More than 20 years on since the United Nations' Ottawa Treaty against landmines, casualties from the ordnance continue to jump – with a recent report saying the people injured by unexploded munitions had reached the highest point in a decade in 2016.
The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) has for more than a decade worked closely with mine action groups and other agencies involved in landmine clearance. In 1999, GICHD developed its own Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) software, essentially a way to record all data points relating to mine intelligence – including areas, people and resources affected by munitions, followup victim assistance processes, and mine education activities.
Then, in 2015, GICHD turned to TIBCO's business intelligence (BI) platform Jaspersoft to build the Mine Action Intelligence Tool – or MINT – designed to be an online data analysis and reporting tool for mine action groups.
MINT is based on TIBCO JasperReports Server, which the GICHD described as an intuitive and user-friendly option that still had the capacity to write complex queries and easily draws results from them.
"The Mine Action Intelligence Tool basically connects to IMSMA instances in each country and then allows the user to extract any types of indicators or dashboard statistics for whatever contributes to evidence-based decision making within a mine action programme," MINT project coordinator Elisabeth Vinek tells Computerworld UK by telephone interview.
"It mostly helps the people coordinating mine action activities to have an overview of what is going on where, who does what, when and where," she explains. "Then, on an aggregated level, any types of indicators for example, assessing the operational efficiency of a programme. Say, a standard indicator to look at would be the number of items found per square metres processed."
This could help manual deminers avoid being deployed to clear large areas where nothing is likely to be found, thereby saving resources and money.
MINT came about because IMSMA was really designed for data entry and longer term storage, but it wasn't easy for users to draw actionable data from it in a meaningful way.
In 2013, the NGO conducted a market analysis to find software that would help it develop an intuitive BI tool.
But it also had to be cost effective and with a flexible licensing model.
"We usually provide our services for free," says Vinek. "So something that's on a per user basis or costs a lot per user, or even if it is a little per user but scales up, was not really within the budget.
"Also, we were looking for multi-tenancy, the possibility on one central installation to have several countries or several organisations that don't see each other. The analysis we made for these main factors – Jasper ReportServer came out on top of the list."
The way MINT works is that GICHD has one central installation and each organisation that uses the tool has its own administrators who manage users and provide them with credentials.
This, according to Vinek, means the technological barrier to sharing data is lower, and it also allows external partners without access to the full IMSMA database to see charts and reports specifically targeted to them.
The team, which works in 40 countries, had to take into account that the users will be relying on various types of infrastructure and often in extremely remote locations. On top of this, the end users are at differing levels of technical skill, so the product had to be lightweight and simple to use.
"We have to work with whatever we find in a remote place," Vinek says. "That ends up being a technological challenge because if we talk about putting a service in the cloud, we have to carefully look at each country, where we put it to minimise latency and optimise the performance."
"In the middle of the jungle in Colombia, or in the middle of South Sudan where there is little infrastructure – a lot of the reporting is still paper-based but more and more, mobile data collection comes into the picture," says Vinek.
Another area of importance is getting the balance between data collection and privacy right.
"Depending on the country of the programme, the content of the mine action data or database might be considered a military secret," Vinek said. "So there's a lot of discussion about disclosure, where does the data sit, how can you ensure that nobody has access to it, etc.
"But that really varies a lot: there are some countries that are very open to sharing and would put everything on a public page tomorrow. Then there are also the less political, but more societal aspects of it – we don't necessarily want people to know exactly where the threat is, because it's a threat. People shouldn't be encouraged to go there, have a look and pick things up, and things like that."
One area Vinek marks for future exploration is the real-time information gathering made possible by social media.
"Where big data could come in is for example harvesting social media for monitoring what's happening during a conflict," Vinek says. "When a conflict is over, mine action organisations come into a country and they need to figure out where the contamination is by conducting surveys, by talking to the local population.
"Now, with tweets and Facebook etc., there's a lot of data that is collected during the conflict – where people post pictures of something that's happening, of explosive ordnance. So I think there's a lot of potential in that area, but that's really something that's starting up, and we don't have anything concrete on that yet."
The organisation talked with Computerworld UK as part of international mine awareness day, which was agreed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 2005 to take place every 4 April, and stresses continued efforts by member states – with UN assistance – to remove explosive remnants of war where they are a serious threat to the safety, health and lives of the civilian population.