Yes. It\’s Govt IT Again

What is it with these people?

THOUSANDS of servicemen and women, including many fighting on the front line, are being underpaid because of failures in a new computerised pay system.

Some soldiers have gone without full pay for up to five months and, with Christmas only weeks away, are being forced to turn to regiment hardship funds to cover household bills.

Special forces operating in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as ordinary soldiers have been hit by the fiasco. For some officers, it is costing £580 a month.

This weekend the Ministry of Defence admitted that more than 16,000 members of the forces were underpaid in August, the latest month for which official data is available.

So they\’re actually admitting (and thus we can expect the true number to be much higher) that some 10% of staff were underpaid. Yes?

Two-thirds of an entire intake of officers who graduated from Sandhurst three years ago are still being paid their junior rank despite being promoted – an underpayment of £19 a day or £580 a month.

Jeebus….

It is not only full-time soldiers but also reservists who have been affected. The chaos is such that thousands of soldiers have also been overpaid, with the money having to be clawed back. Many have spent the money unaware that they would have to repay it, leaving them short of money. According to the MoD, a total of 38,529 were wrongly paid between April and August, the only months for which the ministry has full figures.

Now it\’s 20% wrongly paid?

The computer system, known as Joint Personnel Administration (JPA), was introduced in March last year in the Royal Navy and saw a flood of complaints from sailors not being paid their full pay. The RAF was taken on to the system in October last year, followed by the Army in April this year. The £250m system was implemented by EDS, which was widely criticised for its computerisation of the Child Support Agency.

Can one of you technical people out there tell me something? Payroll systems are somthing that the computer industry has pretty much got licked, aren\’t they? They\’ve been around for a few decades and there are companies of the same sort of size as the Armed Forces (150,000- 200,000 people or so) that manage to get it right, aren\’t there? So two questions: is £250 million over the top or about right for such a system? And, is this the normal sort of chaos or is it worse than normal (or even better)?

One of the key problems with the system is that it requires senior officers to log in to authorise payments, which means that if they are away on operations, the whole procedure grinds to a halt. “The system is based on the design for a civilian pay system and takes no account of the complexities of the armed forces pay system,” one officer said.

Or is that actually the fault: bad design to start with?

12 comments on “Yes. It\’s Govt IT Again

  1. The errors might well not be with the computer system, but with the accuracy of the staff records: failing to record promotion (i.e. failure to set the right pay grade) seems not to be with the payroll run per se. Sounds to me like a process issue, which might be EDS or might be MoD.

  2. Can one of you technical people out there tell me something? Payroll systems are somthing that the computer industry has pretty much got licked, aren’t they?

    Err… yes. There were payroll packages around when desktop systems were largely running CP/M. There were payroll packages for mainframes and bureaus doing mainframes decades ago.

  3. “..if they are away on operations, the whole procedure grinds to a halt.”

    A procedure that requires authorisation from people who are not available to do it because they are doing their job is not badly designed. It is stupidly designed, it’s not functional.

  4. Payroll arrangements normally go wrong when responsibility is moved from Finance to HR/whatever staff, whose dictionaries seem to have a completely different definition of the word ‘deadline’

  5. You didn’t quote what I thought was the most damning part.

    This new system was introduced in stages, starting with the Navy in March of LAST YEAR. That initial stage caused the same problems.

    The army only got it in April this year. Perhaps someone with practical experience can tell us whether it’s normal practice to find that the first use of a new system has certain problems, and then to implement the same system again, without improvement, even when there’s been a over a year to fix them.

  6. “…whether it’s normal practice to find that the first use of a new system has certain problems, and then to implement the same system again, without improvement, even when there’s been a over a year to fix them.”

    It’s perfectly normal in the Civil Service, where ‘We’ve bought it, we are going to use it regardless!’ is the norm with any malfunctioning software.

    “Payroll systems are somthing that the computer industry has pretty much got licked, aren’t they? “

    Yes, but off-the-shelf systems are not designed for the arcane, irredeemably complex Civil Service employment rules…

  7. The cynical conspirator in me has got me thinking that this is actually quite deliberate – why create a hospitable environment in your armed forces when you plan to annex the main body into a EU collective force in the future?

    Its like having a really ugly best mate around to make you look better by comparison – and with creeping EU fiscal control in almost every aspect of our state, our boys being “underfunded” by apparachniks putting most of the military pot into the EU FRES “future war” systems is it really that much a shot in the dark?

  8. Well, speaking as one of the 10 or 20%, (I have been both overpaid and underpaid and, once, even correctly paid – but that was £0, since JPA came in) the MOD Civil Servants have a similar system called, from memory, HRMS. However, their bosses tend not to get short-notice postings to Helmand Province, certainly not without a replacement.

    The basic pay system was actually fairly straightforward – Grade + Years In + Special Service Pay = Day Rate * Days in Month = Gross Pay. It is the system of allowances and charges (as a married person, do I pay food and accommodation charges when posted on a short course away from my unit base and, if so, at what rate. And if the receiving unit is Pay-As-You-Starve etc, etc.) that makes it all so complex. As well as the endemic civil servant’s fear that, as soon as you let the military near their own pay, we’ll rob the government blind.

  9. I’ve been involved with a smallish software outfit that does specialised payrolls for a few small/medium companies… Total number of folks getting paid is just light of ten thousand. It would appear that the wondrous MOD system is costing somewhere in the region of twelve hundred quid per “employee”.

    I wish that we could make that sort of money!! A few million quid for each of the “programming team” would be rather a nice bonus. 🙂

  10. On ‘TheRegister

    Contacted by the Reg, the MoD said that the system itself was working fine. However, it was admitted that a lot of wrong information had been entered and that problems with operating staff were ongoing.

    “Input errors based on a degree of unfamiliarity with the new scheme have resulted in a small number of pay inaccuracies,” according to the MoD.

    “Thorough investigation of these errors has shown that the JPA system is working extremely well… JPA… requires accurate and timely input from… HR administrators.”

    “Measures have been taken to provide additional training for HR.”

    The MoD spokesman also said today that JPA is expected to yield savings of approximately £100m per year. When asked where the savings were to come from, the spokesman said:

    “Partly staff… fewer man-hours required to achieve tasks… fewer systems to be kept up.”

    Assuming that the spokesman was sober and that the record is accurate, I wonder what ‘a small number’ relates to? The population of China? Anyway, I really liked the extracted bits which say:

    “… requires accurate and timely input from… HR administrators.”

    “Measures have been taken to provide additional training for HR.”

    Quelle surprise. Personnel(ly), standing them up against a wall sounds attractive….

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