This is the blog of Ant Miller, senior research manager and dilettante geek at large at the BBC.
I wail moan and cuss about the challenges and fun to be found here.
These are my personal opinions, and not those of my employer. Or anyone else here for that matter.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It would appear I am not paranoid...

and in fact my fears of the looming crisis in the BBC's innovation/ research and development area are in fact shared elsewhere. In the Guardian. And by the ever so erudite and perspicacious Bobbie Johnson. Ok so the grauniad piece is by bojo, but still it looks like the FUD is beginning to get noticed elsewhere.

As it goes I have a slightly different take on this to bojo and others currently in print and blogs (see also the very wise Euan Semple's blog). As I understand it these guys see the main problem as being Ashley Highfield's corralling of the BBCs new media elements as likely to lead to a stifling of the previously fecund diversity of the teams across sport, news, radio etc. I get that. I can see that it is a culture change and that at the core there are things moving perhaps slower. However, I thinks that's because at the core they are trying to do harder stuff. The fringes will remain dynamic, active, and perhaps now we will get better cross fertilisation. No, the problems as I see them are far more severe than any slight dulling of web innovation.

Ibelieve the Trust is showing itself to be quite weak in defending the BBC when it is doing good- This is an edit of a far more strongly worded earlier post, but in essence I think a poor precedent has been set for the support of good services, and this is something that Euan and Bobby and others such as Cory Doctorow have picked up on. Imortantly though you have to recognise that the Trust is NOT the BBC. And in fact it seems to be rather antithetical toward the BBCs objectives. That is a problem.

The second problem is internal to the BBC, and does in fact reflect upon Ashley and the senior management of his inland empire- Future Media and Technology. The story of what the new division comprises is long, its new leadership appointments have been long winded and in some cases quite hotly contested, and some friction has emerged. In essence several groups with widely differing cultures and world views have been brought together, and it's not actually working all that well in some key elements. One area of particular concern is the R&D group- these are engineers, people who have over the years given the world DAB radio, ceefax, much of NICAM and MPEG, and many thousands of other highly technical broadcasting engineering inventions. They are scientists and engineers, people used to working for years investigating, experimenting, testing, developing and standardising technical ideas.

In many ways the skills and professional approach of these people is different from the equally, but differently, talented web developers and engineers who for the last few years have been rapidly spinning new idea into finished products in mere weeks or months. The difference is profound. I can only guess at the very top level issues and roles and responsibility that are failing to correct the obvious and glaring problems but the problems themselves include;

  • An ongoing process with no obvious outcome to shut down the facilities at Kingswood Warren and relocate the engineers and scientists.
  • A lack of a clearly identified role at the head of line management for R&D who displays a strong understanding of R&D in a broadcast engineering context. (EDIT: There are really good people there, but authority and responsibility gets weirdly muddled and loads of stuff is falling through the cracks)
  • A merging together of a lot of highly qualified and varied men and women into a 'pool' structure where all job roles are considered to be generic.
Upshot- these people feel rather undervalued. And are leaving. Fast. Just as fast as the web developers.

Then, to compound all this, there is Siemens. Bless them. Good example of a partnership though. Ahem.

Right, I've definitly said way too much, and I haven't even had a pop at the archives yet. But hey, the night is young, and I still work there, and at some point about a couple of hundred words back I crossed a line about discretion I'm sure. I believe, deeply, in the power and the need for public service broadcasting, and also in our responsibility to shoulder the burden of making the best technical systems for this country's and the world's viewers listeners and browsers. We should because we can. If the Trust lack that vision, then that's their look out.

N.B. I have toned this down a tad- last nght it all got a bit splenetic.

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