Searchable Webcasts bring on-demand video

Gary Arlen

"Injury and Illness Recordkeeping Training," an Occupational Safety and Health Administration seminar, has been seen by more than 15,000 people ? mostly human resources and administrative personnel at companies affected by its requirements ? since its debut Dec. 12, 2001.

The price has averaged just over $1 per viewing, well below the costs for printing and shipping a printed instruction book. Moreover, the two-and-half hour video course is fully searchable, allowing users to find and view the sections that deal specifically with their current needs.

It's another example of video-on-demand access. In this case, it has enabled OSHA to deliver a mandated service at a fraction of the cost of conventional systems. Moreover, thousands of people have been able to tune into the presentation via desktop broadband connections ? far more than sat in the auditorium for the original live presentation.

The much-maligned and over-hyped world of Internet streaming video and audio is finding a home in government agencies, ranging from the Department of Homeland Security to a growing roster of military and intelligence organizations.

Recent independent research by Texas-based Interactive Media Strategies Inc. concluded that federal agencies are embracing Internet streaming video at a faster rate than corporate customers.

In addition to training and on-demand instruction, real-time webcasts and downloaded streaming video productions are allowing managers to deliver timely reports to staffs spread across time zones and grade-levels.

Vodium, the DC-based streaming media company (www.vodium.com) that has developed integrated search technology to enhance its streaming media services, showcases the OSHA project as its marquee success story. The webcast, produced for about $15,000, was used to introduce OSHA's first change since the early 1980s in its illness reporting requirements. Hence, the nuances of the process as well as the fundamental instructions were considered vital to thousands of users.

By attaching a text transcript and audio-visual support (such as PowerPoint presentations) to its presentations, the Vodium system lets users hone in on specific topics when they view or re-view a show.

The tagged transcripts are usually created using the same technology as television's "closed captioning" system. That approach allows viewers to seek out specific topics of importance and find the appropriate video segment, which is linked to the transcript.

Vodium developed a "video to text synchronization" process that captures every word that is spoken ? even at events, such as a recent Homeland Security conference, with dozens of presenters. Vodium's search system can also handle searches in multiple languages within a program.

Karl Williams, Vodium's chief operating officer and co-founder, contends that government agencies are looking for ways "to communicate sophisticated messages and changes that are not easily transmitted [just] by talking heads."

"Our communications platform delivers all of this in one interface. A viewer can get educated and have all the background information at his fingertips," Williams says. He contends that as the library of streamable video programs grows, agencies will incorporate this resource into a "knowledge management platform."

State, local and federal agencies have been tiptoeing into the streaming video world for several years. The FBI has implemented Akamai Technologies Inc.'s EdgeSuite and other components into its widespread streaming initiatives.

In Hillsborough, Fla., the county government has used streaming technology from Virage, an Autonomy Group subsidiary, to create a central digital archive of local government proceedings; the set-up automates a formerly manual workflow and provides real time access to content. Hillsborough officials say that they can track down records ? including items from the growing video library ? for numerous local agencies.

Among Vodium's latest webcasts was a customized training program for the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management. That led to a larger Interior Department project reaching 70,000 employees ? scattered at hundreds of locations ? who were able to access, via desktop on-demand systems, visual instructions and updated information appropriate to their needs.

Enhancing and Simplifying the Process

Webcasts and other streaming video programs are finding a niche as travel restrictions and archival needs extend more deeply into agency operations. The searchability function becomes vital as terabytes of programming are stored. Also critical are secure front ends that can restrict access to those growing hordes of digitized content.

In most cases, system integrators, such as Lockheed Martin Corp. and BearingPoint Inc., working on behalf of their government clients or other contractors, are establishing security barriers around the video content.

For example, BearingPoint recently allied with Vodium on behalf of Boeing Co., which was preparing a package of material for the Army's acquisition of Future Combat System technology.

In another project, DARPA video-recorded its acquisition meetings, which are now available for review by authorized viewers from a searchable video archive.

Since its birth nearly a decade ago, webcasting and streaming media have confronted a variety of hurdles ? from bandwidth barriers to interface obfuscation. The postage-stamp sized screen segments and the herky-jerky displays of early programs turned off many potential users. Moreover, vendors acknowledge that the sales cycles are long and slow since the technology is still relatively new to many agency users.

Moreover the security controversies about Internet music and video in the consumer sector invariably lapse into concerns about threats that unauthorized viewers will tap into government video files.

Nonetheless, the growing use and awareness of Internet video ("IP TV," or Internet Protocol Television, as the public sector calls it) is fueling the expansion of these services. The new tools to pinpoint pertinent content and drill down into additional video resources makes streaming video even more valuable in a resource-constrained environment.

In other words, searchable webcasts truly offer a new way to look at your work.

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications Inc., a Bethesda, Md., research firm. His e-mail address is GaryArlen@columnist.com

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