Unisys slams user after marathon court battle

A 31-day High Court hearing, one of the longest and most costly IT disputes ever, has ended with Unisys criticising a former...

A 31-day High Court hearing, one of the longest and most costly IT disputes ever, has ended with Unisys criticising a former customer, life assurance and pensions provider United Assurance, for mounting an attack which "occasionally borders on the snide".

In bringing a case of misrepresentation against Unisys, United Assurance, now owned by Royal London Insurance, accused the supplier of a lack of candour over the performance of its Unisure insurance system.

"We say the picture which emerges in this case is of a consistent lack of candour on the part of Unisys," said Jeffrey Gruder, QC for United. He added that the lack of candour applied to the batch processing abilities of Unisure, efforts within Unisys to remedy some of the performance defects, and the lack of realistic timescales for a long-scale solution to the problem.

The lack of candour relating to Unisure's performance continued until "effectively [Unisys] had no alternative but to tell us of its failure".

Nicholas Dennys, QC for Unisys, criticised Gruder for suggesting "in a way which occasionally borders on the snide" that Unisys' witnesses at the hearing were less than frank and candid.

At the centre of United's case is its claim that it was not kept informed by Unisys of performance problems with Unisure, in particular a "disaster" involving tests at insurance company Norwich Union. Unisys countered that the implementation at Norwich Union was very different to that at United.

With a base product designed to be tailored to customer needs, Unisure was described during the hearing as the jewel in the crown

of Unisys' European insurance business. Customers included Norwich Union, Virgin Direct, and Royal & Sunalliance. United's "fusion project" was designed to bring together various Bull and ICL legacy mainframe applications in one Unix-based Unisys system.

But in 1999 United terminated its contract with Unisys. It said Unisure, running on Sequent hardware and an Oracle database, at that time was not scaleable and not capable of meeting expected volumes of business.

United sued for the recovery of £14.8m it has spent on the Unisure project.

Unisys said allegations of a lack of candour are "entirely without foundation". Dennys added, "Well, for goodness sake, was this an enterprise in which United showed the slightest indication that it was to be one of collaboration or in which they were to be full and frank with us? It was an antagonistic relationship one of almost perpetual negotiation. Why was that? Because United made it so."

At the end of the hearing the judge David Wilcox commented to Gruder that if "both [Unisys and United] had behaved we would not be here", adding, "Your children would be starving and mine too."

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