CASE STUDY 3-2

THE FBI

The Federal Bureau of Investigation of the U.S. government, the FBI, was forced to scrap its

$170 million virtual case file (VCF) management system. Official reports blamed numerous

delays, cost overruns, and incompatible software. But a deeper examination of the cause of

this failure uncovered issues of control, culture, and incompatible organizational systems.

Among its many duties, the FBI is charged with the responsibility to fight crime and

terrorism. To do so requires a large number of agents located within the Unites States and

around the world. That means agents must be able to share information among themselves

within the bureau and with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. But

sharing information has never been standard operating procedure for this agency. According

to one source, ‘‘agents are accustomed to holding information close to their bulletproof

vests and scorn the idea of sharing information.’’

Enter the FBI’s efforts to modernize its infrastructure, code-named ‘‘Trilogy.’’ The

efforts included providing agents with 30,000 desktop PCs, high-bandwidth networks to

connect FBI locations around the world, and the VCF project to facilitate sharing of

case information worldwide. The FBI director explained to Congress that VCF would

provide ‘‘an electronic means for agents to globally send field notes, documents, pieces of

intelligence and other evidence so they could hopefully act faster on leads.’’ It was designed

Case Study 97

to replace a paper-intensive process with an electronic, Web-based process. With such a

reasonable goal, why didn’t it work?

The CIO of the FBI offered one explanation. He claimed that ‘‘the FBI must radically

change the agency’s culture if the Bureau is ever going to get the high-tech analysis and

surveillance tools it needs to effectively fight terrorism. We must move from a decentralized

amalgam of 56 field offices that are deeply distrustful of technology, outsiders and each

other to a seamlessly integrated global intelligence operation capable of sharing information

and preventing crimes in real-time.’’

A former projectmanager at the FBI further explained, ‘‘They work under the idea that

everything needs to be kept secret. But everything doesn’t have to be kept secret. To do

this right, you have to share information.’’

The VCF system has been shut down, but the CIO is working on a new approach. He is

busy trying to win buy-in from agents in the field so that the next case management system

will work. In addition, he is working to establish a portfolio management plan that will cover

all of the FBI’s IT projects, even those begun in decentralized offices. His team has been

designing an enterprise architecture that will lay out standards for a bureauwide information

system. The Director of the FBI has helped too. He reorganized the governance of IT,

taking IT budget control away from the districts and giving total IT budget authority to

the CIO.

The FBI announced that it will build a new case management system called Sentinel

in four phases. The new system, according to the CIO, will include workflow, document

management, record management, audit trails, access control, and single sign-on. Tomanage

the expectations of the agents, the CIO plans to communicate often and significantly increase

the training program for the new system. The CIO commented, ‘‘We want to automate

those things that are the most manually cumbersome for the agents so they can see that

technology can actually enhance their productivity. That is how to change their attitudes.’’

Question:

1. What do you think were the real reasons why the VCF system failed?

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