The federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) is looking to consolidate its telecommunications contracts as part of a wider move to replace cost-driven ICT decisions with a holistic strategy.
The department manages quarantine and biosecurity issues with some 4500 staff in 250 offices across the country and 10 overseas posts.
It spends about $40 million a year on ICT, including projects, but until last year, had business units making most ICT decisions and striking ICT deals.
“[Technology] was not managed by an IT group,” chief information officer Graham Gathercole told iTnews.
“The various divisions decided what sort of phones and communications they would use, for example.”
In the CIO saddle for a little over 10 months, Gathercole found he was appointed to an agency where cost had been the main driver for technology deployment and strategy.
He planned to introduce the “discipline of a tier-one agency” to what he described as a tier-three agency, with the goal of eventually bringing Fisheries to a tier-two level.
By the end of the year, Gathercole planned to issue a request for tender, consistent with AGIMO’s telecommunications panel arrangements, to replace various deals with Telstra and Optus.
He was particularly keen to improve collaboration and video-conferencing throughout DAFF’s dispersed network by rolling out Voice over IP, dynamic call centres and telepresence capabilities.
“We are nowhere near the standard of communications we require,” he said.
“We have a lot of ADSL2 and we have a substantial infrastructural remediation program on various types of connections and infrastructure happening right across the country at least until the end of the financial year.”
DAFF is also working to consolidate and stabilise ICT infrastructure, centralising its Exchange email servers across the country and virtualising its entire Wintel back-end.
The department will move its collective data holdings to a centralised data warehouse, replacing various islands of Cognos with a Teradata box and substantial amount of storage.
Almost half of DAFF’s annual ICT spend currently goes towards a five-year HP managed information systems contract, worth $96 million.
Gathercole said he was working with HP to adopt cloud computing “as a back-up”.
“That seems like a pretty good foray into the cloud,” he said, noting that HP had yet to work out how it would price such a service.
Continue to page two for DAFF’s security and IT staffing strategy.
Gathercole joined DAFF from Medicare and the Department of Human Services, where he spent the past decade in ICT infrastructure management roles, noting that "it was time for a change".
“I felt [Department of Human Services CIO] Gary Sterrenberg needed to do his job unencumbered without the influence of long-termers like myself," Gathercole said.
He looked to bolster the division's capability, bringing Debbie Lutter in from the Department of Human Services to head up strategy and architecture; Bob Smith, formerly of Defence, to handle applications; and Ash Atteia from Customs and Border Protection, to manage infrastructure services.
His IT division now includes three branches with a shade under 200 staff, including contractors.
IT security crackdown
Gathercole's arrival at DAFF has brought with it a crackdown on the use of USB drives.
"Staff have been given a moratorium to the end of the year on using USB drives," Gathercole said.
"After that I will be severely restricting their use."
Gathercole has also implemented the top four DSD recommendations for reducing cyber attacks and developed social media guidelines to be observed by all DAFF personnel.
DAFF has been allocated the lion's share of $144.3 million from the most recent Federal Budget for maintaining core biosecurity operations and "reforming Australia's biosecurity system".
The funding explicitly sets out that it can be partially used to "commence urgent infrastructure work on information and communications technology to support current biosecurity operations".
The department is working on several remote diagnostics projects to enable departmental staff at Australia's borders to collaborate with lab-based scientists and diagnosticians on biosecurity issues.
The projects are aimed at speeding up decision-making capabilities at the border.
Under one project, 13 "real time" cameras have been installed at regional offices and laboratories to capture data and transmit it via the telecommunications network.
DAFF is also trialling five mobile remote diagnostic units, which effectively consist of USB-powered microscopes, a notebook computer and mobile wireless broadband connection.
The mobile trial will enable quarantine staff to make decisions at the frontline of biosecurity work.
Real-time analysis is expected to reduce demurrage fees — incurred when despatch doesn't occur on schedule — and costs associated with transport and storage at container terminals and quarantine-approved premises.