FBI's New Sentinel System: Exclusive Look

Our first look at the FBI's $451 million case management system reveals a user interface and features with the look and feel of a PC application.

John Foley, Editor, InformationWeek

March 30, 2012

3 Min Read

Other PC-like features include auto populating of text, notifications, and a comments field. The app also has an integrated calendar that can be synced with the user's Outlook calendar. Data related to an individual in the system is condensed into a mini-profile, similar to a contact card in Outlook.

Sentinel's indexing tool creates a record of key words and numbers, making it possible to search for terms relevant to one case and potentially find connections to others. Indexed metadata is color coded--addresses in green, names in red, for example--for easy navigation.

Security, privacy, and governance measures are incorporated in several ways. Agents can choose from a drop-down menu of legal considerations that may be relevant to a case. They can collaborate on case files, track revisions, and co-sign documents, and there's an audit trail of activity. "It's an electronic system of record with digital signatures that can go to court," Fulgham said.

A "preview" function creates a PDF version of a file for review by the user. When that file is ready to be shared, Sentinel provides a drop-down menu for routing it to the appropriate department or manager. Routing is determined by roles-based permissions, ensuring that files are available only to authorized personnel.

[ This administration is embracing technology in a big way. Read White House Shares $200 Million Big Data Plan. ]

Sentinel does more than case management. It can be used to create other kinds of standard documents, such as correspondence to be shared outside of the FBI. It will be used primarily by agents and intelligence analysts, but all of the agency's 35,000 employees are potential users, Fulgham said.

My impression of Sentinel is that its user interface, influenced by consumer apps, looks intuitive enough that PC-savvy users would have no problem coming up to speed. The caveat is that the system I witnessed was a kick-the-tires test environment, not the live app. The system must be tested more rigorously, and agents will have to move existing case files from the mainframe-based ACS into the new system.

In other words, things could still go wrong, and skeptics expect they will. "Mark my words, FBI will fail again," writes one commenter on InformationWeek.com, in response to the news of Fulgham's pending departure. (There's no word yet on where he will be working next.)

The official word from the FBI is that the system will be launched "in the summer." Fulgham expressed confidence that Sentinel will not only work as advertised, but even come in a few million dollars under its $451 million budget. But if there are any last-minute glitches, Fulgham won't be around to fix them. Let's hope he's not needed.

John Foley is editor of InformationWeek Government.
To find out more about John Foley, please visit his page.

As federal agencies embrace devices and apps to meet employee demand, the White House seeks one comprehensive mobile strategy. Also in the new Going Mobile issue of InformationWeek Government: Find out how the National Security Agency is developing technologies to make commercial devices suitable for intelligence work. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

John Foley

Editor, InformationWeek

John Foley is director, strategic communications, for Oracle Corp. and a former editor of InformationWeek Government.

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