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back to article Forces pay mess blamed on human error

Reports of problems with the British forces' new pay and personnel computers continue to rumble on, with some personnel saying that pay has been withheld for months. The Joint Personnel Administration (JPA) system was provided for £250m by EDS, everyone's favourite gov-IT provider. “I haven’t been paid properly for months and …

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Paris Hilton

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Before anyone thinks otherwise, I personally have a LOT of respect for those in the Armed Forces. I also think that for what you do, you are treated both unfairly and without respect by the Governments who ask you to serve.

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Very unwise to annoy the SBS

"It was recently reported that members of the Special Boat Service (SBS) - who are mostly Royal Marines, and so have been on JPA for 20 months - are still suffering problems with their pay."

I really don't think it's a good idea to annoy the Special Boat Service. These guys are the elite of the armed forces, trained to go undetected behind enemy lines and kill with their bare hands. I wouldn't want to be an EDS contractor if the SBS find out who's rsponsible for screwing up their pay.

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Flame

HR

I don't blame the computer system. It just happens to be that in any workplace if something goes worng you usually see someone from the HR department moving quickly away from the place that the problem occured.

I'm telling you, they are all evil!

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'great' britain

"Input errors based on a degree of unfamiliarity with the new scheme have resulted in a small number of pay inaccuracies"

16,000?

Mind you, 25 million missing child support records is probably just as insignificant to this government.

And I bet theres at least a 6 figure bonus for some fatcat among this mess somewhere.

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>MOD Bureacrats or EDS - who to blame?

Could be a dead heat there: perhaps a team effort!

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Alert

Errors during Data Entry.

'“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.'

Don't worry, There will *never* be any Data Entry cockups with the ID Card system because the Biometrics will protect us. Doesn't it give you a warm fuzzy glow to know that.

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Society's to blame...

... we should arrest them instead.

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Unhappy

I blame EDS and the MOD for not doing a tight contract

This is a lamentable situation and EDS is actualy causing the MOD to breach employment contracts. non payment for this long could be considered gross missconduct under employment laws.

So the SBS could all just walk and and take the MOD to court for breach of contract. Even though there in the Army they are employee's for a Europeen country.

Seriously MOD - pay them now and claw the mess back from EDS. I had enough of seeing ex army homleess people in the states last year (dam respectable honest people if ever I met one). Dont let this happen over here.

What does this government need to sort out common sense - few hundred people going upto London and jumping of a bridge killing just themselves - is that what they need to wake up to common sense. I may be too old to serve for this country but I'm not too old to stand up for the people who do.

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Pay problems

Blimey, how difficult is it.

I am amazed at how much of a pigs ear "specialist" make of this semingly routine bit of software...

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Unhappy

I have a theory

The government released details on the huge loss of 25million records for a simple reason: Every loss of lesser magnitude can be ignored or deemed as unimportant simply because the cock-up "wasn't as big as that HMRC" example.

Hence, all future cockups will command less coverage simply due to people being conditioned to expect so much greater cockups. Indeed, most people will simply congratulate the government on learning from their earlier blunders.

The government will look them smugly in the eye and tell them that it's them Biometrics thingummies that are keeping us all safe from data loss - and everyone will believe them.

[why isn't there a vomiting vulture icon?]

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Boffin

£250m...?

If small buisnesses can get payroll systems for a few hundred pounds, how does the government justify spending £250m? Sure they have a lot more personnel to cope with, but computerisation is supposed to make scaling easy. I'd imagine getting 10 good people and paying them £1m each would have got them a better system...

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Anonymous Coward

£250m

I had some knowledge of the tender for the JPA contract.

This is nothing like an ordinary company payroll, whereby employees received the same pay each month, possibly with a bit of overtime added.

Individual servicemen and women receive very different pay rates, which vary from day to day, depending upon what they are doing and where they are doing it. At the heart of this payroll system is a complex input for every serviceperson for every period, detailling every aspect of what they did and where, from which their individual pay is then calculated.

The payroll input information is not only confidential, but also highly secret, as an enemy could potentially work out the size, composition and possibly the mission of a military force by virtue of this information. The requirement for very tight security leads to considerable expense.

The problems are that personnel are being paid the wrong amounts - not that they are receiving no pay. This would be very likely to be caused by wrong inputs, which most certainly existed as a problem previously, but may have increased during the transition from one system to another, or may indeed have reduced if the new system were more intuitive.

It is difficult to gauge whether there are significant problems with the new system, without knowing the volume of pay problems prior to its implementation.

The huge savings to the taxpayer will be made as a result of replacing the previous 3 functionally very similar systems (Army, Navy and RAF) with a single common system, which would result in many efficiency savings (including staff). Although the 3 previous systems were functionally very similar, they were implemented on radically different platforms to each other, and were all getting very long in the tooth. A single replacement system was a very wise choice - and £250m is actually a very reasonable pricetag.

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Dead Vulture

which error?

If the user interface and data verification is so poor as to allow so many errors, is it the fault of the operators, or of the designers?

I'd blame the designers and vendors of such a system. There is no excuse.

ps: there is a vomiting vulture icon. It's vomiting blood.

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One thing ....

If I understand this right, this system is based on those used by civilian companies, where the staff at all levels - workers and their HR staff - tend to work in the same office all the time sat at a desk running the relevant software.

Am I alone in spotting the problems that might arise from using it for an organisation that spends most of its time out of the office and in a ditch in Helmand being shot at miles away from reliable access to UK based admin systems ? Clearly if I worked in the MoD I would be.

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Dead Vulture

@Anon Coward re £250m

So, paraphrasing, it's complex because people have to input detailed (and confidential, top secret) timesheets? Well, blow me down, £250m is reasonable after all...

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IT Angle

Madness

"The payroll input information is not only confidential, but also highly secret, as an enemy could potentially work out the size, composition and possibly the mission of a military force by virtue of this information. The requirement for very tight security leads to considerable expense."

Initial reaction: What? Are you completely mad? Enemy intelligence agencies actually caring about British force composition? That assumes a nation state that we're going to war with, without American backing. And lets face it no one cares about the British sepoys. More to the point anyone that cares to can work out what units are where by looking at the local papers online.

Actually can we name one nation that we've fought in the past 50 years where this kind of information has been relevant? Its this kind of muddle-headed thinking that wastes so much cash. And for that kind of stupidity we spent enough cash to have an actual infantry battalion in existence. You know, a useful thing.

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250mln

All that complexity applys to lots of companies. I'm sure British Airways, for instance have all sorts of different rates depending on where you flew, what you flew on, when you joined, etc.

Over 1k per defence force member seems pretty excessive to me.

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@David Harper

It's a nice thought, but the SBS do what they told. The mercenaries, on the other hand... I expect Blackwater mercenaries get paid on time and in full month by month. Partly because they're a private company, and therefore not useless, but mainly because they're not averse to a bit of the old indiscriminate ultraviolence when they get bored.

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Blame 'em all

Having some experience of dealing with beaurocrats (state, semi-state, utlities and big finance houses) in several countries, and EDS in Australia too, come to think of it, I'm pretty sure the blame is 70% beaurocrats changing specs after every meeting, and 30% EDS selling over-ambitious plans to IT-ignorant beaurocrats and letting teh beaurocrats generate a lot of nice expensive change requests because the original spec was way off what's actually required.

"Oh, we need a button so that if we click on Soldier A, and then hit the button, we can see all the other soldiers near Soldier A, and then apply that pay-rate to all of them..."

"Of course, no problem, 800 hours at £600 per hour..."

As for those who say no-one cares about what pay Soldier A is getting, come off it - if I could identify an operation in which the SBS (for example) was involved, then check the pay of Royal Marines and find out who's getting all the various combat allowances, I could identify say 100 Royal Marines, their families, and then we'll see how efficient the Special Forces are when their friends and family are getting bumped off at home.

So cop on.

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Black Helicopters

Navy roll out?

Erm, I'm pretty sure that the RAF got JPA first in Apr 06. The Navy and Army (reluctantly) followed later. I know this as I had just got back from the sandpit and was met with a yawning void where we used to have an admin system and could not book leave. I was basically AWOL for two weeks. It's OK though, JPA thought I was still in the desert somewhere.

In its defence, JPA is getting better for the end user, but is still flawed. It doesn't even use https FFS!

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@Phil - Based on a civilian system

> If I understand this right, this system is based on those used by civilian companies

You do understand. It's Oracle HR, because we are mandated to use COTS software, heavily, umm, *configured* because of the decidedly non-civilian and somewhat bizarre set of pay scales and allowances it's admininstering. The pay and allowances were rationalized somewhat in order to make JPA feasible - you should have seen them before.

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Anonymous Coward

EDS Cockups

EDS tendered for it knowing how complex Army/Navy/RAF pay was if they couln't do it with COTS software it should say so in the tender. Here is a short list of some other EDS contracts that they have cocked up lost:

1. Airtours

2. Child Support Agency

3. Department of Justice

4. Offender Management

5. Inland Revenue

6. United Stated Navy and Marine Corps Intranet

7. DII

8. Sky Television

9. Barclays

10. Job Centre Plus

11. Abbey National

12. Liverpool Victoria Insurance

13. Department of Work and Pensions

Here is what they have won recently:

1. Contract to setup Michael Jordan's grandchildren's Playstation III (Contract Value: 2 pints)

2. Er, nothing!

It's pretty clear then that EDS has a clear and established track record in failing to deliver complex pieces of custom software on time and on budget and ultimately having their contracts cancelled. This is because EDS encourages and rewards failures. They have a few good staff but most of them are overshadowed by quitters who leave their assigned projects when the going gets a little bit too tough for them. 90% of their project managers are "Yes" men who'll say what they think the customer wants to hear. Most of them think Fred Brooks is a sportswear retailer. Their technical architects seem to base most of what they design on a quick trip down to PC world at lunch time. Their sales/client care teams are the worst of the lot who can give it the big "I am" for everyone but they will generally blink first when the customer gets stroppy! Some of the EDS'ers sitting comfy at Worthy Down should be shipped out to Helmand for a month or six to see the fruits of their execrable labour in the field!

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Stop

Training What Trg

Whilst saving 250m a year in costs the MOD decided not to spend much more than a couple of pennies on trg, 2 and a half days to understand a radically different system to those that went before it.

Human error is probably the problem, made worse by no funds being made available for worthwhile training.

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IT Angle

@Sean Casaidhe

"As for those who say no-one cares about what pay Soldier A is getting, come off it - if I could identify an operation in which the SBS (for example) was involved, then check the pay of Royal Marines and find out who's getting all the various combat allowances, I could identify say 100 Royal Marines, their families, and then we'll see how efficient the Special Forces are when their friends and family are getting bumped off at home."

So, lets get this straight... We're spending a quarter of a billion quid in order to protect the names of some (but not all) military people from vaguely defined person or persons unknown for personal, rather than collective vengeance? At a time when military units are in real danger in real daily fire-fights and need more effective kit urgently? I repeat: are the MOD quite mad? Its like having a million pound lock on a ten pound bike. I blame too many bad movies and books where the villains hunt down a specific individual.

I note that you can't provide a reality based example of this kind of operation. On planet Earth if the bad people don't like a group - if we're going to have to use an example we'll use Royal Marines or even a group of British special forces (Such as the SBS) - they'll simply park a car bomb at the MacDonalds nearest the unit base on a Saturday morning and maybe whack the dads, but certainly hit the wife and kids. Or pick a pub near the barracks and blow it shreds,. Or they'll wait at the station to see if a few physically fit lads, walking together, and with short haircuts turn up then spray them with automatic weapons fire on the flat, cover less, platform. Or they'll wait for something like a reunion or march or band event and bomb it. These methods all worked for the IRA, anyway. Hunting individuals is what people do with war criminals, and it usually goes through the courts. Actually that might be the most effective use for this system, as it'll prove who was where on the day - its not worth the money.

So what do we lose for the costs of dealing with this fairy-land threat? In 2000 Britain spend around £222 million on all its armoured fighting vehicles and only £90million on guided weapons (Heyman, 2002:17-18). We're talking £250m on a pay system. This is a massive sum of money and, as I've already noted, enough to form an entire infantry battalion.

Alternatively if we're going to insist on treating every special forces person as a potential hostage to future enemy operations, like a cabinet minister, then we could simply pay them a lot better basic salary and give no penny-pinching operational bonuses to give away their identity; an SAS trooper gets around £25k a year - paying the entire SAS an additional £25k a year each on top of their basic would cost around (assume 2 full regiments, at full strength - which the SAS aren' - 1200 troops) £30 million a year... Tahdaaah, we've already saved enough to buy a whole swarm of cruise missiles, or a big chunk of an infantry battalion. See? A far more reality based method of handling the issue that seemingly motivates this particular fiasco.

I submit that this cash is simply wasted and that there are far better things to spend the money on, rather than sub-James Bond plots, I would suggest that its clear that British troops clearly need body armour (in fact better kit in general), a decent weapon or three, some proper air support, and probably some creature comforts; that's reality based spending, a massively expensive pay system isn't.

"So cop on."

Whatever that means. I assume its an insult. Nice, but lets face it, irrelevant.

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