After 11 years, eight inspector general audits and turning the bottom of the J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I. Building into a technology incubator, the FBI finally has a computer program agents can use in searching cases.
Until now, investigators had shared stacks of paper to collaborate on cases and update investigation files.
Many federal government agencies have antiquated computer systems, probably with legacy COBOL code going back decades along with a mish-mash of code and programs added over the years. But it is astonishing that the FBI until now has lumbered along with no computerized case management system at all. I wonder how many other agencies remain that haven’t yet computerized mission-critical functions. Isn’t the US supposed to be a high tech leader?
To make Sentinel a reality, Johnson and his small team spent two years in one room with cube panels removed to facilitate communication. He said they basically “created a tech startup in the basement of the Hoover Building,” in the words of one of his advisers.
While their efforts were certainly heroic and hugely needed, this was probably simpler than converting a creaky COBOL backend to a modern interface. They were starting with a blank slate. This is easier than converting existing data into the new system (something which can get mind-numbingly complicated) or dealing with users who want the new data entry screens to look *exactly* like the old screens, etc.
Yes, I’ve done lots of such projects. 🙂