In session: conferencing upgrade at Valencian parliament
Both the deadline and budget were tight when the political hub of Valencia, Les Corts, required an upgrade to its conferencing system. Charlotte Ashley takes a look inside one of the few government projects recently completed in Spain.
Every fortnight members of the parliament of Valencia, or Corts Valencianes (commonly known as ‘Les Corts’) gather to discuss matters concerning the Valencian Community. At the heart of its decision making process is a discussion system. When the parliament’s previous voting technology (a dated Bosch system) had become defective – to the extent that as many as 99 parliamentarians were voting by hand – the local government put out a request for an integrated system to improve how it conducted parliamentary activity. With typically tight government budgets stretched further by the difficult economic climate in Spain, fulfilling the expectations of the client was to be a challenge for any integrator.
“In the current recession, this was the first big parliament project involving the replacement of existing AV equipment.”
However, with Spain remaining in the deadlock that has slowed political activity down in the country for nearly a year at the time the project was tendered, the upgrade presented a rare opportunity in the public sector. “In the current recession, this was the first big parliament project involving the replacement of existing AV equipment,” says Marc Torne, sales director at integrator Ditec Communications.
Competition was rife to win the tender; with the Barcelona-based integrator eventually beating six other companies to secure the contract to the high profile project after a ‘very complex’ bidding process. An experienced installer of parliamentary systems, the integrator’s portfolio of large scale projects and ability to offer a local partner to fulfil the five-year maintenance contract saw them secure the work. The integration team planned to install the latest Bosch DCN Multimedia equipment (and over 100 DCNM-MMD devices) at Les Corts, comprising of chairman unit discussion systems, tribune speaker applications, parliamentary displays and digital voting. “The system is a big improvement with all the extra capabilities parliamentarians have, which even includes remote voting,” comments Torne.
In spite of the instability afflicting the Spanish government at the time of the installation, Torne says their work remained largely unaffected. Instead it was issues at the contractor stage of the tender and a changing parliamentary schedule that threatened Ditec finishing the project in time for sessions to resume on September 14. “Issues early on meant there was almost a month delay to the project,” recalls Torne. “Our project needed eight weeks for full implementation; and we completed it in six weeks.” He adds: “With the extra effort of all our team we managed to fulfil all the parliament’s expectations with no delay in time and within budget.”
Torne says carefully integrating the technology with the existing system and interior of the headquarters of Les Corts (the 15th century-built Palace of the Borgias) proved to be their main test. “The challenge was how to integrate the latest technology in the chamber house structure within the traditional setting of the parliament, which has remained the same for over 30 years and is styled with antique furniture.” To solve the wiring issues the space presented, Ditec installed a Bosch DCNM-PS2 powering switch in the seats (as part of a hybrid star infrastructure) to provide power to the discussion units at a low noise level.
Bosch’s application software allowed the integrator to extend functions available to users voting on issues. Delegates in the main chamber can now share their viewpoint via parliamentary, for/against, multiple choice, opinion polling, and audience response voting options. Results are sent to PowerPoint and displayed in real-time on 80-in NEC flatscreens (previously non-professional monitors) and dedicated hallway displays via pre-loaded and imported scripts. Images for each display are generated from a computer located in the data processing centre managed by an AMX control system, and delivered by HDBaseT amplifiers and receivers. All content is generated and delivered to a distribution matrix to ensure that if a computer fails, another computer can be used promptly by an operator.
As well as personal access to voting results and choosing when they are displayed, the chairperson or operator overseeing proceedings has full control over the starting and stopping of voting at all times using the system. The identity of voters in Les Corts is confirmed via PINs, ID cards and biometric devices such as fingerprint readers. The software also allows parliament to save time by automatically assigning seats in the room.
To improve the efficiency of meetings, the system provides upgraded microphone and interpretation facilities, as well as delegate database and attendance management. Audio recordings of meetings can also be produced, and archived along with results. “The most important thing for the technology to achieve was really good speech intelligibility in every parliamentary seat, as well as ensuring each seat had improved performance when it came to voting capabilities, and the ability to easily receive all files necessary on topics being discussed,” says Torne. Parliamentarians have quick access to agenda information, participant data, web browsing and shared documents via each multimedia device.
The microphone system in the chamber has been enhanced with the addition of DCNM-HDMIC multimedia high directive microphones to every 7-in touchscreen unit in the room. Delegates now request the floor by pressing a button on their individual monitor, and multiple requests are queued on a waiting list by the central control unit. The chairperson has the ability to override members with a priority key which mutes all other microphones. A further 10-in monitor is integrated into the speaker’s table indicating the remaining time for a speech or debate by illuminating green, yellow or red managing time taken.
The project’s tight budget meant the upgrade to Les Corts had to be focused in key areas most in need of improvement. “It was a really big investment for the parliament taking into account the financial situation of the country, so they asked us to reduce cost in any way that would not affect the overall performance of the system.” Torne adds: “Citizens are well aware of the country’s situation so every single euro spent is under scrutiny.” For this reason Ditec integrated with the in-house sound system via a DCNM-APS audio powering switch, but also specified a full sound system for later, should parliament allocate the budget. “This meant extra effort for us, as the equalisation of the space was a little bit difficult, and more challenging than using a sound system with the proper DSP.”
The installation was followed by three weeks of training on its completion. “The first time the system was used by parliamentarians the votes of over 90 delegates were recorded. The chairman said the system is working perfectly, and they are very happy with it,” says Joan Carles Grau, operations manager at Ditec.
AMX NetLinx NX integrated controller and 7-in Modero S series touchpanel
Blackmagic HD-SDI scalers
Bosch DCN multimedia conference system
Extron HD 4K HDMI matrix switcher, scalers, HDBaseT transmitters & receivers
Matrox Monarch HD
NEC 80-in LED displays