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Cloud injection boosts APVMA ambitions as digital regulator

Beneath the fine print on the back of that can of fly spray under your sink is an APVMA registration number. It reflects the important work that scientists at the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) undertake before determining the fly spray is fit for purpose and won’t poison you or your pets. 

The APVMA assesses the potential impact of pesticides and veterinary medicines on humans, livestock and domestic animals, plantsfoods and the environment before it issues a registration number and authorises their distribution and use in Australia. 

At the same time as it manages this task, the APVMA has been undertaking a significant organisational and technology transformation – moving the majority of its operations from Canberra to Armidale in NSW and also shifting information systems from onpremise data centres to the cloud. 

The organisation’s Enabling Technology program outlines the roadmap for transforming the APVMA into a digitally enabled regulator by 2022. Foundational to this is a migration out of thirdparty managed data centres and into the cloud for Platform as a Service, Backup as a Service and Security as a Service. 

Working with DXC, the APVMA has completed its migration to the Azure cloud. APVMA is also well advanced with the digitisation of its analogue records. Besides managing the cloud transition and deploying cloud-based applications including Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365, DXC will also provide the APVMA with an array of managed IT services allowing it to focus on its core purpose as a regulator. 

Key to its ambition to be a digital regulator is the digitisation of its records says Executive Director Service Improvement and Integration, Bob Smith; “We are moving from what was largely a paper-based organisation to digitising 167,000 files.” At the same time the APVMA is ensuring that personnel have access to a highly mobile platform with integrated communication and collaboration. 

The file digitisation is scheduled to be completed by September 2021, with all information loaded into the APVMA’s electronic document management system for ease of access. 

The relocation to Armidale delivered the ideal trigger for the modernisation of the APVMA’s infrastructure and to prepare it to become more of an online, rather than paper-based, operation. 

 Workplace pivot 

While the modernisation program is still mid-stream, it was sufficiently advanced to be able to support the APVMA’s staff when they needed to pivot to online working in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, says Smith. 

We moved away from desktops in the first placemigrated everybody onto laptops as stage one, bringing on Skype for Business and getting our people to utilise the digitised files that are already available in the system,” allowing scientists and regulators to simultaneously access and review those documents when performing an assessment. He adds that;

The COVID-19 impact on the APVMA has been absolutely minimal because on 25 March 2020, when the executive took the decision that we should all work from home, staff picked up their headsets and laptops and are successfully working from home.

Performance has been maintained or even improved says Smith. “That in itself is going to introduce an interesting option for the future because whatever the new normal might be, it can now be much more flexible than it has traditionally been.” 

It’s an important consideration for a regionally based authority where some staff live outside of Armidale itself, and others are still based in Canberra; the ability to work in virtual teams may help reduce the need for as much staff travel. The move to the cloud means that wherever people are located they will have access to the same applications, performance and security. 

Future plans 

When the move to home-based working was implemented, the APVMA was only part way through its cloud migration. Personnel have been able to use Skype for Business to communicate and collaborate – especially important given the shift to home-based working. When the transition is completed the APVMA will have an E5 licence for Microsoft 365 and access to Teams for all staff. 

The APVMA is also working with DXC on implementing Dynamics 365 to manage workflow and provide an enterprise CRM slated for completion later this year. Customer engagement is a priority for the organisation as it interacts with companies developing pesticides and veterinary medicines for the Australian market. 

To submit a product for review companies provide data through the APVMA portal. Depending on the nature of the product a workflow is followed to ensure it undergoes appropriate levels of risk assessment. If approved, the product becomes available for use in Australia.  

The APVMA’s funding comes directly from the fees and levies paid by agvet chemical companies so the need for efficiency is clear. 

While it’s not on the current technology roadmap Smith can foresee a time when artificial intelligence and machine learning are leveraged to support scientists assessing products. 

For the present however the focus is on completing the digitisation of documents, the cloud migration and starting to roll out cloud-based applications. 

According to Smith; “Obviously a major benefit for my program into the future will be resource savings. For example, the APVMA doesn’t need to have an infrastructure management team and a network support team into the futureManaged services derived from the cloud will also provide flexibility and scalability in response to emerging technology with the ability to be able to spin up servers when and if we need them and to be able to rapidly do some prototyping on new software, new hardware, or capability in the future. 

It’s enabling the APVMA to accelerate its continuous improvement journey. 

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