When digital projects go wrong – lessons learned from the BBC

The UK’s National Audit Office has published its report into the failure of the BBC’s Digital Media Initiative.

The BBC’s Digital Media Initiative (DMI) was meant to enable BBC staff to create and share video and audio material on their desktops.  The BBC decided to create its own customised product.  However the DMI failed to deliver on its promise and was abandoned in 2013 at a cost of over £100 million.

Key stages in the project

  • The vision – the DMI would combine production features, a digital archive and a new archive database.
  • Project approval processes – the project was approved by the BBC Trust in January 2008
  • Consultants appointed – Siemens were granted a £79 million project in February 2008
  • Siemens contract terminated in September 2009 and the project was brought in-house – a new delivery date of February 2011 was set
  • In May 2012 a whistle-blower contacts the BBC Trust with concerns they are being misled about project progress
  • Work is halted in November 2012 pending a review and permanently halted in 2013

Too much focus on the technology – not enough on changing working practices

If the DMI was to achieve everything the BBC stated, it should have placed more emphasis on changing working practices with regards to archiving and production processes.  Instead, the project reporting processes focused almost entirely on the technology rather than considering changes to business practice.  Differences between the expectations of future users and those developing the technology were unresolved.

Poor governance and project management

  • When the BBC brought the project in-house it failed to appoint a senior project ‘owner’.  Instead, responsibilities were split across divisions.
  • The executive board applied insufficient scrutiny to the project when its attention was fixed on other major projects including the London 2012 Olympics
  • When the project was brought in-house there was little time left in the project plan to meet deadlines.  Neither did the BBC properly assess the value for money or risks of bringing the project in-house
  • Reporting processes were ‘not fit for purpose’.

The full NAO report is available here.

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Being happy with the ordinary

Researchers explore what makes us happy – and how this changes with age.

In a series of studies, Cassie Mogilner and Amit Bhattacharjee considered what they defined as ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ experiences.

Ordinary experiences are defined as frequent, common and part of everyday life – organising a cupboard or sharing a meal with family or friends.

Extraordinary experiences are uncommon and infrequent – a trip around the world for example, or bungee jumping or achieving a life milestone.

The research concluded that younger people get more happiness from extraordinary events or experiences but as people get older, ordinary experiences are increasingly associated with happiness.

The pair then went on to use Facebook to ask participants about whether their most recent status update described an ordinary or extraordinary event. The participants were asked to rate an experience using certain adjectives.  While extraordinary experiences were viewed as self-defining by people of all ages, “ordinary experiences were viewed as more self-defining by older participants than younger ones, becoming increasingly self-defining with age.”

Self-definition

Irrespective of how old the participants were, it was the self-defining events which made them the happiest.  What was changing was the nature of the experiences which people were using to define themselves.

The researchers believe the findings will have an impact on how organisations market and position products and services.

“A happy life includes both the extraordinary and the ordinary, and the central question is not only which, but when.”

More on this work from the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton).

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Education and employment – “two crises – one paradox”

Why is there such wide-scale youth unemployment while vacancies remain unfilled? 

Consultancy firm McKinsey has published the results of a research project* into two related global crises – high levels of youth unemployment and a shortage of people with critical job skills.

  • Worldwide young people (16-24) are three times more likely to be out of work than their parents.
  • Global research suggest there are 75 million unemployed young people
  • Youth unemployment rates in South Africa, Greece and Spain exceed 50%
  • Only 43% of employers reported there was an adequate supply of qualified entry-level candidates
  • Half of the young people interviewed were unclear that their further/higher education had improved their chances of finding work
  • 36% of employers report a lack of skills is causing significant problems in terms of cost, quality and time

Are graduates ready for the job market?

There are striking differences between the stakeholder groups when it comes to assessing the job-readiness of graduates.  Only 42% of employers and 45% of young people believe they are ready for the job market; 72% of educators believe they are.

A way forward

The research gathers some success stories but acknowledges there needs to be a massive scaling up. Its recommendations include:

  • Collect and disseminate data – high quality data allows countries and approaches to be benchmarked
  • Increase the number of sector-wide collaborations – the most transformative interventions have involved multi-partner, sector level initiatives
  • Create a system that bridges the gap between educators and employers – current examples include Australia’s new Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency which has been established to drive greater collaboration between government, industry and educators.

*The research focuses on Brazil, Germany, India, Mexico, Morocco, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UK, US.  Young people, employers and educators were involved in the project.

Download the full report.

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Growing Europe’s economy: the role of ICT

The European Commission has published a scenario-based report on how the innovative rollout of ICT can bring about economic growth.

The report, written by The Conference Board, considers two driving forces:

  • The pace of economic growth – fast or slow
  • The European digital market – fragmented or integrated

By placing these forces on a simple ‘two-by-two’ axis, the report explores four possible 2017 scenarios.

Scenario one – The Digital Rainforest

In this scenario, an integrated Europe-wide market for ICT is able to take advantage of global improvements in the economy to compete worldwide.  In this market, rapid growth and change requires flexibility and agility and the market is likely to be characterised by constant change and disruption

Scenario two – The Digital Glasshouse

In this scenario, the integrated EU marketplace is hampered by slow economic growth.  However, Europe will benefit from an internal market that functions more smoothly.

Scenario three – The Digital Desert

Here, slow global economic growth and a fragmented marketplace hampers the growth of the European ICT market

Scenario four – The Digital Savannah

In which the EU market remains fractured but worldwide growth means many firms simply ignore the European market seeking to grow beyond Europe’s borders

Recommendations

The report calls for rapid action to ensure that the European market can maximise tis potential as the world’s largest economic bloc.  A high quality and affordable infrastructure of high speed fixed and mobile broadband is vital.  At the same time, efforts to upskill the population must be improved and a regulatory environment, which supports sector growth, must be established.

“National governments and the European Commission must commit to a long-term coherent and strategic vision for the role of ICT, reforming and investing where necessary…. To further innovation and [lead] by example”

More information.

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‘Convergence is King’ in the new information industry

In the new information industry, neither content nor technology is king.  It is the unique combination of both which is driving the sector.

With the start of a new year comes a flurry of reports and posts predicting emerging trends for the year ahead.

One of the most interesting to emerge so far is Outsell’s Information Industry Outlook 2014 report.  Last year, Outsell explored the theme ‘the new normal’ (which was the key theme for Internet Librarian International in 2011).  This year’s report, ‘Convergence Now!’ explores new partnerships and the creation of new information products that bring together community and commerce.

The report explores an information industry that includes both the ‘traditional’ (e.g. news and yellow pages, both of which are declining) and new players.  Growth information sectors include educational technology, health IT and marketing services.

Convergence – key trends

  • New partners, new competition – industry leaders such as Thomson Reuters and Reed Elsevier are partnering and competing with for example IBM, Deloitte, Oracle
  • No more ‘mobile’ or ‘digital’ - a new focus on cross-media approaches mean these words will gradually disappear and we will be offering simply ‘services’ or ‘strategy’
  • New solutions – combining content, software, community and commerce to create platforms that support workflow
  • Face-to-face – at the same time in-person events which offer ‘extended engagement’ are a strong market
  • EdTech – the move to digital will not be rapid but will continue.  A hybrid model market will continue for years
  •  STM – Open Science is ‘here to stay’ – bringing threats and opportunities to the industry

As usual, the report concludes with a list of companies to watch over the next year.  These include big established players, such as Amazon and Elsevier, but a number of new players working in the content market.  Examples include Hypothes.is, a non-profit offering ‘open annotation’.

The report is free to download from Outsell.

Christmas food in the library

The Guildhall Library, in the City of London, holds the UK’s largest collection of food and wine related materials, including many early recipes.  This massive collection formed the basis of a lecture by Peter Ross, the Librarian, on the history of Christmas food in the UK.

The traditional image of Christmas fare, including large turkeys and Christmas puddings, is associated with the Victorian era – particularly the Christmas feasts described by Dickens in Pickwick Papers and of course A Christmas Carol.  Turkeys were first imported into the UK in 1526 – and they became popular very quickly.  Before this time, medieval Christmas feasts (for the wealthy at least) featured peacock, swan and decorative pies baked with inedible pastry crusts.  For the very wealthy, servants were employed to carve food into bite-size morsels and dress it in sauce.  Forks had not yet been invented.

Medieval life was very much dictated by the church – and this included the concept of ‘fast days’ when no meat could be consumed.  Not only was Christmas a ‘feast’ holiday, but it made sense to slaughter animals to save on the expense of feeding them through the lean winter months.

Diaries are a wonderful resource for those interested in the history of Christmas food.  Samuel Pepys’ 17th century diaries describe several Christmas meals, featuring beef, mince pies and ‘plum pottage’ – perhaps an early form of plum – or Christmas – pudding.  Parson James Woodforde kept diaries for many years in the 18th century, describing Christmas dinners as a student at Cambridge University and later the dinners he provided for parishioners (boiled rabbit, onion sauce, beef, plum pudding and mince pies).

The traditional twelfth night cake featured tokens which encouraged those who found them to ‘reverse roles’ – acting as for example the king or queen for the party.  Role reversal is of course featured in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.  As this tradition began to die out, the tokens or charms were transferred into Christmas puddings.

Visit Guildhall Library’s website for more information on its collection of food-related material.

cat with figgy puddingMerry Christmas – and no eating in the library please!

Cat with figgy pudding – courtesy of PeonInChief via Flickr.

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Grumpy Cat and twerking – popular search terms of 2013

Winners this year include Prince George (the new royal baby), the iPhone 5  and twerking.

US searches

The US top ten of Yahoo search terms is the usual reassuring mix of celebrities (Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber), technology (iPhone 5) and gaming (Minecraft).  For expert editorial analysis you can do no better than Ron Burgundy’s explanatory video available on the Yahoo website.

Bing has also released its analysis of the top US search terms, showing the top tens in a range of categories including most searched for musicians, sports teams and people.  Prince George was Bing’s most searched news story in 2013.

Bing figures also include searches for social media, apps and streaming websites.

US: Pinterest , Harlem Shake and Candy Crush

  • Bing’s figures show that Pinterest has entered its top ten of social media searches for the first time this year and has taken second place, with only Facebook ahead of it.
  • Harlem  Shake was the most popular meme in 2013, followed by Grumpy Cat
  • Candy Crush was the most searched for app, beating Angry Birds into second place

UK Bing searches

  • Twitter has replaced YouTube as the UK’s most searched for social media site
  • Facebook takes fourth place, behind LinkedIn and Skype

Meanwhile, YouTube has released its top trending videos for 2013.  Norway’s The Fox takes top spot, followed by the original Harlem Shake.

Twitter has also released its 2013 review, including this wonderful month-by-month breakdown of top news hashtags and photographs from people on the spot.

The Google top search terms are expected to be released later this year.

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How to be happy – love, friendship and altruism

The Grant Study is a 75-year longitudinal study of Harvard graduates (1939-1944) and ‘disadvantaged’ youths growing up in Boston (1940-1945).  All white American men, the subjects were followed for 68 years.  One of the Harvard graduates was John F Kennedy.

Subjects were evaluated at least every two years using questionnaires, medical records and personal interviews.  Data was gathered about their mental and physical health, career enjoyment and their relationships.

For 40 years, George Vaillant has led the study and written books on the findings. Despite the mass of data and analysis accumulated, Vaillant sums up the key to happiness “Happiness is love. Full stop.”

  • What goes right is more important than what goes wrong
  • A happy childhood is preferable but an unhappy one can be overcome
  • The ability to achieve [emotional] intimacy is the strongest predictor of health and happiness in old age
  • Participants did manage to change over time; many found love and happiness for the first time later in life

Happiness at work

According to new research from Glassdoor, you could also choose to work in one of the happiest workplaces:  Twitter, Facebook and Google score well in the happy workplace charts.

And finally, if you’re a librarian don’t read articles such as this which define librarianship as a dead end job and imply we’d all be a lot better off if we became nutritionists….

Additional source: Huffington Post

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From Selfish Giant to Slumdog Millionaire – lessons from Channel 4 film and drama

Sometimes it is good to step outside of the information echo chamber. 

What can we learn from leaders in another profession – one which seeks to balance creative vision with tight budgets; is challenged by new formats, technology and delivery channels; has to balance multiple stakeholders; is threatened by pirated content, and is working to meet the anytime, anywhere demands of end users?

Tessa Ross is the Controller of Film and Drama for Channel 4 and recipient of the 2013 Bafta award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to British Cinema’.  Her projects included Slumdog Millionaire, A Field in England, In Bruges and The Selfish Giant.  She came to film via theatre and – speaking at the Olive Till Memorial Lecture* – described a ‘drift’ into her current role rather than a firm plan.  She commissions films for the Channel with a ‘tiny’ budget of £15 million a year.

Her responsibility is to spend that budget wisely and to help people fulfil their creative vision.  Her role requires her to combine creative mentoring, experimentation and risk taking, in depth knowledge of the industry and the people within it, team development and creative matchmaking – and financial and business acumen.

“I think you’re brilliant.  What can I do to help you?”

For Ross, talent rather than the medium is her objective.  The vast majority of projects brought to her will not be made and Channel 4 may not be the right home for everyone’s idea.  But for those that she does work with, her focus is on helping them fulfil their creative vision.  This requires tenacity and sometimes a long-term commitment (One of her recent films, Under the Skin, took 13 years to make it from script to screen).

Channel 4’s remit encourages eclectic storytelling and experimentation.  The recent ‘magic mushroom/civil war’ film A Field in England was the result of an experimental masterclass in making a low budget feature film.  It was released simultaneously on multiple platforms.

Ross works with – and helps to develop – creative talent and her role requires a wide-ranging skill set.  Many members of the audience, the majority of them film students, expressed their interest in working with Channel 4 – and her.  And who wouldn’t want a mentor like that?!

*The Olive Till Memorial Debate and Bursary are presented by Stewart Till CBE, CEO Icon Entertainment and Deputy Chair Skillset, in memory of his mother at Goldsmiths, University of London’.  Previous speakers have included Danny Boyle and Tim Bevan.

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Selfie is the word of the year

“Is this a selfie which I see before me,
The angle toward my hand? Come, let me tweet thee*”

Oxford Dictionaries have announced that their word of the year for 2013 is ‘selfie’.

Over the course of the year, the frequency of the usage of the word selfie (the act of taking a self-portrait) has increased by 17,000%. Several spin-off terms have also emerged, including ‘drelfe’ (a drunken selfie) and ‘welfie’ (a workout selfie).

Once again the word of the year showcases technological and social trends that impact the general consciousness.  (Last year’s words of the year included ‘omnishambles’ and ‘hashtag’.)

Other words shortlisted in 2013 include bitcoin, showrooming and <shudder> twerk.

In the Netherlands Participatiesamenleving – ‘participation society’ – has been named as the word of the year.  One of the runner-up words was socialbesitas – ‘addiction to social media’ – a word which some of us would find useful – and apt!

The German slang word of the year is ‘babo’. It derives from a Turkish word meaning boss or chief.

Selfies – selfish or ‘another way to connect’?

According to mobileYouth, 48% of the photographs posted by UK teenagers to Instragram are selfies.  Graham Brown’s slideshare presentation challenges us to look beyond the surface ‘narcissism’ of the selfie and encourages us to think of it – like Blipfoto – as ‘ordinary people doing ordinary things’.

The Oxford University Press blog explores the history of the self portrait – from early daguerrotypes onwards and *Alice Northover has rewritten Shakespeare for the selfie generation.

Finally, here’s a wonderful selfie image, taken by Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the last Czar of Russia.  One hundred years ago.

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