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A brief analysis of the failed BBC DMI project advocating that such projects are fundamentally of an engineering nature and should be managed accordingly and that there is great need for Government to introduce statutory controls on the conduct of the Business Information Systems industry
What is noticeable about the BBC’s failed Digital Media Initiative (DMI) is the comprehensive reporting of management failure to manage effectively and management’s apology to the public.
What is noticeably absent is any comment on the performance of the suppliers, Siemens who presumably were supplying the physical technology or the performance of any of the supposedly professional service providers, who consumed the £125.9 m (before recoupment).
The breakdown of expenditure is instructive:
There is NO reference to a prime contractor, only “contractors” which seems to suggest that these were individuals NOT a large computer systems contracting entity. There is also reference to “Consultancy” but no reference to which firm or firms and then “IT” presumably applies to other computer technology not supplied by Siemens – overall an interesting mish-mash that already points to the reasons why failure occurred. Not that having a large IT company like IBM necessarily guarantees a better result, as BMW (BMW owners vent anger at month’s long wait for spare parts – Bloomberg)_ and Bridgestone (IBM Rips Into Bridgestone Over $600 Million Lawsuit – Business Insider) have both learned in the recent past.
And the fact that IBM have seemingly walked away from BMW unscathed, in its own way, offers an interesting insight into the business computer systems industry, an industry characterized by more high profile investment failures than ANY other area of human endeavour in the commercial arena.
While these major IT failures are taking place the Crossrail project in London with its 10 new stations and 21 kilometres of twin railway tunnels under the centre of London dwarfs these projects in scale and complexity, yet the most superficial inspection indicates that the tunnels are where the designers said they would be and they line up with the stations. Further, global experience with projects of similar complexity indicates that Crossrail WILL deliver what it said it would, more or less on time and more or less on budget and, even if it does go over budget and deadline it will still work as planned.
So, what is different?
Ø Large highly specialized contractor organizations with a track record of delivering;
Ø Large highly specialized design organizations with a track record of delivering;
Ø A close to zero social tolerance for failure of projects of this nature;
Ø Statutory regulation and corresponding professional regulatory bodies that prevent inadequately trained and inexperienced engineers and technicians working on such projects and which impose harsh sanctions for incompetence or negligence.
“Incompetence and negligence?’ – YES! Ultimately the failure at the BBC has to be the consequence of incompetence and negligence, amongst other factors – incompetence being the lack of knowledge and experience necessary to successfully execute a project of this nature and negligence because it is negligence to embark on a project of this nature without the technical certainty that you know what you are doing and have the necessary checks and balances in place to ensure a successful outcome. Notice that I say “ensure a successful outcome” NOT “fluke a successful outcome” – success is the necessary consequence of a systematic, disciplined and informed engineering endeavour that is designed NOT to fail. Failure is the inevitable consequence of incompetence and negligence.
There is a fundamental principle that should apply in a case like the BBC’s failed DMI project in order to prevent failure – there should be a lead solutions architecture company conceptualizing and framing the solution design; a lead systems engineering company designing the solution; and a lead solutions construction company building the solution. All three of these organizations should deploy teams of highly experienced personnel with formal training and certification in the disciplines necessary for engineering solutions of this nature. And there should be tension between these three organizations, because all three (but particular the solution architecture firm) should be looking out for the best interests of the client.
“James, this is the IT industry, NOT the engineering industry!”
That is precisely the point.
The design and development of systems of ANY sort IS an engineering endeavour
The American Engineers' Council for Professional Development has defined "engineering" as “The creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilizing them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation and safety to life and property.” (Wikipedia)
This is EXACTLY what the BBC embarked on with DMI, the engineering of a solution for managing their digital material.
The fundamental problem is that they failed to embark on the project as an engineering project and they failed to use engineers to manage the project.
But there IS a catch and that is that engineers do NOT know how to manage this sort of IT project and so, if you let engineers loose on their own, you get problems as well.
You see, Information Technology projects are extremely abstract. They involve software that is effectively invisible working with human beings who are for the most part, unstructured and work in unpredictable ways and there are many other complexities such that “IT Mythology” constitutes 30% of why such projects fail – IT Mythology is the mistaken belief that computer systems are in some sense magical and work on their own, provided you sort of hack it, see my website for a discussion of this and the other factors that cause IT investment failure.
What is particularly notable about the reports concerning the BBC’s DMI project crash, like so many project crashes of this nature, is that there is NO evidence of any professional body or statutory body investigating the failed project in order to establish what went wrong and to develop policies, disciplines, training material, licensing requirements and other safeguards in order to prevent recurrence – there is NO “air crash investigation” to cite the popular TV documentary.
There IS a report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers which finds “"PwC has concluded that weaknesses in project management and reporting and a lack of focus on business change... meant that it took the BBC too long to realise that the project was unlikely to deliver its objectives," it said in a statement” – this hardly points to a rigorous and tough engineering root cause assessment of why failure occurred! But then PWC are NOT an engineering company and they are deeply involved in the IT industry themselves with their own history of failures, so hardly in a position to deliver an objective assessment of the situation.
What I am referring to is a statutory body with teeth and the willingness to call a spade a spade and name incompetence when it encounters it.
In fact, there is NO indication of any intention to establish such a statutory body or such a professional body, presumably because it has NOT yet occurred to government that they have an obligation to promulgate such legislation and institute such controls. And the industry is in part too fragmented and in part making too much money out of failure to care about doing anything about the situation. After all, of the order of 70% of IT projects fail outright, as in they never see the light of day, and a further 20% materially fail to meet the requirements of the customer, partly because 70% of the components of the 20% are a total failure. This leaves us with 10% of all projects that at some material level meet client expectations and even then the indications are that less than 5% of ALL projects MEET or EXCEED the expectations held by clients at the time that the project was authorized.
So the IT industry is enormously wealthy in significant measure out of gross inefficiency and incompetence – after all, if 70% of projects die before they see the light of day it is easier to bury them quietly than to make a fuss about it and expose one’s failure to one’s shareholders and competitors let alone a drubbing from the Public Accounts Committee.
Until government and industry join forces to form a body to fully dissect failures of this nature AND establish suitable professional training, certification and licensing of consultants and vendors, the carnage will continue. Attacking and condemning the responsible executives is well and good, but if they have NO resource to prevent such failures failure WILL continue to be the norm!
I have been investigating and documenting the causes of business information system failure and what is required to prevent failure from an engineering perspective for 25 years. I formally published my findings in 2004 and have been applying these findings since then. The challenge is for someone with influence to decide that failures of this nature are NO longer acceptable and start the ball rolling to produce legislation introducing strict and onerous regulation of the business information systems industry and its practitioners.
Such failures as the BBC’s DMI project are ENTIRELY preventable and high value successful outcomes are ENTIRELY achievable.
A simple confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement which you can tailor and elaborate on as you see fit and which may vary depending on your legal jurisdiction and your attorney. I recommend that this initial document is kept simple as you want ALL persons attending the initial tender briefings to sign this
You would possibly have a much more comprehensive agreement for your short list bidders and possibly more comprehensive still for your final choice although I personally hold that very detailed documents of this sort tend to be excessive
Business Systems NOT delivering?
Call the Business Systems Specialist
Dr James A Robertson -- has been involved in the effective application of Business Information Systems, including but NOT limited to ERP, since 1987 and in the profitable and effective use of computers in Business since 1981.
Drawing on a diversity of experience, including formal military training in Quick Attack techniques at the Regimental Commander level, Dr Robertson has developed highly effective methods of investigating any sub-optimal Business Information Systems situation -- be it an established system or a stalled project or any other source of Executive frustration -- quickly and concisely diagnosing the root cause of the problem and prescribing concise practical actions that Business Executives can effectively act on see the Pulse Measurement page and also the Sample Reports page for redacted real reports.
He has also developed highly effective methods of strategically enriching systems to unlock the full potential of existing investments, see the Precision Configuration page and couples this to architecting small pieces of clever software that harness the full potential of your investment, see the Software page.
If you are having problems with your systems, your project or your IT Department, call The Business Systems Specialist
Business System Failure is RIFE -- we offer insight into why this happens AND WHAT is required to prevent it.
Failure is at epidemic levels with massive damage done to client companies -- if you are NOT aware of the extent of the problem please visit the About Failure page for a catalog of major failures running to billions of Pounds and Dollars.
All evidence indicates that the established players do NOT know how to deliver stable, reliable high value solutions that WORK.
There HAS to be a better way!
This website provides information relating to that way with a large collection of white papers, presentations, standards documents, etc that you can use to start bringing the situation under control
We also offer high level advisory services with regard to the application of the principles advocated on this website
We offer an ENGINEERING APPROACH to addressing these issues
By Engineering I mean the formal, structured, highly disciplined, highly systematic, highly practical approach that consistently delivers results in ALL areas of human endeavor where formally trained and certified engineers are the ONLY practitioners permitted to operate -- think large buildings, factories, motor vehicles, aircraft -- highly complex systems that work at a level that we take it for granted that they WILL work and where failure is all but unthinkable and, when it happens, attracts immediate public attention and rigorous investigation directed at ensuring that such failures are prevented in the future -- in fact, everything that the management consulting industry that implements complex software systems is NOT
This approach is discussed further on the Engineering Approach page.
In 2003 I undertook an in-depth analysis of all the information and experience that I had gathered with regard to the factors giving rise to Business Information System failure including ERP and general IT and classified this information into a number of categories including "The Factors Causing Failure" and "The Critical Factors for Success" based on this I developed a two day Course "The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success" which is still offered today.
Based on this I wrote the book of the same name, which is available in electronic form here for download:
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James has a very detailed profile on LinkedIn should you require further information about him.
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There is a large body of white papers, articles and other content produced by Dr James Robertson available on this website
Please click here to visit the detailed listing of articles
About Dr James A Robertson PrEng -- The Business Systems Doctor -- and Other Topics
Catalogue of Major Business Information System Failures
About the Engineering Approach
James Robertson's Value Add
Attributes of a HIGH VALUE solution
Recognizing Business System Failure
The Critical Human Foundation
Old Software IS Viable
From South Africa
Competencies of Dr James A Robertson PrEng
About Professor Malcolm McDonald
Table of Contents
About my relationship with the Almighty Creator, Yah the Eternally Self-Existing
Comments relating to the Business Systems Industry and other topics
Testimonials and other positive material regarding James Robertson
List of Articles
Achieving High Value Business Information System outcomes
Executive Custody -- What is it and HOW do you get it?
The REAL Issues in Integrated Business Information System Success
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2 -- Mythology and Lack of Executive Custody
Part 3 – Strategic Alignment and Precision Configuration
Why your ERP is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it
IT Project Management
CEO Anthony Lee Comments on his experience of the Pulse Measurement
No Charge Guarantee on the Pulse Measurement Service
Examples of Pulse Measurement Outcomes
Critical questions regarding the Pulse Measurement™
The Pulse Measurement Workflow
The Critical Factors for Business System (ERP+) Investment Success in the Pulse Measurement
Indicative Pulse Measurement Durations
What is a JAR&A Pulse Measurement?
Survival of the fittest – why it makes sense to measure the pulse of your business
Examples of Pulse Measurement Outcomes over 24 years
Sample Pulse Measurement Reports
Strategic Essence: The Missing Link in Business Information Systems
Strategic Essence: Overview
Strategic Essence: Part 1 -- Strategy Defined
Strategic Essence: Part 2 -- Differentiation
Strategic Essence: Part 3 -- The Essence IS Different
Strategic Essence: Part 4 -- The Essence should be the Point of Departure
Strategic Essence: Part 5 -- Discovering Strategic Essence
Strategy -- the Essence of the Business: What is it and how do you develop actionable strategic plans?
Simple Steps to Increase the Strategic Value of your ERP Investment
Free Strategic Snapshot Toolset and Manual
A strategy focused planning system beyond traditional budgeting
Tough IT and ERP Procurement and Contracting that Works
Robust Business Systems Procurement
Part 1 -- Introduction
Part 2 -- Bill of Services, Laboratory, Go-live Certificate, etc
Part 3 -- Executive Engagement, Bid Compliance, Adjudication and other matters
Guidance and Advisory Services
The Art of Project Leadership
Why Regular Communication with the CEO is Vital
The Business Simulation Laboratory
Precision Configuration and Strategic Business Information Architecture
Precision Configuration based on Strategic Engineered Precision Taxonomies
The JAR&A Cubic Business Model
Highly Structured Strategic Chart of Accounts -- a Vital Element of your Corporate Information Arsenal
The Product Catalogue -- an Essential Element of any Precision Configuration
Attributes -- answers to the questions you have NOT yet thought to ask
Case Studies of Notably Successful Projects with high value Precision Configuration
092 Doing things differently and better -- ASCO Case Study 2-- BPM Summit 2013
088 Strategic ERP Invesment -- ASCO Case Study -- Service Management Conference and Exhibition Africa
026 Information Architecture and Design of FIS for Rennies Group -- Financial Information Systems Conf
018 CRM Risk Control: Designing and Implementing an Integrated Risk Mgmt Sys -- Integrated Risk Mgmt Conf
011 V3 Consulting Eng: Benefits of MIS to Professional Practice -- SAICE 15th Ann Conf on Computers in Civil Eng
Strategically Enriching your Business Information Systems
Part 2 -- Principles of Data Engineering
Part 3 -- Steps in applying these recommendations
Simple Steps to increase the strategic information value yield from your Business Systems Investment
The Full JAR&A Taxonomy Manual
Part 1: Introduction, Problem Statement, Definitions and Examples
Part 2: Why Use JAR&A, Required Knowledge and Experience, Cubic Business Model and Chart of Accounts and Taxonomy Software
Part 3: How to do it, Case Studies and White Papers and other References
Example General Ledger Manual
Business Process -- Irrelevant, Distracting and Dangerous
The RIGHT Approach
Custom Strategic Software Design and Oversight of Construction
Standards for Custom Software Specification
What IS Software?
Critical Factors for I.T. Success
A Moral and Ethical Dilemma -- Systems that Fail
Case Studies examining Business Information System failures
The BBC Digital Media Initiative Debacle
The Bridgestone -- IBM Conflict
Speaking and Training
Showcase of Conference Presentations
Most Viewed Presentations
Briefings and Seminars
Why your ERP/BIS is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it
ERP and IT Procurement that Delivers Results
The Critical Factors for IT and ERP Investment Success
Conferences and Public Presentations
Conferences 80 to 99 -- 2009 to Present
Conferences 60 to 79 -- 2005 to 2009
Conferences 40 to 59 -- 1996 to 2005
Conferences 20 to 39 -- 1994 to 1996
Conferences 01 to 19 -- 1989 to 1994
On-Line Seminars (Webinars)
Webinar on Preparing and Presenting Webinars
Contacting James A Robertson and Associates Limited