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5/17/2010
01:50 PM
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FBI CIO Unveils Next-Gen IT Strategy

Despite a setback to its Sentinel case-management system, the agency is deploying a high-speed network, new Office-based PCs, and other infrastructure improvements.



The FBI has completed an agency-wide upgrade to its network infrastructure and is six months into deployment of a new Microsoft Office-based PC environment in its field offices. In addition, the FBI's new case-management system, Sentinel, has begun Phase 2 pilot testing, despite delays that have pushed Sentinel's completion into 2011.

FBI CIO Chad Fulgham last week outlined the agency's IT strategy and progress in an interview with InformationWeek at the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters. It was the first time that Fulgham has given an overview of the agency's IT initiatives since he joined the FBI in December 2008, after working as an IT executive in the private sector for Lehman Bros., IBM, and JPMorgan Chase.

As a first step, Fulgham last year reorganized the FBI's Information and Technology Branch to make it more "business aligned and services oriented." The IT Branch is comprised of a Management Division of program and project managers that work closely with the agency's other departments, an Engineering Division that engineers software and services, and an IT Services Division that manages everything from 26,000 BlackBerrys to the agency's data centers.

Last August, the FBI's IT Branch hired a chief marketing officer, Stephanie Derrig, charged with bringing a more common look and feel to its various enterprise applications and facilitating uptake of those apps by agency employees. The IT Branch has created an internal portal, based on Microsoft's SharePoint, with a page for every new product and service it offers.

The FBI has replaced its ATM/Frame Relay network with a new Cisco-based IP infrastructure that utilizes Multiprotocol Label Switching for higher performance. The new net, dubbed Next Generation Network, serves as a backbone for three FBI networks -- the unclassified UNet, classified FBINet, and top secret SCION network -- and extends to some 800 FBI locations. The network provides 45 times as much backbone capacity as the one it replaced, as well as doubling access speed at network endpoints.

The network replacement was a necessary precursor to the introduction of upgraded PCs that bring a range of new tools and capabilities to FBI special agents and other employees. The configuration of the FBI's so-called Next Generation Workstation comprises Office 2007 and Windows XP running on a Dell PC with dual-core processor. As a cost saving measure, the FBI upgraded existing PCs with new hardware where possible.

The Next Generation Workstation brings instant messaging, file transfer, voice over IP, desktop video teleconferencing, presence technology, and Web collaboration to employees who, until now, have gotten by primarily with e-mail, phone service, and standard desktop productivity apps. The new workstations include 24-inch flat screen monitors, video cams, speakers, and headsets. Avocent KVM switches support toggling between classified and unclassified networks.

Fulgham described Next Generation Network and Next Generation Workstation as generational leaps in technology for the agency. The desktop environment is being rolled out initially to the agency's 56 field offices, in what Fulgham said is a philosophical shift toward putting new tech tools first into the hands of employees in the field. The workstation rollout to field offices began last December and is scheduled for completion in July.

In other advances, the FBI is deploying a new identity management system based on Oracle's Identity Manager; it's replacing a bevy of management tools with systems management software from Hewlett-Packard and BigFix; and it's introducing Cisco NAC (Network Admission Control) in lieu of internally developed network security. Fulgham said he prefers to use commercial software where possible for its built-in integration capabilities and ease of deployment. The FBI will use SharePoint 2010 to create a social networking environment on FBINet.

Fulgham also gave a status report on Sentinel, a $425 million project to replace the agency's outdated case-management system with a new digital system that incorporates technologies from Adobe, EMC, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle. In March, the Inspector General for the Department of Justice released a report warning that Sentinel, originally due for completion in 2009 and already behind schedule, was at risk of further delays and cost overruns.

Lockheed Martin is the primary contractor on Sentinel. In response to the Inspector General report, the FBI said it had advised Lockheed Martin to partially stop work on the project and that a new schedule for completing the four-phase project would be forthcoming. FBI director Robert Mueller, in testimony to a Congressional subcommittee last month, characterized the delays to Sentinel as minor and said he was "cautiously optimistic" that Phase 2 would be completed this summer. Mueller said he now expects Sentinel to be completed in 2011.

The FBI has yet to issue a revised time line for Sentinel's next two phases, but Fulgham said the agency's Critical Incident Response Group has begun pilot testing Sentinel's current capabilities. Those capabilities automate about a third of the paperwork and processes associated with the FBI's current case-management system, Fulgham said. Over the next two weeks, Sentinel pilot testing will be extended to the FBI's field office in Richmond, Va., followed by its Tampa office.

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