by Maryfran Johnson

How the FBI’s CIO is Upgrading the Agency’s Technology

Jan 28, 2011
GovernmentMicrosoft OfficeOffice Suites

When CIO Chad Fulgham joined the FBI two years ago, his top priority was to upgrade IT. Is it an impossible mission?

You could probably guess most of the FBI’s top 10 priorities, listed on the agency’s website in the “about us” section. The first nine run the gamut from combating violent crime and terrorist threats to protecting civil rights.

But the 10th one might surprise you. It says, “Upgrade technology to successfully perform the FBI’s mission.” That one falls to the agency’s CIO, Chad Fulgham.

The seeming impossibility of this mission (given the FBI’s long history of IT boondoggles) makes for very compelling reading in Kim S. Nash’s cover story (FBI CIO’s Mission: Modernize). But this story is more than just a case study of one CIO’s struggles with a recalcitrant federal bureaucracy, outdated technology and daunting odds. Fulgham’s first two years on the job provide an instructive tour through the politics and positioning that any turnaround CIO must wrestle with when coming into a troubled IT organization.

Whether in government or private industry, new CIOs must triage the worst problems, generate quick wins and build relationships with all potential supporters. They also have to take the heat generated by their more unpopular moves, like shutting down someone’s favorite project or disciplining a powerful contractor.

“Senior executives can take bad news,” says Charlie Feld, CEO of the Feld Group and a member of our CIO Hall of Fame. “They just can’t take not knowing, or continuous streams of bad news that build uncertainty.”

Drawing on his IT experiences in the private sector, Fulgham, 36, drove early successes in unified communications, mobile systems, agile development and infrastructure upgrades. “IT is all about helping us conduct investigations faster,” he says.

One very public display of the FBI’s improving IT powers came last October with the arrest of 133 public officials in a San Juan corruption case. It was the largest single sting operation in FBI history, coordinated using Microsoft’s SharePoint and other mobile tools. That impressed everybody up the Justice Department food chain.

Now heading into that pivotal third year on the job, Fulgham is leading the rescue effort on a $405 million mess of a project called Sentinel, an all-digital case-management system for agents. He’s also gearing up to consolidate data centers, revamp network security and, ultimately, live up to Priority Number 10.

Once you read our story, I think you’ll agree he’s up to the challenge.

Maryfran Johnson is the editor in chief of CIO Magazine & Events. E-mail her at