Beginning in the summer of 1994 the House of Commons undertook an ambitious project to upgrade its integrated audio, video and data communications network called the OASIS Network. This project achieved a state of the art Wide Area Network (WAN) on Parliament Hill and Local Area Network (LAN) capabilities for Members of the House of Commons and workers within the House Administration. The new network design maximized the investment made in the mid 1980's in a broadband, coaxial cable based network, which was installed throughout the Parliamentary Precinct, and provided the House with a network that has the highest degree of scalability, modularity and flexibility.
The availability of a high-speed data communications infrastructure has enabled the provision of House-wide access to application servers, information resource servers and external communication gateways, and the development of exciting and powerful new working tools and services to assist Members in gaining access to and manipulating the ever-increasing flow of information vital to their day to day business requirements.
In 1995, two new services were introduced to take advantage of these technological innovations in the publishing and distribution of parliamentary publications: PubNet and the Parliamentary Internet Service. This article describes these new services.
In February 1995, the PubNet Service was introduced to Members of the House of Commons and their staff following a one-year pilot project. The service provides Members with electronic access to parliamentary (and other) publications using the Interleaf WorldView text-retrieval software. From their PC, users may consult a wide collection of documents in a manner that allows them to search and extract information and to print excerpts from their local printer.
PubNet was introduced at the House in order to support two key business objectives:
(1) To support the reduction in offset print costs by allowing users to view publications on-screen and to print on demand;
(2) To respond to the growing demand from users for electronic documents which provide more useful features than the print documents. From their personal computer and on a daily basis, users may access a growing collection of publications, including: the Hansard, the Projected Order of Business, the Order Paper and Notice Paper, the Votes and Proceedings, the Committee Evidence and Minutes and the Schedule of Committee Meetings. Also, in partnership with the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (OAG), PubNet provides on-screen access to the Reports of the OAG at the same time as they are released and in a manner that allows the user to carry out organized text searches, excerpt passages (cut and paste) and to print what they need locally.Further partnerships with other government departments are also being explored.
PubNet is delivered through the use of WorldView software -- a product which is composed of two main modules: WorldView (the publications display and text-search software (MS Windows and UNIX) and WorldView Press (the FULCRUM based software used to compile collections and to index words).
Because the House of Commons uses the Interleaf Desktop Publishing software to produce the publications in camera-ready format for printing, the choice of the Interleaf WorldView software to distribute documents on the Hill (PubNet) presented a cost-effective and integrated solution.
Pubnet is an internal service to the House of Commons, for users linked to the OASIS network. No outside access to the OASIS network is permitted for security reasons.
In 1995, the House of Commons, in partnership with the Senate and the Library of Parliament, also implemented a node, or access point on the Internet, appropriately called Parliamentary Internet Parlementaire <URL:http://www.parl.gc.ca> and <URL:gopher://gopher.parl.gc.ca>.
The Internet node has made it possible for the House of Commons, the Senate and the Library of Parliament to provide non-partisan information services over the Internet directed at a number of client groups, including the general public, libraries and research organizations, government departments, special interest groups, and schools and universities. Whereas PubNet is intended for the distribution of parliamentary publications for internal clients at the House of Commons, Internet publishing has been implemented specifically for external publics.
In June of 1995, the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons gave the Information Technologies Directorate a mandate to proceed with the use of the Internet for the delivery of information services, and in particular, for the electronic publishing of all official House of Commons publications. The transcripts of the proceedings of the Committees of the House, known as Committee Evidence, became available on the Internet World Wide Web service beginning in June 1995. Hansard became available on the Internet with the first fall sitting of the House on September 18, 1995. The House intends to make the remainder of the parliamentary publications available on the Internet by the end of the 1995-96 fiscal year.
A selection of reference and educational documents has also been provided on the Parliamentary Internet Parlementaire, such as lists and directories of Members of the House of Commons and of Senators; the party standings in both houses of Parliament; visitor information; and an "On-line Tour of Canada's Parliament", which includes general information about our parliamentary system of government, a glossary of parliamentary procedure, and files on the history of the Parliament Buildings.
Resources on the Parliamentary Internet Parlementaire make use of the two most popular applications on the Internet today: the Gopher and the World Wide Web. Because tools are available which make it possible to devise automated solutions for converting and posting documents for distribution on a World Wide Web server, all the official parliamentary publications will be made available on the World Wide Web.
As with PubNet, an integrated solution which utilizes existing systems and resources was found to distribute the official publications of the House on Internet. Interleaf's Cyberleaf software is being used to convert documents in Interleaf formats to the HTML format required for the World Wide Web. Common gateway interface computer programs (cgi scripts) have been developed to automate the posting of the converted files to the appropriate directories on the server and to create some of the information on the home pages on the fly.
Internet is one of a number of alternative technologies being examined for the electronic distribution of House documents. For example, whereas Internet distribution is proposed for distribution of current files, CD-ROM technologies are being investigated for retrospective files of House publications. Microfiche versions of House documents will likely be produced for distribution to depository libraries that cannot currently take advantage of on-line access. In fact, the House is currently developing an overall distribution strategy to identify formats and technologies appropriate for the distribution of House publications to various client groups, using print, microforms and a variety of electronic media. The House recognizes the need to proceed in an orderly manner within an overall framework that meets its business objectives, but also takes into account the needs of its client groups and their ability to absorb these new technologies. Particular attention is being paid to the needs of the depository libraries, given their crucial role in providing free public access to the publications of the House of Commons.
The PubNet and Internet Services were initiated to support the key business objectives of the House of Commons. Specifically, to reduce overall volume and costs of printing and to provide timely and dynamic access to business information.
The printing of parliamentary publications represents an important cost to the House of Commons. Due in large part to the introduction of information technology to the publishing processes, print volumes for parliamentary publications have been reduced by 60% since 1992/1993, from 169.5 million impressions annually to a forecast 66.7 million impressions in 1996/1997.
The emergence of digital media in the printing and publishing businesses has blurred the boundaries which separate activities traditionally associated with the creation, manipulation, production and distribution of printed publications. For example, parliamentary publications that, in the past, would have been printed offset in large volumes, are now displayed on-screen and printed on demand.
The obvious benefit of these services is the reduction in the printing, postage, distribution and storage costs associated with paper formats. Of equal importance, however, is the House of Commons' larger purpose -- that of providing Canadians with meaningful access to the parliamentary process and to support parliamentarians by providing them with dynamic access to business information. The PubNet and Internet Services support that purpose and are business tools which provide timely and widespread access to parliamentary information in formats that allow more dynamic use of the information. The House has also created the opportunity for greater interaction between the parliamentary community and the constituency it represents.
Moreover, the PubNet and Internet services support the business objectives of the House in a manner that leverages the existing resources and systems. These services were introduced by realigning existing resources within the House. The day to day business process required to support the electronic distribution of the publications has also been integrated at no additional cost to the House. The result, however, has been the dramatic change in the way the user may access and make use of the information.
The House of Commons has implemented the PubNet and Internet services within short time-frames to support clearly stated business objectives. Those objectives will remain valid as the House pushes to lower paper volumes to reduce its operating costs and minimize environmental impacts. The electronic publishing services will continue to evolve and, in the future, will provide even greater value-added to the end user. Both PubNet and Internet have in place mechanisms for feedback from the client in order to measure the usefulness of the information and the way it is presented.
R.J. Desramaux, "Recent Technology Innovations in the Publishing and Distribution of House of Commons' Publications," Vol. 2, no. 2.1E (fall/automne 1995). <URL:http://www.usask.ca/library/gic/v2n2/desramauxe/desramauxe.html>
R.J. Desramaux Director General Information Technologies House of Commons Ottawa, Canada For more information contact: Brenda Laporte Manager Electronic Printing Services Parliamentary Publications and Broadcasting Directorate House of Commons Ottawa, Canada telephone: 613 992 7449 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org