Dec 31 2009

From the Ashes at the FBI

Will the FBI's next case management initiative be the proverbial phoenix? CIO Zal Azmi certainly expects so.

Having abandoned the problematic Virtual Case File program, the bureau now has a new effort under way: Sentinel. But FBI chiefs have far greater expectations of Sentinel than they did of VCF.

Sentinel will be a "true proof" of the bureau's ability to create a worldwide enterprise architecture platform, Azmi says. He spoke at a recent breakfast sponsored by research consultant FSI in McLean, Va.

The case management system will be the first implementation of the bureau's EA, Azmi says.

What Came Before

The FBI spent more than $100 million over the past four years on VCF in an attempt to build an application under its broader Trilogy systems modernization that would automate case files for agents.

The bureau intends to use a service-oriented architecture for Sentinel and eXtensible Markup Language to tag data for exchange via the Justice Department's Law Enforcement Online network.

"Sentinel will not be one swoop of development and deployment," he says.

The service-oriented architecture will let the FBI roll out Sentinel in chunks of services—made up of commercial and government applications—over four years.

"You know there are already apps out there that can do many of these things" the bureau needs, Azmi says.

The FBI has selected the National Institutes of Health's Electronic Computer Store II governmentwide contract as its buying vehicle. "We'll get a much better product than going with one vendor," he says.

The decisions that the bureau makes for Sentinel will drive a lot of other systems choices, Azmi adds. "As we are picking platforms and products, they are not only going to be for Sentinel."

Given VCF's history, what faith should anyone—especially Congress, which has pummeled the FBI's case management track record—place in the bureau's ability to get Sentinel up and running?

For starters, Azmi says he's been busy in his first year as CIO. Before launching the Sentinel effort, he reports that the bureau had no life-cycle management, no EA, no software development ranking, no IT investment control process and no project management process.

The FBI has those things now, Azmi says. "We're moving forward; we're showing progress."