Overview & History
Cork County Council's IT Department was founded in 1973. Originally called the Systems Department, it was initially set up to review the operation of the Council's Finance Department. The processing of a number of key finance functions had fallen into arrears, and the Systems Department was charged with proposing and implementing a solution to this problem. It soon became obvious that a method of automating the multiplicity of manual processes associated with the Council's finance function was the only realistic way of addressing the problem. Michael Conlon, the County Manager, agreed with this approach, and the task of procuring the Council's first ever computer commenced.
An IBM System/3 Model 10 computer was purchased by the Council in the third quarter of 1973. A small number of County Council staff with the required aptitude for writing computer programs were transferred to the Systems Department to develop the following applications, which went live in April, 1974:
- Payroll (wages, salaries and pensions)
- Accounts Payable
- Bank Reconciliation
These applications were written in the RPG/2 programming language, as were a number of additional applications that were developed in quick succession over the following three to four years. These applications included:
- Expenditure Analysis
- Income Analysis
- Electoral Register
- Housing Loans
It is interesting to note that some of these applications, most notably Payroll and Housing Loans, have stood the test of time and are still an integral part of the service provided by the Council's IT Department.
Such was the success of the Council's Systems Department - which became the Data Processing Department in the late 1970s and is now the IT Department - that other public service organisations sought to take advantage of the expertise fostered by Cork County Council. In 1976, the County Manager agreed to enter into a partnership with Cork City Council (then Cork Corporation), whereby Cork County Council's IT Department would also provide an IT service for the city. This partnership survived into the late 1990s.
Between 1977 and 1995, Cork County Council also provided an IT service for the following Vocational Education Committees:
- Cork County
- Cork City
- Limerick City
- Waterford City
- Waterford County
The Local Government Computer Services Board (LGCSB)
The LGCSB was established in 1975, two years after the Council's Systems Department and one year after the first applications went live. Like Cork County Council, it selected a computer programming language to meet the needs of local authorities. While the Council had selected IBM hardware and RPG programming language, the LGCSB opted for ICL hardware and Cobol. Due to the County Council's considerable investment in IBM hardware and in developing RPG programming skills, and to the widely acknowledged success of the applications developed in-house, the County Council decided not to abandon its own applications.
History was to repeat itself almost 25 years later when the LGCSB selected Agresso as its financial management system, at a time when Cork County Council had already commenced implementing JD Edwards. Cork County Council has been largely independent in relation to financial applications, and this situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
In other IT disciplines, Cork County Council and the LGCSB have co-operated closely. An example of this is in the areas of iPlan and iReg. If the LGCSB develops systems that meet the requirements of Cork County Council and comply with its strategic architecture, then we will continue to adopt their systems.
Advances in the 1980s and 1990s
In the 1970s, computer literacy in Cork County Council was confined to the IT Department. The Council had one computer, a System/3 Model 10 that was upgraded to a Model 12 in 1976. This could process only one job at a time, but a big breakthrough was the switch from preparing input data on punched cards to 12" floppy discs.
Things began to change in the early 1980s, with the advent of Visual Display Units (VDUs), which allowed people outside the IT Department to access data held on computers for the first time. The System/3 Model 12 was not capable of supporting VDU technology, so the Council upgraded to a System/34. Further upgrades followed to a System/36 in the mid-1980s and an AS/400 in the mid-1990s.
The advent of the personal computer (PC) changed things forever. It has had both positive and negative effects on IT within the County Council. Positive effects include:
- Increased computer literacy within the organisation.
- Removal of the mystique surrounding IT.
- Easy automation of certain manual processes.
Negative effects can include:
- Loss of information on PCs due to bad practice (lack of backup information).
- PCs sometimes being used for purposes other than County Council business.
As technological advances continued, the IT Department sought to improve the lot of other County Council departments by commissioning the development of applications tailored to meet specific requirements. Such applications included:
- Planning Administration for the Planning Department.
- Higher Education Grants for the Corporate Affairs Department.
- Dog Licenses for the Veterinary Department.
These applications took advantage of recently developed technologies, such as:
- File servers, which allow the storage of information so that multiple users can access it from their PCs.
- Networked computing, which allows PCs and servers to interact as required in running an application.
- Cabling, which is used to provide a physical connection between PCs and servers.
During this period, the IT Department also took the first steps on the road to developing a Wide Area Network (WAN) by putting in place telecommunications connections between the Mallow Divisional office and County Hall, and between the Clonakilty Divisional Office and County Hall.
Towards the end of the millennium the key role the IT Department had to play in the achievement of the Cork County Council's corporate aims was recognised, and an IT strategy document was produced in 1999. The following year, this document was approved by the County Manager and the elected members. Since then, major progress on the following projects highlighted in the strategy document has been achieved:
- Establishment of a comprehensive Wide Area Network (WAN), connecting together over 100 Council locations.
- Establishment of Local Area Networks (LANs) in the nine town councils.
- Rollout of the JD Edwards Financial Management System.
- Rollout of corporate e-mail.
- Rollout of the EMOS housing application.
- Development of Cork County Council's web site
- Installation of a GIS map server.
Steps have also been taken to increase the staff of the IT Department to a level more appropriate for addressing the IT requirements of an organisation the size of Cork County Council.