When you think about government buildings, the first thing that comes to mind is likely to be an impressive assembly or parliament hall equipped with sophisticated technology that can enable large groups of people to communicate in multiple languages.
All true, but what really sets the government sector apart when it comes to AV installations is the huge variety of spaces and their functions – how they’re used, what technology is required, and who’s using it. And this can prove something of a challenge.
Considerations in Government AV
That means there are a number of things to consider when making the decision to invest in AV. Government agencies are also unique in how they work – not least in the long buying times and the often highly structured nature of the sector. Put simply, it means there tends to be a lot of people involved in decision-making.
In recent years, there’s also been a trend toward increased transparency, with the wider communities expecting to be informed of any decisions. With that in mind, it’s important to offer solutions that are able to meet these changing needs and that allow for new features that can make life ever easier for the user.
Plus, these solutions must be suitable for people who, often, are not technically minded and who might not have AV/IT support on hand.
Security, of course, is a major concern – both the audio within a room and how content will be streamed and stored.
Finally, budgets will always have a major impact in the government sector. So AV solutions that represent a long-term investment, offering robustness, reliability and a long lifespan, will be a sensible choice.
Solutions to Government AV Challenges
Across the sector, wired solutions are most often chosen for chambers that require extensive voting, agendas, speech time and other management capabilities. However, many preliminary meetings, working-group sessions and consultations take place before the gavel is ever lifted. These meetings range from formal to casual and might take place in historic hearing rooms, contemporary multi-purpose spaces, or even at off-site locations. It is here that a wireless conference system can deliver the flexibility, reliability and connectivity that these situations require, all while preserving the aesthetics of the building and minimizing any impact on its structure.
With rooms being used by different numbers of people and for different purposes, flexible seating and scalable conferencing systems are often a must. In these situations, consistency is key; government organizations benefit from a single system for any meeting or any room in the vicinity. These systems also have to be quick and easy to set up, because everyone – from local political leaders, to event managers, to administrators – has to feel comfortable operating them.
Wireless again ticks all the boxes here, and, as an added benefit, it is cable-free which encourages natural interactions between participants and the ability to move about.
Of course, wireless systems also have to be robust. A common concern with wireless is that it won’t be as reliable as a wired setup. Because government agencies frequently have to deal with mission-critical events, it is essential that the solution chosen is able to cope with such demands. If your agency is hosting important speakers, for example, or if it’s inviting the community to share ideas and opinions, any system must work effectively every time.
And because many government buildings are situated in major cities, wireless systems must contend with crowded spectrum conditions. So when specifying a system, it’s important to look at not only its ability to select clear channels, but also its potential capacity to scan the spectrum to make sure there’s no potential interference – and, crucially, to adapt quickly if there is.
When it comes to robustness, another aspect to consider is battery life. Some meetings in the government sector can go on for long periods; so, systems with long-lasting batteries which can be monitored remotely are beneficial. Organizers want to be sure there won’t be any interruptions to their meetings and events – therefore, look for technology that offers longevity and reliability.
Budgetary constraints are hitting many agencies, so what could be perceived as ‘non-essential’ services can be unpopular. With that in mind, it’s important to look at the cost-efficiency of any technology installed. Not only will robust and reliable technology last for many more years, but user uptake also will be higher because of a consistent user experience that aids meetings, not hinders them. And, of course, there will be fewer tech support callouts when technology just works.
The sheer variety of uses and situations in government entities means that connectivity is another key challenge. For example, in addition to a wireless conference system, additional wireless microphones might be required if there is a large town-hall meeting, or if the public is invited to an event. In such cases, microphones will have to be available for audience members to ask questions, or for a presenter to comment on charts or slides. In these cases, it’s essential for the system to be compatible with the microphones.
Similarly, government organizations are increasingly requesting the ability to record sessions and stream meetings externally. That means any system will have to connect easily to the video conferencing set-up and the recording/streaming equipment.
Although many government proceedings are public, there are also closed – door sessions that often deal with confidential and sensitive information. Therefore, the wireless signal must be encrypted to prevent eavesdropping by those outside the meeting room. I’d also advise keeping up with software updates to ensure that systems operate at their optimum level for longer, while also allowing users to benefit from any additional features introduced.
Like many other sectors, government agencies are facing a number of challenges in ensuring their employees can communicate and make effective decisions. The often mission-critical status of this work – alongside the need to be transparent in some cases, yet private in others – is an added element to consider when investing in technology. Being able to trust that an installed wireless system is reliable, flexible, robust and secure can be a huge benefit in aiding decision-making, encouraging interaction and offering long-term solutions to meet user needs.
A version of this post appeared in Sound & Communications February 2019 issue.