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OSI modernizing case management platform

  • Published
  • By Thomas Brading
  • OSI Public Affairs

The Office of Special Investigations is modernizing how its crime fighters manage their investigations, said the director of OSI’s Digital Transformation Office, as the latest case management platform is slated to launch later this year.

The OSI Records, Investigations & Operations Network (ORION) intends to be the organization’s new case management platform, with details still being ironed out as new capabilities are developed, said Maj. Justin Soderlund.

The planned rollout will not only give users a taste of the platform, but also help determine the level of training needed; whether it is a training course, tutorial or user guide required to familiarize a user with the platform, he said.

Soderlund hopes ORION will be like driving a rental car, he said, in the way most drivers can hop into unfamiliar vehicles and hit the road, even if they have never driven that model before.

“What we're hoping to develop is intuitive enough [so] the transition will be easy,” Soderlund said. That way, “we’ll see immediate benefits.”

In the early days of the ORION project, one of the first things he realized he needed to learn was why things were done in the first place, saying it was "quite an education," he joked, noting that managing criminal investigations was far more complex than he imagined. 

However, the need for change and keeping pace with technology is not a new concept for the organization and how it keeps tabs on potential criminals.

DAYS OF OLD

Soderlund said some people may have a distorted idea of how OSI works. For example, during the early 1900s, pages of pulp novels were filled with sensationalized tales of “gumshoes and G-Men,” he said.

But characters like Secret Agent X were merely fictional stories because they never show the paperwork.

The reality of criminal investigations is much more tedious and time-consuming. There is a lot of paperwork, but for a good reason.

For example, if someone is arrested in California, it is standard practice to convict them on the West Coast. But, if the individual fled and while driving through the Midwest they were pulled over by an Illinois police officer for speeding, the officer would not know the individual was wanted, or even potentially violent.

The information gap posed many risks, including the safety of officers. OSI was not much different. In the days of old, it was hard to collect and distribute information in a timely manner, he explained.  

“We were following suit with our federal counterparts, like the FBI, where most of it was hard copy,” the major explained. “We introduced things like typewriters and file cabinets. That turned into digital typewriters and word processors and things, so we've developed along with our counterparts.”

As with virtually all aspects of the world, technology continued advancing. The old method, with its crammed filing cabinets and overworked phone bank, set the stage for what agents refer to as criminal indexing, he said.

Today, arrest records and fingerprints of criminals are digitized and available in a computerized database for law enforcement agencies who can swap information from other law enforcement agencies.

Instead of collecting dust in dark basements, the digital information is holistically accessible for military and civilian law enforcement agencies with the click of a finger.

These days, law enforcement agencies can use modernized technology to apprehend fugitives and identify dangerous individuals before approaching them. In the example of the California fugitive on the run in Illinois, if the same situation happened today, the responding officer could realize within seconds who they are dealing with.

“It's been a long journey, and it's not always the cheapest or the easiest,” Soderlund said. “As we link with our federal, state and local counterparts, [we] must train everyone at those levels what that system is.”

The 1990s were marked by profound technological changes. Today's everyday things, like computers and the internet, transformed how people lived their lives in that era. OSI was no exception, and invested heavily during this time period to stay relevant.

Instead of being restricted to physical paper, the emerging digital system allowed OSI agents to index subject names, file numbers, social security numbers and more, he said. Agents around the world saw their first glimpse of a modernized record system, OSI’s Investigative Information Management System (I2MS).

Yet, despite being a gold standard across federal, state and local levels, a new, more streamlined system was on the horizon. One that would better serve the Department of the Air Force. 

“We realized, OK, how the Air Force network is structured doesn’t allow us to get [information] to our headquarters quickly. It's slow and we can probably speed this up, Soderlund said.”

OSI made excellent investments, like taking the desktop application of I2MS and making it available through the web, he continued. “It was faster, cleaner and we’ve continued to adjust to different needs.”

However, that system could only change so much, and it was not able to keep up with the OSI of the future.

ORION’s ORIGIN

Fast forward to 2019, when Soderlund is settling into his second day at OSI HQ in Quantico, Virginia and getting his new assignment as part of a new team led by OSI’s Executive Director, Dr. Jude Sunderbruch. The current OSI commander, Brig. Gen. Terry L. Bullard, just laid a new vision to modernize OSI’s case management system, and with these marching orders, the team got to work.

With the leadership of Special Agent Jeffrey Carlson, the diverse team of agents and analysts went on a research project across the federalstate, and local mission space to find out what is case management and how do others do it.

To fulfill the general's mission, the team quickly realized they couldn’t just, “put lipstick on a pig,” Soderlund joked. Rather, ORION had to be designed from day one as a fundamental rewrite of how OSI manages information.

During the early stages, the team's  crash course in digital technology revealed the need for more than just a new application. ORION needed to be rapidly configurable, hosted in the cloud, offer mobile access, integrate with mission partners, and have cross-domain solutions. In short, OSI would need a digital reset.

Coincidentally, the Department of the Air Force was driving vision for innovation and digital transformation. .

“By doing this, the timing was perfect,” he said.

OSI was one of the first on the DAF’s new strategic acquisition vehicle, which laid the foundation for ORION and OSI’s digital transformation. This allowed fast development of a new IT model with a relatively small financial investment.  

LOOKING AHEAD

In the years that followed, ORION has become more of a reality. Today, agents, analysts and developers are embedded together several times a week, going over ways to make ORION the best it can be. 

Initially, they collaborated on ways to run traditional investigations but with “enhancements within our system,” Soderlund said. These were distributed for field testing for feedback to identify ways to improve.

Some of these examples included the ability to connect with other systems to automate tasks like verifying an individual’s personal information.

“Those integrations have been completed and tested. Now one of our bigger hurdles is getting ourselves established in the [DAF's] cloud," he said.

“A lot of attention [to] where our Airmen, Guardians and adversaries are in, is the virtual environment,” he said, noting that, “this is where many individuals commit crimes.”

"That said, OSI Special Agents have “to pivot to keep up with the new schemes and the new methods of crime,” he added. “We’ve got to do that with our system, and then as we develop new operational activities to combat things like technology protection.”

ORION’s ability to put data in the cloud will help accomplish this and more. For example, detecting violent or destructive behaviors and collaborating across various commands will be made easier.

Now that the rollout timeframe has been established, the next step is to make sure it meets the needs of Special Agents in the field. That’s where Soderlund plans improvements.

For OSI, it seems to be a full-steam-ahead operation.

“The command has been quite generous,” he said. “We have thousands of hours of agents dialing in and providing feedback and insights on how things look or function. We appreciate [the] worldwide effort across the command to make this work.”

ORION is currently in a demo stage, with many users testing it across OSI, Soderlund said. In the run-up to the launch, developers are loading in accounts so they can get more feedback from the field and make improvements.

“When [ORION] goes live, I'm excited to see what folks can come up with to make this truly what they need versus our thoughts of it,” he said.

To hear to the full interview with Maj. Soderlund, please check out the latest OSI Today podcast here: https://www.dvidshub.net/audio/68483/osi-today-13