BBC CTO Sacked Over Failed Digital Project

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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John Linwood was fired from the BBC without a payoff over the failure of the BBC’s digital production scheme

BBC chief technology officer John Linwood (pictured) was sacked without a payoff six months ago when the corporation axed the failed Digital Media Initiative (DMI), the corporation has confirmed.

Linwood’s departure occurred in July 2013, but could not be made public until now for legal reasons, the BBC reported on Friday. A BBC spokesman confirmed that Linwood is no longer employed by the corporation.

Investigation

The former chief technology officer was suspended from his £287,000-per-year post in May 2013 when director general Tony Hall, then one month into his tenure, scrapped DMI, a project that was supposed to modernise the way BBC staff handled multimedia content. The BBC said at the time that Linwood, as DMI’s sponsor, had been suspended during an internal review looking into the failure of the project.

John Linwood Photo by Mike GoldwaterHall argued that to continue DMI, which had then been under development for five years at an expense of £98.4m, would be a waste of licence payers’ money.

“I have serious concerns about how we managed this project and the review that has been set up is designed to find out what went wrong and what lessons can be learned,” Hall said at the time.

Linwood is planning legal action against the BBC in the form of an industrial tribunal, according to sources cited by The Guardian.

Linwood joined the BBC in 2009 from Yahoo, where he oversaw Yahoo’s non-US engineering operations. He later saw the BBC through its successful support of the London 2012 Olympics.

Digital debacle

DMI was intended to eliminate the BBC’s use of videotape, replacing it with digital tools linked to a centralised digital archive that would be used throughout the production process. Siemens was awarded the contract to develop the scheme in 2008, but it was brought back in-house in 2009.

In December PricewaterhouseCoopers published a BBC-commissioned report into DMI’s failure, finding that the corporation could have identified that DMI would fail as early as July 2011. The report blamed the project’s demise on management failures, arguing that senior executives lacked the technical expertise to provide adequate oversight. However, the report found no single issue or event had caused the project’s failure.

Former BBC director general Mark Thompson, among other current and former BBC executives, is to appear before the Commons public accounts committee on 3 February over the DMI debacle, which is also to be the subject of a report by the National Audit Office later this month.

Thompson, now chief executive of The New York Times, gave evidence to Parliament on DMI in 2011, but at that time incorrectly claimed that DMI was in operation. He later said he had given evidence “in good faith” based on the information he had been given by executives.

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