There is only a week before the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the media spotlight has been fixed on the revelation that the military has been drafted in, to cover a shortfall in the security workforce recruited for the games. 

Reports indicate that the problem arose in the time taken to vet applications for the 10,400 posts needed to ensure the safety and security of spectators, athletes and those working at the games. There have also been anecdotal reports of paper documents going missing and corners in the recruitment process being cut.

In an interview with the BBC, Tony Hewitt, was one of the candidates who applied for a post and he explained that he was accepted for the post in February 2012, but there were delays in CRB checks and despite signing and returning the contract he had heard nothing further.

With public safety and security already a major talking point, it was essential that this mammoth recruitment drive (handled by G4S on behalf of the organising committee LOCOG and the UK Government), was managed with scrupulous attention to detail, to ensure that the people selected had the necessary skills, credentials and passed the required safety checks.

As a technology professional working in the Enterprise Content Management and Business Process Management world, my acceptance of how the process appears to have been conducted is even less than most as from my point-of-view there really is no excuse for such an incident to occur.

Of course, I am not privy to the finer detail of the recruitment process used in this instance and can only base my opinion on what I am being presented with in the media. However, I can compare this with a company that in my view is delivering a gold medal winning performance for vetting, on-boarding and managing 4,000 new full-time and contract workers each year (so in the years since the games were awarded to London they would have been able manage the recruitment of more than double the number required of G4S!).

This company is using the latest workflow and business process management technology to not only remove the paper trail from the process, but also improve the security of documents and significantly speeding up the entire recruitment process. I can see no reason why the same process could not have been applied for the games, so here is how they would approach the challenge in five simple steps:

  1. A prospective games security professional goes online and using a secure connection completes and submits an initial vetting form, which in turn triggers the opening of a new project folder and case ID to be assigned to the applicant.
  2. The HR department is automatically notified on receipt of the form and the applicant and receives an automatic email confirmation which also contains an application form in PDF form and their case ID.
  3. The applicant completes and signs the form electronically, scans other requested documentation to provide proof of identity, professional qualifications and sends them to the HR team. This information is automatically and securely routed to applicants corresponding project folder and again the HR team is alerted, as well as being prompted to complete the next step in the process.
  4. Following the pre-determined workflow, based on recruitment best practice, the HR team is instructed to verify and review the application form, as well as the supporting documentation and once authenticated provides a digital signature. The successful applicants are then invited for an interview.
  5. For applicants who pass the interview the process progresses to the ‘Waiting for References’ workflow queue and the team move to the next stage to complete the subsequent reference check and making an offer of employment.

Furthermore, once the applicant is successful a further series of process steps are automatically invoked to on-board the new employee including signing of contracts, sharing of bank account details etc, all still following a prescribed electronic workflow.

This process above can be scaled whether recruiting 40, 400 or 4,000 new employees. In fact the technology has been recently adopted by the Church of England to aid in the complex and detailed application process for people wishing to join the Ordained Ministry.

The process works because it removes the reliance on paper and post, which is both expensive and cumbersome (the company is reported to save $114k per year and achieve ROI in one year). Application forms are distributed quicker, completed and returned faster and with no potential for documents to be lost or tampered with in transit.

Furthermore, every step of the process must be adhered to before progressing to the next, so no required checks and safeguards can be bypassed, delivering consistency and reassurance that the first application is given the same rigorous treatment as the last.

Finally, the entire process is 100% transparent allowing managers to continuously monitor the progress of the every applicant and to identify or pre-empt bottlenecks, an issue particularly pertinent to the G4S case given the eleventh hour red flag waving that there was a problem.

It is often said that business people can learn a lot from the endeavours of sports people and no more so in their meticulous preparation and attention to detail in the build-up to an event. They practice, rehearse, review and refine every process, to ensure they are the most efficient, agile and quickest they can be. I am sure that the recent negative headlines will not detract or impact what will be a glorious spectacle for London, but I also hope that we also learn from the experiences and take some of the Olympic ethos in to our own organisations.