Move to digital video brings many benefits to Ontario engineers’ body

It’s a predicament that must be experienced to be fully understood.

Even as the market was moving to digital format, Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO), found itself stuck with thousands of VHS tape recordings of license applicants.

As the licensing body for more than 73,000 engineers in the province, the organization typically conducts audio and video recorded interviews of engineers seeking accreditation.

These recordings help PEO officials review applicants’ credentials as well as the application process.

Toronto-based PEO realized a move to digital had become crucial to maintaining smooth workflow.

Tapes are destroyed after a license is issued, but given the volume of applicants there’s still a sizable library of VHS tapes.

A timely shift to a digital audio-video (AV) recording system developed by Future 2000 Systems Inc., a software development company in Mississauga, Ont., enabled the PEO to shrink its rapidly expanding VHS library.

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PEO records no less than 100 interviews each month, according to Eric Brown, director of information services at the organization.

“It came to a point where we were already double stacking the tape shelves we had,” he said.

Back in 2005, when the tape library supervisor had warned that the association might need an extra room soon, PEO decided it was time to search for an alternative recording method, Brown told

Other tape management issues also led PEO to investigate the digital recording option.

For example, the association needed a quicker process for locating and pulling out tapes.

Occasionally, PEO needed to retrieve a tape from storage to review its contents or to copy it. Manually sorting through the stacks of VHS tapes and making copies often tied up PEO staff.

VHS tapes were also prone to glitches that often remained undetected until after the recording process, said Brown. “There were times when the tapes would not be recording audio properly. We could not determine this until we did the playback.”

When such a problem occurred, interviewees often had to be recalled for another recording session.

Brown said PEO had previously done a project with Future 2000 Systems and decided to ask the company to design an AV recording system for PEO.

The task was completed, and the new system rolled out in 2006.

PEO’s storage and recording management challenges are similar to the problems faced by other businesses, government agencies and organizations that need to store large amounts of audio and video data, according to Dan Sukhu, vice-president, Future 2000 Systems.

For example, law enforcement and criminal justice agencies frequently conduct recordings of interrogations, probation appeal sessions as well as for jail cell monitoring purposes.

When it comes to recording sensitive interviews that can be reviewed by both parties, organizations face a host of issues, not least of which is the risk of costly litigation, he said.

Some of the common requirements for a recording system include:

  • High storage volume in minimal physical space — as each session generates a large file
  • Easy search and retrieval of each individual session  
  • Top quality audio
  • Strong security and privacy controls

Sukhu said the system created by his firm records files in MPEG4 format and allows the import of audio files in AVI, WMV and in any format supported by Windows Media Player. Cameras that come with the system are able to store up to 2GB of data.

“Our systems provide high-resolution digital recordings both for security and legal review purposes.”  

The system can also exist on a native Ethernet network, thus eliminating the need for specialized cabling and equipment, he said.

Since the AV files can be stored on desktop PC or a corporate network, the recordings take up a very little real estate. This also makes for easy management.

Rather than leafing through pages of documents to identify a particular recording and then physically searching for the VHS tape on the shelf, users can simply do a file search on their computers, said Sukhu.

Making copies of a recording has similarly been streamlined.

“From spending hours re-recoding a tape, the vault supervisor can now make copies of a recording in minutes with the simple click of a mouse button,” Sukhu said.

System requirements include 2.0 GHz or higher processor speeds, 2 GB memory, and 500 MB of hard drive space for application installation.

The system uses Direct Attached, Network Attached Storage or Storage Area Network (SAN) for video storage.

Databases supported by the system include: SQL; SQL Express; and MS Access.

Brown of PEO said the association has decided to retain existing VHS tapes until they need to be destroyed. The association routinely erases tape recordings when an applicant has been licensed.

Now that PEO is able to store its store its interviews in the organization’s storage area network, Brown is looking forward to a much smaller tape library.

“For the first time our library has actually started to shrink,” he said.

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