they were using commodity hardware and Open Source software.

      If you follow the link on that page, it's clear that they actually open-sourced their proprietary solution...

      Vic.

  32. goldcd

    Knowing the BBC

    My assumption is that they just wanted to get rid of the CTO and if they have to bin a project to come up with a reason, so be it.

  33. Salts
    Flame

    Auntie is Good

    Yep a 100 million is a lot of money and the project failed, so lets bash the BBC for pulling the plug.

    Lets give it all to Murdoch or ITV, they will do it so much better.

    Lets forget all the achievements of the BBC in 'new media' how they where accused of overspending on web technology in the late 90's

    How they now have to place links on the website to outside content, because people just used the BBC site.

    The BBC is one of the best things we do as a nation and yes it is sometimes Red, Pink or Blue all normally depends on the persons perception of the program.

    As for Dads Army 40 years on, they also still make money on it world wide.

  34. graeme leggett

    siemens

    Is this cock-up in any way related to the Siemens BBC phone system problems, or are they entirely unrelated failings by a corporate IT partner?

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Re: siemens

      No, Siemens just isn't good at technology. It's not their main area of expertise that's why they are constantly selling off technical parts of the company.

  35. RonWheeler
    Facepalm

    Buy an off the shelf product

    and change working practices to fit. Public sector never do that. - they are always want to customise the IT to fit their established (usually bad) working patterns. As cost is no object, there is no block to this mistake happening over and over.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This seems to be part of the culture at the BBC. We need XYZ, lets build it. Rather than just buy something or wait for the technology to come along.

    The BBC needs to focus on content, it no longer needs to be building tools, software and transmission methods. Leave that to the wider world.

    The Beeb even wrote their own video codec FFS. It doesn't matter if it is good or not, it's never going to get adopted is it?

  37. Andrew 99

    lessons for the future

    I remember studying the london ambulance software failure. There could be a full module done on large software projects that fail, this could be one of of the sudy subjects.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: lessons for the future

      "I remember studying the london ambulance software failure."

      Either your memory is failing or you skim read the reports, as the London Ambulance IT project failure was an IT system design failure that resulted in a totally inappropriate software platform being used, which was brought about by blindly following the trendy ideas of someone who had no real understanding of the real-world demands the system would need to handle and the capabilities of the software they were promoting...

      But otherwise I totally agree, we - the professional IT community and it's partners/supporters - need a full 'accident investigation report'.

      I find it very interesting that despite the claim that "The industry has developed standardised off-the-shelf digital production tools that did not exist five years ago," the project has been binned. To me this effectively says that even with these tools the project was neither technically or commercially viable - even if the back catalogue/archive problem which also bedevils imaging and workflow systems is ignored.

      From my experience I would suggest that whilst the objectives of DMI could be achieved in small scale implementations (ie. single production house with limited numbers of users and stored content), the technology just isn't there to support implementation across a large organisation, such as the BBC.

  38. Pan.

    Siemens???

    LOL - Siemens??? and IT integration??? I imagine the procurement process was crystal clear, in the usual Siemens manner of that era.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Autonomy?

    How much of the 100 meelion was spent on Autonomy? I seem to recall Autonomy proudly trumpeting a BBC deal for video shortly after Mike Lynch became a Beeb director.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Autonomy?

      "Autonomy proudly trumpeting a BBC deal for video shortly after Mike Lynch became a Beeb director."

      The (allegedly socialist) BBC are good at stuff like that. For the last few years, the (not very socialist) chairman of Barclays has been on the board at the BBC (Marcus Agius, now retired from the BBC board). While the rest of the media (even the Torygraph and the Mail) has been covering uncomfortable goings on at Barclays (bonus excesses, tax dodging excesses, superinjunctions, etc), the coverage of these topics at the BBC has often been non existent. Nobody's suggesting that Agius has been directly interfering, but it's perfectly clear that what's easy to get authorised hasn't included stuff that might have been uncomfortable for the Board members.

      When did the BBC board last have a real left of centre person rather than a corporate placeman? Why?

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