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CIO Discusses Sentinel Launch

A Solid Foundation
CIO Discusses Sentinel Launch


FBI Chief Information Officer Zal Azmi
FBI Chief Information Officer Zal Azmi

Overhauling the FBI’s technology infrastructure has been compared to changing a tire on a speeding car—it’s a challenge, but slowing down or stopping for repairs simply isn’t an option. Add to that someone looking over your shoulder to make sure everything is humming along smoothly and you have an apt description for the process Chief Information Officer Zal Azmi is overseeing as he moves the Bureau into an entirely new way of managing information.

Traditionally, agents, analysts, and others using the FBI’s central repository for case files and other sensitive data have had to hunt and peck through myriad “green screens” to  manage basic information—cases, leads, assignments. Using mainframe technology that predates even the use of a computer mouse, users had to wade through a series of keyboard prompts and commands to simply view case information.

That era effectively came to an end last month when we deployed the first phase of Sentinel, an intuitive web-based information management system that will make it easier to keep tabs on cases and share and access information.

Azmi, who came to the FBI in 2004 with a vision to model the FBI’s IT infrastructure on the same standards and best practices employed in private industry, talked to us about the significance of Sentinel’s June 19 rollout to 30,000 FBI users.

  • Why was completing Phase 1 so significant? “We are laying down the foundation for the whole enterprise. Like when you are building a multi-story home, you want to make sure the foundation is solid. This is our first major web-based application that will be available on every desktop. And it’s the first time we’re pushing information to the agents. It’s a very efficient and scalable platform that we can add more capabilities to over time.”
  • How is it different? “When you log in you will immediately see all the work you need to deal with—how many leads you have, how many tasks, how many cases. As a supervisor, I can look at my squad workbox and see how many agents I have and what their workload is. Previously this had to be done screen-by-screen. Now you can see the whole picture.”
  • Describe the oversight process. “There was a great deal of inside and outside scrutiny on the soundness of the program and our approach. Processes were put in place— program management discipline, lifecycle development methodology, enterprise architecture, earned value management, IT governance process, security certification and accreditation—to put us and keep us on track. And Phase 1 went through all these policy and procedure checkpoints to make sure the software is sound. It was a rigorous process that included more than 20,000 pages of documentation.”
  • What comes next? “Phase 1 was pulling the information from ACS, our legacy case management system. The next phase will add additional capabilities, such as electronic forms and electronic workflow, where people can send cases to supervisors for review, comment, and approval. We’re also now in a planning phase on how to introduce what we call agile development, which will enable us to deliver new capabilities every six to nine months. So we will be constantly delivering new functionality to our users so they don’t have to wait 18, 19, 20 months to get a new build from Sentinel.”
  • You tested Sentinel in the field for several weeks before launching FBI-wide. How was it received? “Our users say they like it, they enjoy using it, and they appreciate seeing all of their work on one screen. But they also tell us to take our time and deliver capabilities that are useful.”

The four-phase project with contractor Lockheed Martin is scheduled to wrap up in 2011 at a total cost of about $423 million. Azmi said the project is moving on schedule. “Regardless of how we’re going to develop and deliver our capabilities, we intend to keep to the final schedule and final contract costs. We don’t anticipate an increase,” he said.

- FBI announces deployment of Sentinel Phase 1
- Zal Azmi 2005 interview
- FBI Information Technology
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