Local authorities around the UK, faced with providing an ever increasing number of services from diminishing budgets, have been introduced to an elegant integrated ‘one button’ webcasting and audio/videoconference facility by Jon Hunnisett of technology specialists, Sound Advice PA Installation Ltd.
In designing a system that enables separate video and audio streams to be combined, councils can engage more with their constituents by allowing sessions to be web-streamed and viewed over the internet.
At the heart of his solution is RCF’s intuitive Forum 9000 digital conferencing and voting system, and Sound Advice has now built up a portfolio of 14 councils who have been eager to adopt this platform.
It was the versatility of the system that first caught the attention of Jeremy Luckett, Business Analyst at Wiltshire Council Unitary Authority, after five councils had been consolidated into three hub locations as part of the Council’s Transformation Programme Wiltshire.
This included a refurbished council chamber at County Hall, Trowbridge which contains 113 RCF microphone terminals for 98 members, plus support and smart cards embedded in each of the RCF mics (which allows the upload of data) along with two multi-function push-to-talk buttons. With the RCF camera facilitating automatic webcasting, this has opened up vast possibilities, which Wiltshire has wasted no time in exploiting.
At the client’s request, Sound Advice set up a Vaddio AV Bridge, with the ability to integrate audio and video equipment into a Microsoft Lync (Skype for Business) environment, thus enabling online meetings and general sharing capabilities. “The Council simply takes the video feed off the follow cameras and integrates it with the Lync video conferencing,” explains Hunnisett. “The RCF Forum channels audio and video in such a manner that bridges between a conference system and web casting — and the RCF system identifies who is speaking at any time via the smart card.”
At the same time the Lync video conferencing facility can also be used for other meetings and events hosted in the chamber (although not the formal council meetings).
Sound Advice had worked closely with Jeremy Luckett and Wiltshire Council’s ICT team, to create this single structured system, which can be shared by all public sector agencies, knowing that once set up the RCF Forum 9000 would run automatically.
“Jeremy had some innovative ideas,” acknowledged Hunnisett. “As for RCF, they have a proven track record of camera follow and webcasting, and we can pipe AV between the chamber and remote viewer bi-directionally over the internet. It’s highly cost-effective.”
Hunnisett describes the RCF software as the most intuitive and customisable on the market. “With councils unable to employ the personnel necessary to run camera follow, voting and agenda separately, the fact this can now be done with one easy-to-operate button on the Forum 9000, with a large amount of automation available behind it, is perfect — both from an operational and cost perspective.”
RCF’s flagship system controls four dome cameras — one fixed and three pan/tilt/zoom — in Trowbridge. Designed to meet the IEC 60914 standard, up to 240 FMS 9411-S consoles can be connected to the main FMU 9100 unit in this expandable system.
At the same time, Hunnisett observes that aside from the superior audio quality of the Forum 9000 “the electronic voting system in the chamber can cut meeting times down by at least half an hour when compared to the old manual hand count.”
Another feature is that the RCF system has also helped make the chamber paperless. Each station is designed so that the mic console is raised on a bracket and the councillors’ tablets can be neatly tucked under it. Running a modern.gov Democratic Services System App on their iPads, agendas, minutes and reports can be automatically downloaded to an individual’s computer, and integrated with webcasting.
Summing up, Jeremy Luckett states, “We have succeeded in enabling this excellent system in an extremely cost-effective manner.The Forum 9000 provides far more than just a push and talk set-up, and we get a lot for our money. All the meeting facilities are now fully utilised and in addition to webcasting, it has helped us with staff training.”
The Chamber install forms part of a bigger package of innovative AV technology that Luckett has delivered for Wiltshire Council, covering meeting room booking, presentation equipment, digital signage and video conferencing.
As for the Forum 9000 this continues to help Sound Advice win a large percentage of tenders. “It hits the price point, is easy to operate straight out of the box, it’s flexible, cost effective and interacts with other systems … and all over a single CAT5 cable,” says Jon Hunnisett.
Finally, in addition to its local authority applications, the Forum 9000’s Simultaneous Interpretation features have also been used to good effect by Sound Advice at the University of Ireland School of Languages in Galway (among other establishments). In order to accommodate a course for Interpreters specializing in Gaelic, Sound Advice designed and installed the suite that provides 12 interpreters stations with 12 delegates units and a teacher’s master station, all digitally recorded.