Inside the FBI’s IT Transformation

Like most CIOs, Zalmai Azmi is adjusting to his changing role and reengineering his IT department. If his pressures stopped there, he would merely be counted among the sea of IT leaders marshalling the tide of change. But here, in the top secret caves of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the tide itself is moved by political winds and opposing world forces ultimately leading to a tsunami of mission redirection.

Historically, the FBI has been a law enforcement agency that investigates crimes after they occur. Today’s post 9/11 FBI is focused on finding criminals and terrorists before they attack. This means that while most CIOs are moving towards a target, Azmi is aiming at a moving target. This new mission requires a complete restructuring of IT and an unprecedented level of information sharing between agencies and agents.

As executive assistant director (EAD) and CIO, Azmi attends daily meetings with Director Robert Mueller and the entire FBI Executive Management (EM) team. A typical day also involves daily interaction and meetings with the Information and Technology Branch (ITB) EM staff to discuss strategy, policy, and project management of priority systems and application development efforts and initiatives.

IT in Action

SENTINEL is the most visible application being developed by ITB. The highly scalable SENTINEL is an intuitive, Web-based information management system that will make it easier for agents, analysts and supervisors to manage cases and share and access information. In June 2007, the FBI successfully delivered Phase 1 which established the foundation for the whole enterprise. “SENTINEL 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,” said Azmi.

“Just last week, we delivered the SENTINEL enterprise portal (SEP) which allows a full view of 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,” he explains. “Previously this had to be done screen-by-screen. SEP allows you to view the whole picture.”

As part of a top-to-bottom reorganization of the FBI’s IT resources, the FBI established the ITB in 2004 to centrally manage all IT responsibilities, activities, policies, and employees across the Bureau.

“With the FBI’s new IT organization, all IT projects fell under our purview,” explains Azmi.

Like many of his private counterparts, he is responsible for the organization’s overall IT efforts, including developing the IT strategic plan and operating budget, developing and maintaining the technology assets, and providing technical direction for the re-engineering of business processes.

“We are divided into four components: policy and planning, program/project management, technology/systems development, and operation/maintenance,” he said. This structure provides for end-to-end management of IT projects within the FBI and incorporates best practices for governing a large IT organization.

Under this centralized leadership, the FBI has taken a coordinated, strategic approach to IT that established an IT governance framework for managing IT projects at each stage of their “lifecycle” from planning and investment, through development and deployment, operation and maintenance, and disposal.

“We have transformed our business processes in an intelligent manner that allows us to improve IT management quality and incorporate new and innovative best practices in our work,” he explains. “Finally, we have stronger and more capable technological tools that enhance mission performance and enable the Bureau to work more effectively with our intelligence community (IC) and other law enforcement/national security entities.”

On the Road

The new emphasis on a proactive approach brought a renewed interest in mobile technologies and remote access. Recently the FBI completed the worldwide deployment of 19,500 BlackBerrys to enable agents and staff to function anywhere in the world. These devices allow FBI employee’s access not only to the internet, e-mail calendar and taskings, but also to “applications critical to our mission such as the no-fly list, missing and kidnapped persons, crime alerts, etc.”