Exclusive RAF personnel have spent the last six weeks pulling their hair out over problems with pay and benefits brought about by the bodged implementation of an EDS computer system. Since it went live at the end of March, thousands have been on the receiving end of processing errors in the payroll system.
Instigated by the Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency (AFPAA) in 2004, the Joint Personnel Administration project (JPA) was to cut £600m over 10 years by making personnel across the Army, Navy and RAF do their own human resources administration.
The RAF was first in line for the system, with the other forces expected to implement the "self service" HR system later this year. But the RAF implementation has gone off like a Keystone Cops' car without wheels.
RAF personnel on the Professional Pilots Rumour Network (PPRuNe) think of themselves as guinea pigs because the system test appears to have been done on the fly.
One source close to the project said it was usual that testing was cut to meet implementation timetables.
They report being underpaid, overpaid, and not paid at all. Pension payments and thousands of pay packets were affected, according to our source. One email said to have come from the RAF's project lead claims that 1,100 RAF people went without the "flight pay" top-ups in their April pay packets.
There was a danger of inaccuracies in records that may have arisen from the transfer of data from the old computer system and may have led to last month's pay problems. This frustration might have been avoided had the system been working properly in the first place.
Personnel couldn't check their records for accuracy because the system wouldn't let them in. Many were not given passwords. Many of those who had passwords couldn't log on because the system was overloaded. When they did get in they found the system so strained they couldn't do anything. They wasted hours of work and personal time. The system was also peppered with niggling faults, said PPRuNe posters - a classic sign of a rushed and ill-tested delivery.
Our source said this did not bode well for the rollout across the rest of the armed forces: "If this is to go to the Army and Navy, where personnel numbers are significantly larger, there should be sense of urgency.
"Someone working on the frontline in BASRA is going to want to get paid," he said.
EDS and MOD staff are said to have been working round the clock to correct the problems, but as yet there are no definitive explanations for the bodge. EDS was unavailable to comment.
Wing Commander Trevor Field, a public relations consultant and forces administrator, said problems where still being ironed out, and self-service access was still limited. But only about two per cent of 50,000 RAF salaries had been miscalculated by the system. He could not confirm how many people had benefits such as flight pay miscalculated, but insisted the system had been properly tested.
He explained it had been a difficult job for EDS because there were 70 old computer systems that needed to be incorporated into the old one, and that the old method probably gave more errors.
As it stands, HR staff have filled in where RAF personnel were supposed to have been using the computer to do self-service HR.
"Consider for a second how it must feel to see your job about to be replaced by a new system, and then to have to work all hours to bail out that system in order for it to have any chance of success," said one PPRuNe poster purporting to be a RAF HR. Many others were far less restrained.
The RAF rollout was originally supposed to be finished in December, but it has a problematic legacy. JPA is part of a £300m deal EDS struck with the MOD in 1997. It was originally drawn up as a public finance initiative (PFI) contract, but had to be redrawn when PFI was discovered to be a sure way of bodging a government IT project.
According to quotes that PPRuNe posters say came from official documents, the RAF had by mid-April restricted access to the system to ease the strain. The same was done again in late-April. Then two weeks ago it was said the systems would be running properly by mid-May.
EDS is not new to rolling out problematic systems for the forces. Its US Navy Marine Core Internet (NMCI) system is one of the most expensive bodges in history, yet is now attributed to keeping its corporate chin up. Its first quarter results, posted just days ago, attributed a rosy outlook to a $3.9bn contract renewal with the US Navy.
At the MOD meanwhile, EDS's meaty D(II) project, which was largely responsible for EMEA revenues jumping 16 per cent to $1.6bn, has also run into problems that have had EDS demanding compensation.
D(II) is intended to be a new communications network. Funnily enough, the problems that have beset JPA are thought to have been to do with a feeble network.®