For its election coverage, the SABC needed an election result system that presented several layers of information concurrently, allowed for training of reporters and make analysis easy, accurate and fast. Enter arivia.kom's Computer Foundation.
Broadcasting during the elections was a testing time for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), because its reporting quality commitments are closely scrutinised and evaluated.
To allow for this and to ensure quick and accurate reporting on election day, the SABC required an election result system (ERS) that could show and compare results spatially (ie, on a map), for the 2004 and previous elections.
In addition, the SABC wanted census data results of 1996 and 2001 spatially and alpha-numerically represented and the system had to integrate with the Independent Electoral Commission's (IEC) result database.
The design of the system also had to facilitate quick access over a wide area network (WAN), easy integration with other systems, user-friendly access for journalists who have limited computer experience and it had to work first time, with no beta testing, on the set date of 14 April 2004.
arivia.kom's Computer Foundation (CF) division designed and maintained a comprehensive geographic information system (GIS) for the SABC to analyse and display election results. Johan van Heerden, managing director of CF, says the first challenge was to represent more than one 'thematic' on the map at the same time.
Under normal circumstances, for instance, one would assign colours to the different political parties and colour in a province with the colour of the winning party.
However, since a province can only be given one colour, what does one do to show the 2004 election result and the 1999 election result on the map simultaneously? The problems are compounded when the customer demands that apart from the two results, it must also be shown on the map whether the winning party did better in 2004 than it did in 1999.
CF overcame these challenges by using additional symbols on each province.
A further challenge was the fact that the SABC required that demographic data and old election results be directly related to the 2004 voting districts. Since the census data and previous election results both were based on areas vastly different from the new voting districts, the other data had to be reworked to make a comparison possible.
Using established GIS methods, CF collated, converted and presented new and old data from the IEC, Stats SA and in-house information sources. The system allowed the SABC to compare results to previous years - down to voting district. In addition, demographic data from the 2001 and 1996 censuses was converted to voting district level to aid journalists and political scientists in their quest to interpret results faster than other broadcasters. Moreover, the demographic data and voting district sizes and locations changed continuously during the development process and every time it changed, the whole conversion process had to start anew. This continued up to two weeks before the elections took place.
But CF faced an even bigger challenge, says Van Heerden. The SABC wanted a system allowing it to rehearse broadcasting of the results. CF developed a projection model that simulated the election, forecasting realistic results per voting district and this enabled the SABC to train its people in a simulated environment. During previous elections the SABC also requested a simulation system but previous contractors could not overcome the technical complexity of such a system.
"We are proud to say that in spite of all these challenges, CF delivered a system that faultlessly performed on election day and in the days that followed," says Van Heerden in conclusion.
For more information contact Sian Hong, Computer Foundation, 012 644 3409, email@example.com