When will government IT teams learn they are not as different as they think

We learned today of another government IT fiasco – millions of pounds being wasted at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on a system for recruiting soldiers and reservists for the Army.

The project was based on a £440m, 10-year deal with Capita, signed in March 2012, with the stated aim “to support the military recruitment and assessment process and the recruitment technology component of the IT platform”.

If today it seems somewhat ridiculous to consider spending hundreds of millions of pounds on an online recruitment system, the market cannot have been that different less than two years ago when the procurement was made.

No doubt the MoD would have said at the time that it was different – a favoured refrain of many government departments over the years to justify why they chose to spend huge amounts on large, bespoke software developments.

But a quick search for “online recruitment software” on Google shows the many cloud-based services readily available off the shelf, at a price considerably less than £440m.

Clearly, the armed forces are different when it comes to the jobs they need to fill, and the criteria for selection. But is the actual process of recruitment really any different from any other major employer?

You advertise your jobs, you receive applications, you assess candidates against criteria, put them through a series of tests or interviews, then you offer some a job at the end.

Surely many of the standard, off-the-shelf systems can capably support that service?

Government IT buyers need to accept that, in most cases, they are not as different as they would like to think. The sooner that principle is adopted, the sooner the sort of failures demonstrated by the latest MoD project can be minimised or eliminated.

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