The Fbi: Introduction Of It And System Centralization

Critical Facts

The FBI trying to modernize their system, but due to their age-old custom and culture, their efforts and money went in vain. FBI was using the physical filing system from the day it was started in 1935. The main challenge which FBI had was collaborating with the different FBI agencies and their work depended on the case files stored in file folders, critical case documents, photographical evidence etc. which has to be send to the different location of the agents and has to act on as soon as they get lead on any case. This process was cumbersome, and they wanted to change the current process. So, they initiated with the project called “Trilogy” in 2003. The main idea behind this project was to develop a new case management system which will eventually help FBI to remove the paper-based system for crime investigation and reporting and convert it into virtual based reporting and filing system, hence the project was named as Virtual Case File (VCF). (Suzanne D, 2017).

Initially, FBI started adding the case files which was not required for investigation during that time. This led to the missing of the formal change management plan, finally led to the increase in cost. Overall, the VCF project continued until they discovered it to be complete mess. (Suzanne D, 2017).

The contract for building VCF was given to SAIC (Science Applications International Corp). The main purpose of this project was to access all the documents by the agents around the globe with proper security measure. The VCF project was supposed to have the case evidences and many important case materials which must be secured. The agents can even have the provision of comparing the different cases and can get idea from the solved case. The different cases documents can be treated as a knowledge management. (Goldstein, 2005)

In trilogy project, the FBI desired to modernize the current system and provide the agents with 30,000 high bandwidth PCs, to facilitate sharing of information across the globe with ease. According to the FBI CIO, the culture change is required within the organization, as the employees doesn’t believe on their fellow colleagues so then how they can trust the information system. To be successful in this project, the employees cannot keep the information within themselves and it must be shared within the organization. (Saunders, 2012)

Over the course of few years, the FBI spend millions of dollars, but the project was a complete failure. After the failure of VCF, the CIO started with new case management system called Sentinel, which is assumed to be in schedule and on budget. With the success of the new project, the FBI will showcase the entire IT transformation which will eventually increase their productivity. According to the CIO, “We want to automate those things that are the most manually cumbersome for the agents so that they can see that technology can actually enhance their productivity. That is how to change their attitudes.”


According to the officials involved in VCF, the project failed due to the bad planning and poor communication in the software development process. There should be proper understanding of the SDLC by all those who are involved in the project management. “Glenn A. Fine, the U.S. Department of Justice’s inspector general, mentioned in an audit report released in 2005 as eight factors which led to the failure of VCF including poorly defined and slowly evolving design requirements, overly ambitious schedules, lack of planning for hardware purchases, network deployment and software development.” (Goldstein, 2005). There were many factors which led to the failure of such a big project in the history of FBI, which would have eventually helped them to automate their age-old inefficient process. Few factors are:

  • Poor Leadership Skills: The FBI failed to assign a skilled leader for the project. The management failed to address many gaps in the project like in the area of planning, risk, backup, schedule etc. Soon after the 9/11 attack, the FBI accelerated the project too and wanted to finish within 22 months. There was communication gap between the SAIC and the FBI. The FBI project managers neglected the different principles of the project management like change management plan, risk management. All these had a negative impact on the project. Later FBI started giving training to the program managers and project managers. (Suzanne D, 2017)
  • Technology incompetency: The FBI IT department was not technological sound to handle such a big project. Hence SAIC was contracted to complete the project. In FBI, there was scarcity of SME. The continuous change in the management also was the main issue. Hence there was nobody who can signoff the documents from SAIC. All the SAIC team members were also not competent to work for this critical project and they introduced lots of bugs in the code. (Goldstein, 2005)
  • Incomplete system requirements: The system requirements were not well documented. There was lack of understanding of the entire process and the culture of the FBI is so secretive, that their system requirements were not well documented. The development team later started investigating the process through interviews and surveillance operation, so that they can able to get an idea of the FBI software and databases. The SAIC team was also assuming the way they are doing is correct. Assumptions in web development always lead to the project failure. (Goldstein, 2005)
  • Lack of trust: The FBI employees follow a work culture where they don’t disclose the case details to any other employee. They were reluctant to share the case details to the system considering it to be unsafe. The main reason is they consider other employees can be a traitor. According to the CIO, “They work under the idea that everything needs to be kept secret. But everything doesn’t have to be kept secret”. (Saunders, 2012)
  • Misalignment between different strategies and culture: There was misalignment between the Information System Strategy and FBI Organizational strategy. The CIO has clearly mentioned the misalignment and stated to change the culture within the organization and must trust the colleagues as well as the IT system. They must overcome the high uncertainty avoidance and high-power distance as FBI follows hierarchical structure.

The FBI decided to dissolve the project after $170 million loss, since they were aware that their requirements were not defined appropriately at the start and they didn’t want more government money to be invested in this project. Later they started using off-the shelf technologies and started investigating on the different software used by the different agencies. The audit was done to find the root cause for the failure. The findings can be avoided in the future projects. It will also help in redefining the strategies and align the IT strategy and Organizational strategy. (Guidry, 2018). The virtual case files (VCF) was supposed to be interconnecting the different locations, branches, divisions and is globally accessible to all the agents. Initially, each division is having its own IT budget and system and has around 23 divisions. (Goldstein, 2005)

The FBI has learnt from its mistakes and started with a new case management called Sentinel. The FBI came up with the dissolve and reduce scope strategy. (Guidry, 2018) In order to be successful in this project, the CIO established a portfolio management plan to cover all the IT projects inclusive of those started earlier. Also, designing IT Architecture that will lay out standards for global IS. There also has been restructuring in the IT governance. “There are various functionalities which will be included in the new system like workflow, document management, record management, audit trails, access control and single sign-on.” The new project will be deployed in four phases and they were successful in deploying the first two phases which is on schedule and on budget. Timely training is given to all the agents to avoid the technology gap. The CIO believes that the new system will increase their productivity and they will be able to get rid of their old manual process. (Saunders, 2012)

It was clear that the VCF project was a complete failure, it didn’t have the correct specification from the client and the development team did assumptions instead of clarification from the client. Basically, it was having bad communication, undefined requirements, poor leadership skills, and lack of trust within the employees. There was lack of SME from the FBI front, which can help the SAIC with the design documentations. They learnt from the failed project and started the proposal for new case management system. The CIO’s approach for the failed VCF is the dissolve and reduce scope strategy. The new case management system will help to recover the losses which they incur with the initial project. To introduce IS, the CIO had to do some changes in the culture of the organization system.


All the organization in today’s world requires information system to ease the work. Modernization and culture change are important, which will help the employees of the FBI to utilize the new system which will be error free and easy to handle. The changes will eventually increase the productivity of the agents. The new system will help the agents to refer to the past cases to achieve success in the present cases. They should not be demotivated by the failed project. (Suzanne, 2017). As reported by the Standish Group International (2013), only 39 out of 100 projects succeed in information system. (Guidry, 2018). Hence, learning from the failure is the correct approach. They are having the chance to correct the mistakes done in the earlier project.

Project Management training should be given to the managers so that the project can be taken to closure taking in consideration scope, time, cost, quality, resources, risk etc. The managers should have leadership skills who is clear on the project’s goals and vision. All the constraints must be properly studied, and proper planning is required from the management. They must plan and build the strategies, through which they can easily transition to the changes. Later they can develop in-house projects.

They can motivate the IT team by introducing rewards and recognition for successful completion of the first two phases and motivate them to complete it in time. The training should be given to the agents so that they can easily browse through the new technology. The employees should accept the culture change and should be easily adapt to the new environment. The conflicts within the organization should be avoided and they can easily transition to the new system.


  • Dreitlein, S., Manzoni, J., Selvaratnam, B. M. A., & Valendra, K. (2017). Analysis of the failed FBI virtual case file project. Journal of Information Technology and Economic Development, 8(1), 25-32. Retrieved from
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  • Learning from software failure. (2005). IEEE Spectrum, 42(9), 8. Retrieved from
  • Guidry, T. L., Halligan, B. B., & Peters, C. (2018). Strategies for handling failures in development of information systems: JMI JMI. Journal of Managerial Issues, 30(3), 363. Retrieved from
  • Keri E. Pearlson, Carol S. Saunders, Fifth edition, 2012, “Managing and using information systems: A strategic approach”.