FBI rolls out Sentinel's first phase

CIO cites schedule, cost, function wins

The FBI appeared to leave its checkered information technology management past behind as it fielded the first phase of the Sentinel investigative case management system. The system allows FBI special agents, supervisors and executives to process evidence and other information as well as schedule and monitor work flow, using secure information sharing technology, the bureau said.

About 30,000 FBI users now access Sentinel as they begin a typical work day, chief information officer Zal Azmi said in a phone interview.

Azmi noted that bureau officials were pleased with the investigative case management system's operational features. The first phase of the project cost the FBI about $59 million, which roughly approximated its cost target, he added. And the vendor team led by Lockheed Martin met the bureau's expectations for the scheduled completion of the first phase of the Sentinel contract, bringing to a close an award the FBI issued in March 2006.

The bureau awarded the first phase of Sentinel as a contract that would be severable from subsequent phases, so the agency would not be effectively bound to its initially chosen vendor team, Azmi said.

The bureau's cautious approach to the Sentinel contract award, which was preceded by months of planning and business process re-engineering, reflected in part the FBI's headline-grabbing multimillion-dollar debacle with the system's predecessor, Virtual Case File, which forced the bureau to abandon work for which it had paid about $109 million.

The FBI unveiled the Sentinel rollout on June 19.

Sentinel is built around a core of commercial applications that include 'mainly IBM products, such as IBM Websphere, the Tivoli security manager [and an Oracle database management system],' Azmi said. Sentinel runs on Sun Solaris and Microsoft Windows platforms, he added.

'Lockheed, IBM and Accenture are still our team [for integrating the commercial apps],' Azmi said in the interview, suggesting that the Lockheed-led team would move ahead with additional Sentinel work.

Bureau IT officials gave the system a shakedown cruise with the day-to-day work in the Richmond, Va., Baltimore and Washington field offices as well as the headquarters Cyber Crime division before furnishing the system to other FBI users.

During an early phase of Sentinel's systems integration, senior FBI officials commissioned a vendor analysis of how difficult it would be to upgrade the system's architecture of the now-standard National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), Azmi explained.

NIEM affords service-oriented architecture features that facilitate information exchange among law enforcement systems, Azmi said. It is follow-on work to the Justice Department's Global Extensible Markup Language Model for tagging and hypertext of law enforcement data.

The quick look at Sentinel's architecture elicited the response that tweaking the system's design so it would be upgraded to NIEM from the Global XML model wouldn't cause significant problems, so bureau officials commissioned that modification to the initial requirements.

'With the completion of Phase 1, FBI employees will see a marked improvement in their ability to access, retrieve and move information,' said Joseph L. Ford, FBI associate deputy director, in a prepared statement. 'We are currently working with Lockheed Martin to plan the development and deployment of the next set of Sentinel capabilities.'

The bureau said the current Sentinel release provides user-friendly online access to ACS.

A central Sentinel feature is each user's 'Personal Workbox,' the bureau said, which summarizes a user's cases and leads, allows access to many types of data and reduces the FBI's heavy reliance on paper-based information flow.

Sentinel's search functions far outstrip those of the ACS that lies behind it, the bureau said.

'Phase 1 also provides a Squad Workbox which allows supervisors to better manage their resources and assign leads with the click of a mouse.'

The additional three phases of the Sentinel project are set for completion during 2010 and 2011. During those two years, the bureau will assume responsibility for running, maintaining and upgrading Sentinel from the Lockheed-led vendor team, Azmi said.

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