On Wednesday, 30 April 2014, Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chairperson Pansy Tlakula officially opened the National Results Operation Centre (ROC) at the Tshwane Events Centre, just west of the capital city. The opening event was attended by a host of dignitaries including diplomats, civil organisation leaders, international observers, political party representatives and, of course, President Jacob Zuma.
While the 25 million people who registered to vote geared up to do their part, most would be unaware of the processes behind capturing and displaying the votes at the ROC. Obviously, this was no small feat and required much planning and technology to get off the ground.
One company that has been heavily involved in the leader board aspects of the national elections since 2000 is local technical production specialists Lucidity, headed by Paul Newman. Technical production manager Sean Moss had a huge hand in bringing their services to the IEC to fruition.
“The elections [results displays] have, in the past, always been quite rudimentary despite the IEC progressively pushing for a more advanced setup”, says Newman. “In 2011 at the municipal elections we tested a new system that departed from the previous analogue system to LED and projection. The projection aspect was two small screens with the national results LED board in the middle.”
Moss explains “Previously the way it was set up was they would have nine PCs that would be linked up to their SQL database. The SQL would then capture the data and feed it through to a custom built application which would then read that data and convert it to an analogue signal. That signal would get sent down a line to the older LED boards.”
This legacy system has been used since 1994 but brought problems such as difficulty in viewing the results at the bottom of the longer screens, such as the Western Cape, which had more parties than other provinces. Plainly put, the system was antiquated.
For the 2014 elections the IEC was convinced a new digital system was the way forward and asked Lucidity to come up with something unique and different to what they had previously provided. Lucidity then pitched a handful of options for the IEC to choose from and finally a Dataton Watchout-driven system was decided upon with a similar screen configuration as the 2011 municipal elections, albeit on a larger scale and implementing a large LED screen while doing away with the old information boards.
“The development and the behind-the-scene happenings required, to enable us to do what we wanted to do was quite immense”, says Newman. “We spent a couple of months developing software which enabled us to grab information from the IEC and display it on the screens.”
Custom screens were required so Lucidity employed the services of manufacturer Showtex out of Dubai to construct the two 12.5m x 7m screens which would ultimately flank the portrait-orientated LED screen in the centre. The LED screen was supplied by AV Systems through Lucidity and measured 7m x 4m.
The critical nature of information delivery required full redundancy on projectors and servers, and in choosing Watchout as opposed to other media servers Moss says, “There are a lot of media servers that can do a lot of different jobs, and they’re all great, but what I needed was to be able to read data in three different ways. So, what we were able to do with Watchout was – and, again it came down to the IEC’s security protocols – take in live DVI feeds, take in feeds via the network for the maps, and in addition to that I needed to receive realtime feed off of an image server.”
Lucidity was granted access to the IEC server database located in the venue in order to pull data from there for display on the screens. The way this was accomplished was through Lucidity’s custom built SQL server which interfaced with the IEC server, read the data, generated a graphic representation and presented three individual DVI feeds representing each screen. Concurrently, an image server ran alongside the SQL server which took an image of the screens every ten seconds, bringing a further level of redundancy in the event of a failure. PENMAC, Dataton Premium Partners in South Africa, were on site throughout the elections for technical support and backup. According to Newman, PENMAC’s support was key in choosing Dataton Watchout for the ROC.
For further info about Dataton products in southern Africa, please contact Malcolm Finlay at 011-4762066 orMalcolm@penmac.co.za.