Azmi: Sentinel won't repeat mistakes

The FBI's Virtual Case File (VCF) system failed because it lacked competent management and effective procedures to make sure the system worked, the bureau's chief information officer said today.

"We didn't have a program management office in place that knew how to manage this program," FBI CIO Zalmai Azmi told several hundred industry representatives at a breakfast sponsored by Federal Sources Inc. in Mclean, Va. The system was also too big to manage effectively, he said.

The FBI, Azmi said, has taken many steps to ensure the success of Sentinel, VCF's replacement.

"VCF was plagued by a number of different problems that we're confident we won't repeat," he said.

Part of a program to modernize the FBI's information technology infrastructure, Sentinel will be more than a case management system, Azmi said. It will automate workflow to speed and facilitate information sharing within the FBI and with its intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement partners, he said.

Sentinel will implement new records management software and comply with governmentwide security standards, Azmi said. It will also ensure that the right classified and unclassified information reaches people with appropriate clearances who need it most, he said.

The FBI hired Miodrag Lazarevich, deputy director of the special communications program office at the CIA's Office of the CIO, this month to be Sentinel's program manager. The bureau also hired Dean Hall as project management executive for the Office of IT Program Management. He will create a program management office for Sentinel, and the bureau has started to train program managers, system development managers and contracting officers, Azmi said.

The bureau has had a training division, but until June 15 it was not authorized for IT training, he said.

The FBI is creating teams for risk management, communications, independent program validation and verification, transition management, and training. A new team oversees investments with FBI partners, including the Homeland Security and Justice departments.

Partner input will be crucial to Sentinel's success, Azmi said. He and other FBI officials signed a memorandum of understanding with DHS June 16 that will bring some department employees to work in Sentinel’s program management office, he said.

The FBI is also creating new procedures to ensure Sentinel's success, Azmi said. The FBI's deputy CIO, Robert Garrity, is in charge of its change management and business process re-engineering, Azmi said. Garrity's responsibilities include improving the FBI's case management system and revamping its training and policy manuals, Azmi said.

A main element to Sentinel’s success will be a phased rollout of services over the next 39 to 48 months, Azmi said. The system will have a modular design and development and a flexible, scalable service-oriented architecture, he said.

IT is a core enabler of the FBI’s mission and improving it is one of the bureau’s top 10 priorities, Azmi said. The FBI must also change its culture to embrace terrorism prevention, intelligence gathering and law enforcement, he said.

He appealed to his audience to approach the FBI because it wants to use as many government off-the-shelf and commercial products as possible. “We’re now at a critical juncture to tell you what we’re looking for,” he said.

The $170 million VCF was part of the FBI's Trilogy program to modernize the agency's obsolete computer systems. The VCF case management system was originally due December 2003, but only one-tenth of the system's planned capability was completed by January. The program was shelved in March without being implemented.

Justice's inspector general excoriated the failed program last February in an audit report that blames the program's meltdown on poor management and oversight, design modifications during the project, and bad IT investment practices.

Despite the reams of bad press about it, VCF was less than 5 percent of the FBI's IT portfolio, Azmi said. The rest of the Trilogy program had been completed, he said. Sentinel will comprise the same amount of the bureau's portfolio, he said.

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