FBI Moves from Paper to an Electronic Database

by Eric C
The FBI has always been known for their high-tech equipment they use from computer forensic equipment to the specialized tech gear that agents use. However, it wasn’t until recently when the FBI finally completed a new database system that eliminates paper files and moves to a more modern approach of digitizing paperwork. This new electronic file management system is called Sentinel and it was originally scheduled for completion in 2009 with an estimated budget of $425 million. Due to delays and poor planning and organization, it was about three years late and about $26 million over budget. This project of transferring the FBI to an electronic system was contracted to Lockhead Martin Corporation, who managed the project, but was taken over by the FBI due to delays.

Before Sentinel was an established project, the FBI experimented with another form of digitized file management system, called Virtual Case File, which ended in failure in 2005 after the agency spent $170 million. After that, Sentinel quickly preceded and when the FBI took over, they used an agile development method to get the project done as fast as possible. Now that Sentinel has been rolled out throughout the agency, is now used by thousands of FBI personnel to input data and information into a web-based interface and to search for information with much efficiency.

In relation to this week’s topic of the database development process, I found this article about the FBI’s development of their Sentinel database to be exactly what we are learning in the chapter. In the chapter, I learned about the software development life cycle (SDLC) and the different types of steps used to complete a project in time and within budget. It takes much planning and analysis to get such a huge project completed successfully, and also an exceptional project manager to make it happen. When designing such a database, everything needs to be taken into account, from the design and allocation of attributes to data, to the user interface for users to easily learn and accept.

As a possible career path into the FBI’s IT field, it was intriguing to learn about the major developments the FBI had made to better manage and streamline all their data and information into one central database. Also the scope of the project is important too, considering all FBI agents will have to start using the new system. This requires much time commitment to handle the feedback from the end users to better improve the system. Although not every one will accept the change, it is important to provide hands-on training to those who are not tech savvy.

Perez, E. (2012, August 1). FBI files go digital, after years of delays. Retrieved September 30, 2012, from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444130304577561361556532528.html

Poeter, D. (2012, July 31). Years late and millions after budget, FBI’s Sentinel finally on line. Retrieved September 30, 2012, from http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407922,00.asp

5 thoughts on “FBI Moves from Paper to an Electronic Database

  • September 30, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Wow, it is interesting how the FBI has evolved from data on paper to digital data. The information that is needed to be retrieved will no attainable with a click of a button. Moreover, I like how you pointed out that SDLC was used in the conversion of digitizing data. We learned in class that without proper budget and planning.. a lot of money and time will be wasted. Good Job, Eric.

  • September 30, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    Very interesting article, I did not know that the FBI just recently completed their conversion to a paperless system. I had assumed due to the all of their other technology that they would have had something like this built years ago. I agree with Danny, I like the fact that you referred to what we learned about SDLC and how it can help cut down on project costs and time. Nice Job!

  • September 30, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    I agree that major projects such as the switch from paper to electronic database management for any company needs to be well studied before beginning the new system creation. It is better to take some extra time planning and analyzing the overall project objectives to save time and money in the future. Just how the FBI ended up spending a lot of money over the budget and a big delay in launching their new system for case management due to the lack of planning at the beginning of the project. Interesting article to learn about how big organizations are still undergoing with the technology advances.

  • October 1, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Interesting choice of article. I’m pretty sure FBI has been using database technology since the early days but maybe not for everything or at least not something they would admit due to the large amount of documents and the confidentiality of information involved. They must have created bulletproof security for their networked database server(s) before announcing this to public.

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