When it comes to supporting and regulating Western Australia’s primary industries sector, the job falls to DPIRD – the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development. It’s a huge organisation with more than 1,700 employees working together to protect and grow WA’s agriculture and fisheries sector, which contributes to primary industry exports of more than $12 billion each year*.

DPIRD was formed in 2017 from the amalgamation of the former departments of Agriculture and Food, Fisheries and Regional Development. Combining these three large agencies into one new department brought both opportunities and challenges for every part of the organisation. For the IT team, the change came at a time when the network infrastructure was aging and needed a refresh.

Aerial shot of pier on beach in Western Australia
Combining three large agencies into DPIRD at a time when the aging network infrastructure needed a refresh was both an opportunity and a challenge for the IT team.

“We had three separate networks joined together, which was always going to be a temporary solution,” says Brendan Power, head of IT Operations at DPIRD. “It wasn’t sustainable. There were a lot of duplicate internet connections causing heightened cyber risk – with more connections there are just more ways someone could get in, so we were having to monitor extra doors.”

A next generation network with provision for upcoming technology

Once DPIRD was established and the IT team was in place, Brendan and his team came up with a plan for a new overarching network.

“We went out to tender with a fairly aggressive set of instructions,” he says. “We wanted a next-generation network that was really going to be forward-looking, not just a repair and replace. Our plan was to build something that would last five to 10 years, with provision for the new technology that at the time was still coming through. Ubiquitous video conferencing, for instance – when we started the project it was a requirement for a limited number of people, and now, post-Covid, everyone needs it.”

In 2020, Datacom was chosen as the provider for DPIRD’s new network rollout – based on Cisco networking technology – with a proposal to move to managed network services for a flexible, stable, secure, and simplified network. This would provide a foundation for new digital services and better productivity, while eliminating some of the headaches associated with legacy technology and dated infrastructure.

Even the most remote sites have significantly better connectivity

Pandemic-related supply chain issues meant hardware took longer than expected to arrive, delaying the launch by around a year. But once everything was on hand, Datacom and DPIRD began with a six-month pilot, and when that went well, they rolled out managed network services across all 61 sites. It took around two years from the delivery of the hardware to the completion of the rollout.

“Some of our sites are extremely remote,” says Brendan. “The most remote is the Eucla quarantine checkpoint, which is halfway between Perth and Adelaide in the middle of a road and the nearest town is over 20km away. We also had other regional sites in rural areas and at harbours – because we look after agriculture and fisheries, our offices don’t tend to be in town.”

Users at every site benefited from significant improvements thanks to a consolidated and simplified network, with more bandwidth, more stability, and greater security.

“We certainly have more confidence, because we have addressed our infrastructure issues and have a forward-looking plan for our network. Along with port security and other elements, that’s meant we have reduced our cyber security risk profile.” Datacom’s Keith Morrison, Director – Technical Services Delivery, says reducing DPIRD’s risk profile was just one of many benefits unlocked by the project which saw the team deliver a statewide network refresh across more than 50 DPIRD sites covering network services, gateway and IP telephony.

Landscape shot of farmland in Western Australia at sunset, surrounded by hills
Users at every DPIRD site – some of which are extremely remote – benefited from significant improvements thanks to more bandwidth, more stability, and greater security.

“The benefits of our work with DPIRD are really significant. From improved agility through the quicker uptake of new technology services and just-in-time service provisioning – allowing greater responsiveness to the wider organisation’s needs – to the deployment of network management tools that give the DPIRD IT team unparalleled visibility into network traffic, enabling them to proactively troubleshoot issues, resolve queries faster and deliver improved experiences particularly for WiFi users.”

The project has also delivered improved service quality by transitioning WAN and LAN management to higher grade products and suppliers with a proven service management experience across networking.

Significant cost savings provide another big benefit

In addition to more dependable networks and a productivity boost, there have been “significant cost savings” for DPIRD. There’s no longer a cost to maintain aging hardware, and DPIRD can use its considerable size to leverage better pricing for network connections. Plus, of course, all those duplicate network connections have been removed.

With managed network services now in place, Brendan and his team are turning their attention to implementing the next generation of technology. They’re rolling out body-worn cameras for frontline Fisheries officers; investigating ways to improve communication with patrol vessels offshore; and considering whether low-earth orbit satellites could provide back-up connectivity for remote locations like the checkpoint at Eucla.

Collaborating on planning is a lot simpler now DPIRD has reliable internet across the entire state, thanks to its five-year partnership with Datacom.

“We had a very good project manager from Datacom who worked very well with my team through the whole period,” says Brendan. “We also had a good relationship with the Datacom exec team in terms of escalating issues and they were proactive in dealing with them. I’ve been lucky to have a great team around me and it’s been a positive engagement with Datacom. This was not an easy project to get done, but we got there in the end.”

* Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Annual Report 2022-23

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