The recent Mindstec and Page Automation installation at the Sandton offices of the Arbitration Foundation of South Africa represents the best of what AV technology has to offer: immediate user engagement, increased efficiencies and exciting new ways to connect people in real-time around the world.
It also shows a promising new vertical for future growth within the industry and is an exemplary case study of how innovative local partnerships can yield world-class results.
The Arbitration Foundation of Southern Africa (AFSA) was founded in 1996, as a joint venture between organised business and the legal and accounting professions. Based in Grindrod Tower in Sandton, with branches in a number of major centres throughout South Africa, it is the national leader in all types of appropriate dispute resolution. Offering arbitrations, mediations and a fully-administered dispute resolution service in comfortable surroundings, AFSA has always aimed to provide “a one-stop dispute resolution service” – but has recently found its ability to do so enhanced by the adoption of cutting-edge digital conferencing technology.
From the installer’s perspective – according to Conrad Engelbrecht, telecommunications sales executive at Page Automation, a leading technical supplier with 20 years’ experience of the AV industry – this entailed: “Providing a platform that would allow the client to share information, concepts or plans, and discuss and brainstorm ideas in either scheduled meetings, lectures and or during collaboration sessions that would include more specific tasks with relation to arbitration sessions. Specifically, the ability was required to hold recorded arbitration sessions where the defendant and accused are captured simultaneously along with a full room view, and the ability to bring in external participants regardless of geographic location, either local or international.”
In the context of a project where a two-by-two metre interactive video wall was brought in to replace projector technology, Advocate Michael Kuper S.C., director and chairman of AFSA, expands on the benefits of the technological overhaul.
“From our point of view, the [conference room solution] is multi-functional. Primarily, we run private court cases here – various forms of arbitration – and many of them are international in their scope. So you get a situation where a witness is in Europe or in China and the expense of bringing them here is extravagant, and so too in the case of experts – people who need to give evidence and who may be scattered around the world.
“So, not only does this give us the opportunity, by video link of high quality, to put the arbitrator, who is the private judge, and the parties in exactly the same visual position – it as though the witness is present, allowing for cross-questioning and the like – but, in addition, it provides us with a visual record after the event of what has happened.
“It also allows us to send the footage of that person giving evidence anywhere in the world. For example, I may have an expert in England, whom I don’t want to bring out at this stage – but I do want that expert to hear this witness testimony from China, for instance.”
He summarises the advantages of the new solution by saying, “It is the answer to all the problems of physical location.”
Nathan van Zyl, lead channel manager at Mindstec, describes the company as “a value-add distributor. Often what will happen, is that our resellers will bring end-users into our experience centre based on a specific requirement they have. This then allows us to get a deeper understanding of what their requirements are and then allows us to showcase the various options available to them This is often followed up by a visit to the end users office to understand the site conditions – such as the size of the rooms, lighting and network situations. From there, we can put together a working solution.
“In this case, one of the rooms was a large council chamber used for arbitrations. It’s an interchangeable 20-seater room, a factor which we had to take into consideration. We also had to take into account viewing ability for everyone in the room, from any particular angle based on how the seating was arranged for any particular session. The customer also specified that they required interactive and wireless technology for their presentations while engaging with the audience, such as the ability to bring up documents, digitally annotate over them, save these changes and send them out over email all from the same screen. This would be a requirement both during video conferencing or an internal meeting.
“Interactive Technology is one of our specialties,” Van Zyl explains. “Whether it’s a single static, interactive display or an interactive eighteen-panel video wall, we are able to manufacture customised interactive solutions to spec with our Wavex Touch and MTC video wall technology. In the case of AFSA, they also needed high-end camera and audio pick-up – and so the solution we put together is unique and rather revolutionary for the local market.”
Advocate Kuper underscores the necessity of having the highest-possible audio and visual quality in the arbitration room.
“You want the quality of the visual and the auditory material to be perfect. That’s hugely important – you need one hundred percent concentration on what’s being said. You must hear every word; if there’s a problem with the communication, it’s a huge irritation and a distraction.”
After extensive consultation between van Zyl and Engelbrecht, the latter explains that they ended up “addressing the requirements by utilising three PTZ high-definition cameras, as well as flush in-ceiling speakers for crystal-clear audio clarity evenly distributed across the room, multiple beam-tracking pendant microphones with 360⁰ coverage for even vocal pick-up and the supporting digital audio server for noise and echo cancellation.”
The hardware in the room is all brought together using Flipbox, a software-based solution that offers an all-in-one interactive collaboration experience, including video conferencing, in-room recording and the ability for the room to be used across multiple geographic locations for up to 200 meeting participants, regardless of what device they are using. Van Zyl comments that this platform “is easy-to-use and user-intuitive, and gives us the ability to customise the user interface depending on the client’s needs.”
He explains that this is in line with the philosophy that Mindstec Distribution adopts towards all projects. “We try make technology as simple as possible, all the time. The biggest driving force for the uptake of new technology in an environment is the ability for people to use it; there’s no point investing in new technology if it’s not going to be adopted by the user and make a difference in people’s lives.
“For example, everything in the new conference room is completely wireless – which means no more struggling with cables or connectors that don’t fit. The overall solution was put together with the products carefully selected for our distribution in this space. It is a blend of different components which allows us to put together a seamless end-to-end trusted solution. This is one of our big selling-points within our partner community: we build solutions with our partners that are scalable, with an open platform that has no limitations for future growth, addressing needs as and when they arise. This allows us to be flexible and extremely adaptive to the customers’ needs.”
Advocate Kuper concludes by reflecting on some other areas of AFSA’s operations that have benefited from the new conference room solution. “We do a lot of training, and we often have people using the room to give presentations and the like. The video wall also lends itself to this purpose very well – allowing all parties in the room to scrutinise the same document at the same time. From a presentation and training point of view, it’s fantastic.
“It also gives you instant access to anything you might need on the internet. It really is multi-functional, and I would think – or I would have thought – that something like it would be found in every arbitration facility in the world. But, in fact, this is really cutting-edge – even by international standards – and we are very proud to have it.”