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Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources toting Tablets, improving WiFi services, and using Softphone Telephony

Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has been one of the forefront leaders of digital transformation in the nation.  

With over 4,000 staff working in offices, airports, malls, ports, labs, and abattoirs, it is essential that the department look for ways to digitise their processes- so as to have better control of their data.

OpenGov reached out to Graham Gathercole, CIO, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Australia, to learn how he is dealing with the ever increasing digitisation of government and how he is working to improve service delivery with the use of ICT.

Optimising Service Delivery

“Over the last 18 months, the Department has made a concerted effort to streamline and improve business processes through better use of technology and tools. This project, known as Service Delivery Modernisation (SDM), has delivered significant benefits to the department and our stakeholders,” stated Mr. Gathercole.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is an organisation which historically relied heavily on paper, including processing close to a million separate lodgements of cargo documents every year.

Recently, they have been working to lift the level of automation within departmental processing, and simplify and streamline the process of importing goods to Australia.

Their new Cargo Online Lodgement System (COLS) has been a big ‘win-win’ for importers and government. Moving lodgements online has cut red tape, reducing paperwork and handling of information—leading to reduced costs for importers, who can now track their progress online.

Mr. Gathercole emphasised that continuous improvement in service delivery requires ongoing upgrade and renewal of ageing desktop hardware.

How Tablets are Transforming work at the Department

The department is nearing completion of a project to renew our desktop fleet and, to date, 2117 tablets have been rolled out across the department to officers in a range of roles, services and locations, including inspections for air and sea cargo imports, food, plant and animal imports and exports and operational audits.

“Almost 1500 of these tablets have been deployed to our officers in remote and regional sites,” exclaimed Mr. Gathercole,

“With the rollout of tablets, and upgrades to our network infrastructure, the department has gone from goods clearance in 24 to 48 hours to a release within 15 minutes, if the inspection requirements are straightforward.”

This is a massive productivity gain when we look at the cost of import and export goods coming in and out of the country.

 The new tablet and desktop technology is providing opportunities for further improvements in the way that department staff conducts online business. 

“For example, we are introducing WiFi access capability across all our offices with 200 staff in National Office now conducting daily business using WiFi services and newly-introduced softphone telephony,” Mr. Gathercole told us.

While WiFi provides connectivity to the department’s corporate network with significant reductions to structured cabling requirements, additional benefits include enhanced mobility as tablet users can now move between offices and sites and connect seamlessly to the network. 

WiFi is also offering enhanced flexibility in office configuration, enabling introduction of in-line (densification) desk arrangements throughout the National and Regional Offices. 

“Another significant improvement has been the role that our tablets now play in our business continuity planning,” Mr. Gathercole said, “In the event of major disruption to Wide Area Network communications, the tablets allow our staff to maintain connectivity with the department network using mobile broadband connection.”

Business continuity improvements have been demonstrated in a number of instances where major operational sites, for example international airports, have lost WAN connectivity.  On these occasions, their staff has been able to continue biosecurity inspections using mobile broadband connections without impact to passengers.

The Next Step: Looking at integrating IP Telephony Services  

“The next step in our business improvements programme is the introduction of Telephony Services to enable enhanced collaboration across the department,” Mr. Gathercole told us. 

These services will provide tablet and desktop users real-time presence information, instant messaging, video conferencing and voice communication integrated with the department’s desktop applications suite.

Business improvements include a biosecurity officer being able to take a photograph or video of a possible pest and share that image with centrally-located scientific staff in real time- which would greatly enhance the turnaround time required for identification. 

This will allow quick release of cargo or, most importantly, significantly reduced response times in the event that the identification confirms a potential biosecurity risk.

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