The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) is looking to move to Windows 8 from Windows 7 next year, according to CIO Graham Gathercole, who described it as the "strike back" from Microsoft against Apple's iPad.
The department has around 4,500 staff members, and deals with a wide variety of issues, including biosecurity at the borders, fishing, live-animal exports, abattoirs, and many other livestock and biosecurity requirements. This means that the department employs a diverse range of employees in airports, ports, labs, and offices throughout Australia, in both metropolitan and regional areas.
The staff currently uses Windows 7 across all desktops, but, according to Gathercole, the department is aiming to upgrade to Windows 8 on tablets by the end of next year.
"I expect to go to Windows 8 in the next financial year, and a Microsoft telephone offers potential, I think, for a solid mobility strategy," he told ZDNet.
"We're working very closely with [Microsoft]."
He said that Windows 7 is a good operating system for the department's staff to use, but is not quite to the standard that he would like.
"I think Windows 8 is better. It offers the ability to have a better mobile solution for people [out] in the field. The Windows 8 tablet offers the boot off a [USB] stick solution," he said. "Rather than having a bulky laptop, you can have a fairly powerful Windows 8 machine that boots off this stick. It can carry Microsoft Office as well, and it provides a very secure link back to your main processing area."
Gathercole said that he sees this as being a good challenger for Apple in the tablet market.
"I call it 'Windows 8 strikes back on iPad,'" he laughed. "Microsoft strikes back on Apple."
Much of the department's workforce is out in the field, meaning that mobile telecommunications is critical for their daily work.
"We've got inspectors that go out all over the country to different abattoirs that export their products. We've got inspectors that travel out to ships. We've got scientists out in the field that are checking what insects are floating down in the wind from Papua New Guinea," he said.
"We're not that well served in those more remote areas. We have quite a number of iPads out there, but remote access is not that flash out there at the moment. It can be problematic."
The department's wide area network (WAN) is currently contracted to AAPT, but DAFF is now seeking broader telecommunications services through the Australian Government Information Management Office's (AGIMO) telecommunications vendor panel.
"I would expect whoever participates in the mobile strategy will be able to address that remote issue for us," he said.
"We need a much broader wide area network. We need to encompass VoIP [voice over internet protocol]. We need to encompass dynamic call centres, and we need to encompass video conferencing on the desktop."
Gathercole joined the department in September 2011, after being the CIO of Medicare and then the general manager of the Department of Human Services' (DHS) infrastructure division when Medicare merged with Centrelink and the Child Support Agency to form one department. Gathercole said that in moving from a department with over 50,000 desktops and much greater demand for IT to an agency with 5,000 desktops, he has started DAFF on a journey towards being a "tier 1" agency.
"What I'm trying to do is introduce what I call the discipline of a tier 1 agency into a tier 3 agency, as I bring it to what I would say is a tier 2. My goal is to introduce a very large UNIX back end, as well as a large EDW [Enterprise Data Warehouse]," he said. "We've already got a Teradata box that we're standing up as an EDW."
He said that the department has made very good progress in the last three months, and he is aiming for the changes to be completed by the end of 2013.
"I hope to have a fairly solid infrastructure environment by the end of next calendar year."
This includes working with the department's outsourcer, HP, to use cloud services for disaster recovery.
"There's a huge amount of savings and advantages for HP to back up to the cloud as much as there is for us for reduced costs and fees in recovery [after] a disaster," he said.
Gathercole called this "dipping his toes in" to cloud services.
"I think for me, that's a really good foray into the cloud, before I get into some of the more difficult issues around [other services such as] email in the cloud," he said.