Microsoft Office System
Customer Solution Case Study
/ / Council Improves Productivity, Information Access with Document Management System
Country or Region:Ireland
Industry:Local government
Customer Profile
The Cork County Council Planning Department, with 172 employees, evaluates planning applications for Cork County, Ireland.
Business Situation
The huge growth in the number of planning applications has to be handled within a tight time frame without any increases in staff numbers.
With Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007, the Cork County Council has created a document management system to help increase staff productivity and improve supply management.
Improved access to information
Improved staff productivity
Ability to monitor applications
Ease of IT support / “With the increasing workload… there is only one option: to work smarter and more efficiently…. Microsoft Office SharePoint 2007 is the enabling technology of choice for Cork County Council.”
James Fogarty, Head of IT, CorkCounty Council
The Cork County Council Planning Department is responsible for evaluating planning applications for Cork County, Ireland. The rapid growth of building developments in CorkCounty has resulted in a twenty per cent year on year increase in the volume of planning applications. Due to government staff number restrictions and statuary requirements, the Planning Department needed to work smarter to ensure that the work is turned around within the prescribed time. To do this, the Planning Department worked with Microsoft® Services to create a document management system based on Microsoft Office SharePoint® 2007 technology.


Cork County Council is the largest county council in Ireland with 110 offices and more than 2,800 employees. The Planning Department employs 172 staff members and is under severe pressure due to the huge growth in planning applications, which are estimated at an annual rate of twenty per cent, and a restriction on increases in staff numbers. Despite these challenges, the department must still turn planning applications around within the statuary prescribed period.

All applications, consisting of detailed maps, drawings, compliance reports, and technical assessments, must be submitted six times, resulting in a huge volume of paper. As a result, planners and officials are spending too much time involved in administrative functions and managing the progress of documents through the various planning stages.

The ever increasing paper mountain had to be reduced and strategies put in place that would enable the information to be more efficiently processed while meeting the department’s legal responsibilities. Furthermore, mandated decentralisation required a system that could encompass working from multiple locations while still operating under central control.


The Cork County Council Planning Department decided that their best option was to automate their current planning processes and ensure that tight management controls were introduced. This required a powerful document management system combined with workflow management capabilities.

The steps involved in processing a planning application are complex as there are seventeen “gate keepers” involved in the chain of events. Any delays create major challenges as the process must be finished within eight weeks of receiving the application. The process is further complicated by the geographic dispersal of the sections involved in the planning approval process.

Cork County Council had already experienced the benefits of Microsoft® SharePoint® Portal Server 2001. The newest version of SharePoint Server, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, with its improved content management and improved workflow features, appeared to fulfill all the requirements of the Planning Department. Combining the features of Office SharePoint Server 2007 with electronic document storage enables any document to be rapidly retrieved and displayed on the screen. Workflow features in Office SharePoint Server 2007 automatically track the progress of each planning application.

The electronic storage of documents involves assigning a planning number and related application details that are stored in a 2D barcode that is attached to each part of the application. Each part of the application is scanned and compressed into a digital image file. The barcode is used to create an XML file that uploads the image to SharePoint Server and updates the necessary indexes. This system is live in the decentralised West Cork planning office with the electronic workflow under pilot with ongoing development based on Office SharePoint Server 2007.

“Data is most valuable when it can provide up-to-date, consistent, and relevant information and help decision makers, at all levels, to make better, faster, and more significant decisions. Cork County Council has recognised the strategic importance of using information technology and installed the 2007 Office system to implement a solution that delivers real-time information which supports daily operations and helps drive the decision making process,” says Phillip Fitzpatrick, Solution Specialist, Microsoft Services.


The Office SharePoint Server 2007–based system that Cork County Council are piloting in West Cork will provide automated document storage and retrieval for the planning process. The solution includes a workflow management system, which identifies current workloads and helps to resolve potential scheduling problems in the planning process. It will increase accountability, since senior managers are able to measure key performance indicators (KPIs) and both staff and the public benefit from a streamlined and transparent planning system. Office SharePoint Server 2007 workflow will deliver even more efficiencies once rolled out to the entire County.

Quick and Easy Document Retrieval from Any Location

Paper-based files are location specific whereas digital images can be displayed anywhere given the appropriate computer-based devices. Electronic document storage enables people working at different locations to access the documents and allows members of the public to have access to the documents regardless of location.

Less Administration

Electronic document storage is much more efficient than paper storage because there is no physical activity involved in sourcing a particular document. Filing is handled and managed automatically, thus saving a significant amount of clerical effort. Applications and maps can be easily linked allowing planners to have a better spatial understanding of the planning application. The entire 360-degree view of planning information is available through a Web-based planning enquiry system running on the Council’s intranet and Web site using Microsoft SharePoint technology.

Better Process Management

There are two key components in the workflow element of Office SharePoint Server that are of significant advantage to the Planning Department in Cork County Council. Firstly, it enables individual engineers and planners to track their own workload and identify personal scheduling problems. Secondly, it allows managers to predict potential issues ahead of time. This allows corrective processes to be put in place to ensure deadlines are met.

“With the increasing workload, cap on recruitment, and increasing complexity of planning, there is only one option: to work smarter and more efficiently using technology. Microsoft Office SharePoint 2007 is the enabling technology of choice for Cork County Council,” concludes James Fogarty, Head of IT, Cork County Council.

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