Unia is Switzerland’s largest trade union with 200’000 members and is represented at 110 locations throughout the country. The organisation, for employees in industry, trade, construction and the private service sector, has taken up the fight against cuts in social services. Its IT provider has to share these values and be just as well networked as Unia itself is.
On merging with its forerunners GBI, SMUV and VHTL in October 2004, Unia became the largest trade union in Switzerland. The union has a say in social policy and represents 200’000 members in over 80 sectors, provides legal advice and pays out more than 1 billion Swiss francs each year in unemployment compensation via the Unia unemployment insurance scheme. In ensuring that it can provide sound support for members wherever they are, all IT workstations must run faultlessly at its 110 locations in Switzerland.
Through the merger, the information technology of the individual predecesor organisations was also combined. «Until then, GBI and VHTL worked with local IT partners who kept the office software up to date,» says Peter Baumann, Head of Service & Logistics at Unia. «At that time, the trade unio-nists connected everything themselves via wires under the desks.» The clients were completely heterogeneous and there were no standards for the business software. Before the merger, only the list of members with its 200’000 records had been combined within a shared database. «We are structured like an SME and need appropriate instruments – including IT,» says Baumann. T-Systems initially took over operation of the decentralised computer landscape. In 2008, when the devices were approaching the end of their lifecycle, Unia invited tenders for the platform.
Swisscom was awarded the contract because the IT provider has a nationwide network, like Unia itself, and can thus offer local IT support.
Swisscom equipped the trade union and unemployment insurance scheme’s 110 locations with over 1’000 clients. «The rollout went quickly and was well coordinated,» says Simon Roelly, Head of IT at Unia. After just seven weeks, everything went live on 1 August 2009. «Perhaps that was too swift in several respects,» remarks Baumann. Restructuring at Swisscom led to personnel changes, meaning that a few pending tasks initially remained unresolved. Delivery of the multifuncti-on printers was delayed because the manufacturer was experiencing a supply shortage. «Unia’s IT can only ever be as good as its provider,» explains Roelly. «Calm now prevails, all tasks have been completed and operati-on is stable.»
All thin clients now run on a Citrix platform in the Zollikofen data centre. Employees thus have access to e-mails, Stella (CRM system) and accounting in any location.
In terms of overall IT, Unia’s strategy is relatively conservative. «We aim to purchase IT like a vehicle fleet and would rather take the proven VW Golf over the Porsche,» says Baumann. Office 2003 is currently installed on all computers. «If a printer fails to work or an employee makes a mistake with their password – as I now and then tend to – we get help from the Service Desk,» says Baumann. The trilingual Swisscom Service Desk sends the new password to a mobile phone in just three minutes. Alongside solution competence and proximity, Unia also aims at ensuring a slim cost structure: «We are accountable to our members for every franc contributed.»
The effects of the 2009/2010 crisis on members is still keeping Unia very busy. In 2009, it saw moderate growth in membership and broke even. However: «The trade union must remain alert if it is to strengthen the rights of workers and act as a serious social counter-weight to the current middle-class politics and to the erosion of the principle of social solidarity in Switzerland,» says Baumann of the greatest challenges of the future.