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IT workers at Tennessee insurer on edge amid outsourcing rumors

Patrick Thibodeau | June 23, 2016
Unum Group is eyeing ‘partnerships’ to deliver IT services

The IT employees at Unum Group, a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based insurer, are alert to the possibility that their employer may shift work to an offshore outsourcing firm. The employees don't know much yet, but they know enough to be alarmed -- and a letter sent out last week by the CIO did little to change that.

The news about Unum, which reported nearly $11 billion in revenues last year, originated in a recent blog post by Sara Blackwell, a labor attorney in Florida who represents former Disney IT workers in a lawsuit after that firm replaced them with offshore outsourcer workers. Some of the replacements were on H-1B visas.

Blackwell claims that several hundred IT employees are at risk of being laid-off or rebadged with an IT services contractor. A Chattanooga newspaper, the Times Free Press,reported last week on the possibility and included Unum's response. The firm calls Blackwell's claims speculation and hearsay.

Even so, an IT employee at Unum said the local newspaper report was true, and said workers haven't been told much except that management is looking at the possibility of outsourcing IT jobs -- and others -- to cut costs. "I don't understand why they are looking to outsource when the company is doing well," the employee said.

After the Times Free Press story appeared, Unum CIO Kate Miller sent a letter to IT employees. She wrote that the company is looking at a "few areas within IT that have been identified as having potential for increased leverage of external partners."
Unum is still "in the evaluation process," Miller wrote, stressing that no decision would made for a couple of months.

Miller's letter, which was seen by Computerworld, described the firm's approach in using "external partners" and said it wasn't a new development.  "In certain cases, external partnerships can help us deliver better capabilities faster and allow our people to focus on the areas where we can have the greatest impact," wrote Miller.

"Unum is committed to a strong IT function and organization driven primarily by our own employees," she wrote.  
Computerworld sought an interview with Miller, but a company spokeswoman declined the request. Miller was appointed CIO in 2013, and had previously worked in Washington as associate CIO of applications development for the Internal Revenue Service.

A spokeswoman for Unum, Mary Clarke Guenther, said cost issues alone "aren't enough to lead us to a decision to work with an external partner. Relationships have to make sense on a number of levels, including enabling us to better serve our customers, supporting the long long-term growth and efficiency of our business, and driving outcomes that are better than those we can achieve ourselves."

 

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