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.