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E-mails reveal Unisys unrest

July 5, 2001 

High court: Tony Collins reveals some of the fiery e-mail evidence in the United Assurance/Unisys action

In a High Court action, United Assurance is claiming a ?14m refund over the cancellation of the project involving Unisys' flagship insurance product Unisure.

The case has highlighted many fiery internal e-mails, leading the judge in the case to comment, "One thing one learns from this case is the trap which e-mails can lead you into." Reproduced here are some examples of the e-mails and other comments.

The case continues at the Technology Court.

Internal e-mail from Sandy Davison, now vice-president and general manager of the worldwide insurance programme for Unisys, to senior management, referring to the need for a solution to Unisure's scalability problems: "The danger if we don't act quickly is that this issue becomes public knowledge."

Internal e-mail from Ian Leavey, principal in the insurance practice division of Unisys, to Davison, then director of the division. It is headed "Frustration" and says: "We should not have been manoeuvred into working with the USA - we were overcommitted in UK and Europe."

In a reference to salespeople chasing contracts that come to nothing, it says: "Old Unisys prevails - prima donnas make demands, commitments etc without consultation and therefore we cannot follow through (deliver) the present situation at United can be traced back to the pressure on both Ross [Ross Morrell, business development manager at Unisys] and me to chase new opportunities at a crucial time - Ross should have been selling into the board and senior management [at United and internally in Unisys] and I should have been focused on project management When will people stop and listen to the experience my team has built up over the past three to five years - it could be lost at a stroke."

He added, "We must get Unisure right," and efforts must be made to "try and avert the loss of IS Europe's jewel in the crown [Unisure]".

E-mail from Morrell (business development manager at Unisys to Davison, then director of Unisys Insurance Practice): "I know you are aware of the brewing issue at United Friendly re scalability. Let me add a penny worth - it is a serious credibility black hole which as yet only Helen Potts [project manager at United] knows about in detail; but she feels obliged to escalate it as soon as she has the facts.

"She is talking next week and at the moment all the facts say 'we've been conned' to her."

E-mail from Stuart Allan, project manager at Unisys, to Daryl Smith, architecture manager at Unisys, relating to the steps taken at Unisys to ensure the scalability of Unisure: "I feel like the recipient of a particularly dodgy car sold by an even dodgier second-hand dealer. When I get it home I find it cannot go at the speeds I was promised, cannot carry any passengers and when I want it fixed I am told that the dealer would love to help but the mechanics have their heads stuck under other bonnets for some time to come.

"Where do you think my budget and time is going to come from to do this work [relating to scalability and archiving]?"

Verbal evidence

In evidence to the High Court about the relationship between Unisys and United Allan said, "I think United were under a lot of pressure in their business areas and within IT... when we asked for resources to do testing, it was like pulling teeth getting people out of the business areas because they were very severely stretched.

"They had more work than they could probably handle".

Leavey said in evidence to the High Court, "I think through working with United I learned that for one thing the level of competence of their staff was low. United managed in an environment of fear and blame culture..."

Davison said in evidence, "Really as far as I can remember United was one long negotiation, one long conversation.

"We never really got to discussing the nub of their business problems, which I felt we did with other customers."

He added later, "The whole exercise from beginning to end was one of almost negotiation, and always requests for getting fixed price and fixed dates.

"That was what they were always after, and me really saying: 'We are not prepared to offer those'."

Unisys argued in court that some of the e-mails used deliberately strong language in a bid to get response from management. In some cases, employees made claims that they might not have had they had more information.

Davison said that he did not agree with the contents of some of the e-mails, which were presented as evidence.

by Tony CollinsCopyright © 2001

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