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NAO raps BBC's digital media system

The BBC has been criticised by the National Audit Office (NAO) for failing to keep a tighter rein on a failed digital system which wasted £100 million of licence fee cash.

It is the latest condemnation for the Digital Media Initiative which was abandoned in May of last year and led to the sacking of its chief technology officer John Linwood.

The NAO said today that the BBC Executive "did not have sufficient grip" on the IT project, nor thoroughly assessed the system to see whether it was "technically sound".

The BBC had aimed to create an integrated digital production and archiving system allowing staff to handle all aspects of video and audio content from their desks. But after years of difficulties - during which £125.9 million had been ploughed into it - the plug was pulled last year.

A report published just a month ago by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found numerous areas were "not fit for purpose" including governance of the project, arrangements for reporting progress to BBC bosses and risk management.

Today's report found there was no independent assessment of the technical design to see whether it was technically sound and said governance arrangements for the project "were inadequate for its scale, complexity and risk".

Nor did it appoint a senior figure to act "as a single point of accountability and align all elements" of the project, and it echoed the previous study's view that "reporting arrangements were not fit for purpose".

It also said the project - which left with a net cost of £98.4 million - was cancelled "without examining the technical feasibility or cost of completing it". The BBC is looking at how some parts of the system can be developed or integrated for the future.

The BBC Executive board began a review of the project in May 2012 after it was made aware of the problems, by which point it was 15 months behind an approved timetable.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said today: "The BBC Executive did not have sufficient grip on its Digital Media Initiative programme. Nor did it commission a thorough independent assessment of the whole system to see whether it was technically sound.

"If the BBC had better governance and reporting for the programme, it would have recognised the difficulties much earlier than May 2012."

Diane Coyle, the vice chairman of the BBC Trust, said: "We are grateful to the NAO for producing this report, which reinforces the conclusions of the PwC review commissioned by the Trust. It is essential that the BBC learns from the losses incurred in the DMI project and applies the lessons to running technology projects in future.

"The NAO's findings, alongside PwC's recommendations will help us make sure this happens. As we announced last December, we are working with the Executive to strengthen project management and reporting arrangements within a clearer governance system. This will ensure that serious problems can be spotted and addressed at an earlier stage."

It emerged last week that Mr Linwood - who was paid a salary of £280,000 - was sacked weeks after being suspended over the multimillion-pound failure. He was suspended last May and left the corporation in July.

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 the BBC iPlayer and the digital Olympics and we will continue to innovate to deliver new technology to the public."


From Belfast Telegraph