City could stream video by 2010

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Melissa Reeder, Northfield’s Information Technology Department manager, has set a goal to begin uploading streaming videos of the City Council meetings to the Internet in 2010, so long as there is money in the budget for the $8,000-$10,000 upgrade.

With streaming videos, image files flow to a video player on a Web site in a continuous stream and play when they arrive. Before streaming technology, a Web user would have to download an entire file before watching a video, which could take a long time. Reeder referenced Burnsville’s Web site as an example of a nearby community that uses streaming video.

northfieldcitywebsite2
Courtesy of www.ci.northfield.mn.us

Using streaming video on the Northfield’s Web site is one of several goals Reeder is striving to meet in order to improve city services and increase organization of the city’s files.

Courtesy of www.ci.northfield.mn.us
Melissa Reeder

“Thank goodness the city clerk has been here for as long as she has, otherwise it would be very hard to search for information in our files,” Reeder said, laughing.

Part of the technology upgrade would include digitizing more of the city’s documents and entering them into a new system that makes finding, using and sharing the documents easier.

With streaming videos, Reeder said, the system would allow viewers to use a “clickable” agenda. The user would click the agenda item and the video would instantly begin to play at the appropriate spot.

Before she can upload streaming videos, Reeder needs to help the city change its agreement with PC Solutions Inc., which hosts the city’s Web site, or find a new company to be the host. The current agreement with the Twin Cities-based PC Solutions does not allow streaming videos to appear on the site, she said. The contract can be changed or ended at any time.

In addition to adding features to the city’s Web site, Reeder said she would hope the council would approve a redesign of the entire site. The current site launched in 2005 and has been revised slightly over the years. There are some things that cannot be adjusted without a complete overhaul, however.

“There site we have now is very narrow, so there’s a lot of real estate for information on either side,” Reeder said, referring to the fact that most of the Web site’s content fills the space in the middle of a Web browser window but doesn’t stretch into the side margins.

Reeder is planning on calling other cities nearby to find out how much those governments paid for their Web sites. She is unsure how much Northfield would likely spend. She said she believed money from the cable television franchise fee revenues could help pay for streaming video upgrade. Franchise fee revenue can fund any public expense, but usually funds communications-related expenses. Money from the general fund would likely pay for the document-sharing technology, she said.

Northfield’s public access television station, which airs the City Council meetings, received $30,000 in franchise fee revenue in 2007. In that year, the city collected $183,034 total from franchise fees. Reeder said money would likely continue to go toward the public access station to fund governmental programming even if videos of the meeting are available on the city’s Web site.

“We like to get the information out there using as many different means as possible,” Reeder said.

Next step: How will the City Council tap into the Cable TV Fund, which has about $766,000, in 2009?

9 thoughts on “City could stream video by 2010”

  1. This is most excellent news, and I know that Melissa will champion it, and make it happen.

    What is somewhat discouraging, is that we spent a ton of bucks (I believe Griff once mentioned $85,000) on the cities website, and within 2 years, we are finding that it is limiting and not meeting the cities needs.

    That is kind of scary, especially with all the time that was supposedly taken to research the needs of the departments, etc. etc.

    I believe all of this occurred before Melissa came to our fair city.

    I can only hope that much of that $85K was spent on infrastructure, and not so much on paying the programmers to program and build the site.

    I will tell you however, that sites that expand and contract to the users viewable area are a bit harder to design initially, and make look good across multiple platforms.

    I am also wondering if the City should look more toward a content management system such as InterWoven Teamsite or one of the others that is incredibly easy to design sites and implement.

    We have used that product in our company, and with minimal training, we now have the business customers managing their own site, developing, managing, and publishing content on a daily basis. IT is now 99% out of the day to day operations of the site.

    Document imaging systems are another area that the insurance company I work for is enhancing to improve workflow, and produce a cost savings. The scanning and indexing of documents really does not take all that long once the data “cabinets” are set up. Systems such as FileNet and others work pretty good, and a very good scanning and indexing station runs about $25,000 to start… primarily for a high speed, dual sided, scanner and the necessary software licenses.

    I would urge Melissa to reach out to some of the larger companies, the colleges, and other entities in the area that already use some of these technologies. Even the Hospital and Allina clinic have fully computerized their systems, and have gone nearly paperless with everything.

    There are many ways to do this. I would however like to see the city try to keep the investment locally, but ensure that the local vendors can provide the same quality of service at a fair price. (this may prove difficult, and local resources may only be able to provide a support role. Many of these types of systems come from large companies that do not have a local presence.)

    I am truly curious to see what the city’s request for proposal looks like for this new infrastructure, and wonder if Melissa will attempt to get a group of IT individuals together (a task force) to help her vet all of the proposals?

    It will be interesting, and it will be great fun to “watch”. Streaming, as well as document imaging and management are very cool technologies.

    It is nice to see someone in a position that can pull the city into being a leader of technology implementation instead of a follower that is always trying to “get current”.

  2. An electronic doc system will truly be exciting to implement. Bonnie gives me too much credit. IT will provide the technical infrastructure and implement per say, but without a collaborative effort from all departments, this type of project will not be successful. For example, Deb Little our City Clerk will be invaluable with her insight on internal versus public documents. Some tasks are straight forward – scanning invoices to reduce paper in finance. It’s much more of a challenge to setup a system where the document is created, routed for changes, routed for final approval and then archived only one time and available to all the appropriate people (on the web) for read access. It will require re-engineering processes and habits – two things that take much more effor than installing a computer or server 🙂

  3. Melissa,

    Has there been any discussion of getting the city water bill system to a point where at least they could take a credit card payment in the office?

    I know that the city would take a percentage loss on the transaction by doing so.

    Has there been anyone other than myself asking about this?

    It would be so much easier to be able to call in my reading, and pay my bill over the phone.

    This is one of the only payments I still have to make by physical check.

    Just curious if it is being looked at.

    Thanks!

  4. I strongly agree with the statement from the posting:

    “Reeder said money would likely continue to go toward the public access station to fund governmental programming even if videos of the meeting are available on the city’s Web site.”

    The money for the comes from what is essentially a tax levied on cable television services, a tax paid by the local cable television subscribers. Satellite customers and off-air viewers pay no such tax to support local government/access programming. This money should be spent on providing services to the citizens who are taxed to raise the funds – the cable TV subscribers – and other services, such as streaming video, should be paid for out of other sources of revenue.

    I would have no problem with content created using public access resources (cameras & editing equipment, staff) being streamed out to other citizens, but the cable access fees should not have to pay for that competitive form of distribution (streaming). Making cable television less competitive cost-wise relative to other content delivery methods (internet/IP, satellite, off-air) by taxing it and then spending the money elsewhere will eventually ‘kill the goose that laid the golden egg’.

  5. Given our current budget issues we should not pursue any ventures that fall in to the ” nice to have” category.

    This would be one of them.

  6. John – Kathleen McBride (Finance Director) and I have looked into this. The new finance system has an optional module to allow for the payment online interface. However, we need to convert our manual read meters to radio read. This process has been happening, although I don’t know the exact conversion schedule. What I do know is there is no method for a manual water meter read (at least in the standard finance programming). In addition, credit card payments (both online and over the phone) come with service charges. Web sites must be secure and we all know that VISA, MasterCard, etc. have processing fees that would need to be absorbed somehow. Until the scales of mass are flipped in our favor, it is not financially viable . . . yet.

    Just one more thing – with the citizen survey portion of the Fiber Optic Feasibility study, I added a question about online utility bill payments so we could get a feel how many people would pay with this method. The study is due for completion in a month or so.

  7. I should be a bit more clear — the City accepts credit card payments in the Finance department. Online credit card payment is a whole different challenge involving additional processing fees and web site security. Sorry for the confusion on previous post.

  8. It would be great to keep the cable fund reserve to incorporate communications/technology into the new library and remodeled city hall make them truly integrated and provide public access to city/county/state government via webcam conferencing. It would be wonderful for people to be able to talk with their county commissioners or participate in a meeting via video feed from here.

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