The Army’s new online recruitment system was four years late, cost triple the budget and will ultimately be owned by Capita

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez December 16, 2018
The British Army contracted Capita to transform its recruitment processes, opting for a new online, automated system. However, the result was a classic case of ignoring user need.

British army
The British Army’s plans to boost the number of soldiers recruited, whilst also reducing the cost of recruiting, have faced a significant number of problems in recent years. The Army’s contract and progress with Capita, with whom it partnered with on the project, reads like a classic case of failing to understand the user need and poor contract management.

A new report investigating the project’s failings has been released but the National Audit Office.

The report highlights that in 2012 the Army committed £1.36 billion over ten years to the British Army Recruiting Partnering Project, part which included £495 million going to Capita in order to secure its expertise in recruitment and marketing.

However, Capita has missed the Army’s targets for recruiting new soldiers and officers every years since 2013 and the total shortfall each year has ranged from 21% to 45% of the Amy’s requirement.

Central to the project was a new, automated online recruitment system. The Army initially expected to launch the new online system in July 2013, but was delayed for a number of reasons. Firstly, Ministry of Defence failed to meet its contractual obligations to provide the IT infrastructure to host Capita’s recruitment software.

Then in January 2014, the Army pass responsibility for developing the whole system to Capita. After a series of delays, CApita eventually launched the system in November 2017 - four years late.

The Army ended up spending £113 developing the new system and running the legacy system longer than expected (because of the delays), which was triple the original budget.

Capita ultimately underestimated the complexity of the Armed Forces’ requirements and the level of customisation required for the new online system. As a result, it couldn’t use off-the-shelf commercial software for the solution and had to develop a bespoke application, which took longer than expected. As a result, the automated option that was originally planned ultimately ended up failing.

Capita had to develop manual work-arounds to process applications and candidates were unable to manage their applications online.

Ongoing problems

Upon launch, applicants had difficulties using the online system and Capita staff faced problems processing the applications. The Army estimates that this resulted in 13,000 fewer applications between November 2017 and March 2018, compared with the same period in the preceding year, which could lead to 1,300 fewer enlistments.

To counter this, at its own cost, Capita introduced a seven month period of enhanced support to fix the problems and the Army provided additional personnel to contact candidates who had registered an interest.

The National Audit Office states:

“Another factor affecting recruitment numbers is the complexity of the recruitment process. The Army failed to implement measures to simplify it prior to, and during, the Project. This has contributed to the lengthy time it takes for applications to complete the process.

“In the first six months of 2018-19, it took up to 321 days for half of regular soldier applicants to go from starting the process to beginning basic training. The Army and Capita believe this is a significant factor in its failure to convert applications into new recruits. In 2017-18, 11% of applicants went on to join the Army, but 47% voluntarily dropped out of the process.”

This is where it comes down to a failed understanding of user need. On the basis of feedback from recruitment staff, both he Army and Capita decided that its centralised, automated approach did not give applicants sufficient support. They recognised that face-to-face contact was critical in encouraging applicants to join and improved the support available to coach them though the recruitment process.

Capita, as a result, has committed to hiring 116 professional recruiters and the Army will pay Capita an additional £33 million up to 2022 to establish this approach.

Finally, and rather unbelievably, the Army also does not have full ownership of the online system, which is hosted on capitals IT infrastructure. The Army, therefore, will need to negotiate a new support contract with Capita or develop its own IT infrastructure if it wants to host the online system beyond the end of the contract in 2022.

According to the National Audit Office, the Army is now assessing whether it can adapt the online system for its future recruitment needs. The NAO report states:

“The Army is negotiating with Capita to secure full access to the source code and has begun to explore whether it can modify the system. If the Army decides that the system is not suitable for modification, it will need to buy or develop a new recruitment system after the contract with Capita ends.”

My take

We’ve heard this story time and time again. Hundreds of millions of pounds spent. Unrealistic expectations. Poor contract management. Shifting responsibilities. Lack of understanding of user need. The perfect recipe for another public sector contract disaster.