With the local planning system coming under increasing pressure, one of Northern Ireland’s fastest growing tech companies believes a fully automated SaaS system could go a long way to solving current problems. 

Tascomi, which recently placed 40th in Deloitte Ireland’s fastest-growing companies list, says there is a real opportunity now to “reinvent how planning is done”.

According to the most recent planning statistics (April to June 2017), 3,301 planning applications were decided – which was down almost 6% on the same period last year. The average processing time for major applications was 56 weeks across all councils – over 25 weeks longer than the statutory processing target.

Following local government reform in April 2015, the region’s 11 councils are now responsible for determining the vast majority of planning applications. The transfer of planning functions has been a bumpy road for some local authorities.

Tascomi MD Richard Martin says geographic information systems (GIS) from NISRA and Spatial NI, as well as a range of other data, can be collated automatically – freeing planning officers and councillors to focus on more critical questions of suitability and appropriateness of the build.

“Let’s put a little bit more intelligence into the system and into the workflows,” he says. “For example, Environmental Impact Assessments can be automated and streamlined so that a planning application which may have required up to 40 or 50 manual interventions, need only have to two or three to prepare for the next stage.”

Richard now leads a team of 35 split between their headquarters in Hillsborough and a new development centre in Zagreb. The company currently provides online building control, public protection and licensing services for councils across Northern Ireland. Council.Direct is a portal for ratepayers and currently has 60,000 registered users.

“Dog licensing is now fully automated except for a person who double checks information – that interaction costs the council pennies instead of pounds. We’ve managed to save around half a million pounds per yearjust by automating dog licensing, so you can imagine the amount of money that could be saved by streamlining the planning process,” he says.

In August, the company won the four-year contract to supply Ceredigion County Council in Wales with a planning management system. Richard acknowledges that planning is managed differently throughout the UK and Ireland and the Tascomi system has been designed to accommodate this but has no doubt that a cloud-based solution here would allow councils and the Department for Infrastructure to have a consistent approach to planning and best practice.

The company also works with Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) in providing a national public protection software system.

“Every item that needs checked or inspected in Ireland goes through the central service that we produced. This was the system that helped to flag up the horse-meat scandal. If you buy coffee from Starbucks anywhere in Ireland, our system will have been part of the inspection regime,” he says.