Twelve years. Multiple contractors. Several audits revealing numerous cost overruns and inefficiencies. Pricetag: approximately $621 million.
Those are just some of the items associated with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's notorious Sentinel information and case management system, which finally made its public debut yesterday -- though between 18,000 and 21,000 agency users have deployed it daily since July 1.
"The deployment of Sentinel is an important step forward for FBI' information technology," said FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III, in a prepared statement.
It's a step emerging from numerous stumbles: a mountain of reversals, false starts, and miscalculations that together make a classic case study in poor executive management -- one that will live in textbooks for years to come.
In 2010, blogger Simon Moore listed the many factors that went into the system's disastrous early history. They are classic: lack of clear goals, poor planning, lack of contractor control. And they all point to a central theme of poor management -- what Moore called a "lack of clear ownership":
Tellingly, a project manager was appointed only late into the project, the FBI cycled through 5 people in the CIO role in 4 years and accountability appears generally absent due to decision making by committees instead of knowledgeable individuals. In addition to a lack of accountability at the contractor level, there was a need for clearer accountability within the FBI. Lack of clear accountability structures is a clear theme in failed projects...
Moore's point about lack of ownership is supported by other studies of the project's failure, and it is clearly illustrated when you consider some of the highlights on the project's timeline:
- May 2001: The FBI initiates the "Trilogy" project with three goals: to upgrade the FBI hardware and software information infrastructure; to upgrade its communications network; and to improve its case management system.
- September 2001: The terrorist attacks of 9/11 call attention to the flaws in the FBI's antiquated case management system. The scope of Trilogy changes from an upgrade to a completely new case management system called the Virtual Case File (VDF) system.
- October 2002: In a public posting on InfoSec News, Matthew Patton, a security team member on the Trilogy project, expresses frustration over the lack of security and failure of project participants to heed his warnings. This "whistleblowing" episode, which resulted in Patton being censured and leaving the project, is often referred to as evidence of the poor management Trilogy revealed from its outset.
- April 2004: The first two objectives of the original Trilogy project are completed, but the VCF remains mired in problems. A February 2005 Department of Justice audit turns up numerous causes, including "lack of management continuity and oversight." The report sharply criticizes the FBI's inability to create the VCF, despite $170 million and 40 months of development.
- April 2005: FBI Director Robert Mueller terminates work on the VCF project and announces plans for the new Sentinel case management system.
- March 2006: Lockheed Martin is awarded the contract to complete Sentinel.
- September 2010: CIO Zal Azmi resigns.
- March 2010: Mueller announces that the FBI has run into problems with Sentinel and needs to add at least $30 million to the $300 million-plus already allotted to Sentinel. The DOJ slams the FBI for numerous project problems in a detailed audit.
- September 2010: FBI CIO Chad Fulgham announces plans to complete Sentinel internally.
- March 2012: Fulgham resigns.
- July 2012: Sentinel deployment begins.
Studying these events reveals a lack of strategic planning and overview from the outset. There was no control over the execution of the plan, either, leaving a vacuum quickly filled by expensive contractors. Staff upheaval and rebellion, high executive turnover, and repeated cost and time overruns still failed to prod the agency to establish a clear chain of command and control.
In the end, it looks as though taking this project in-house got the job done. But the enormous costs are no doubt still being counted, and not just in dollar terms.
— Mary Jander , Executive Editor, Internet Evolution