The technology issues that plague many dispersed companies with offices, workers and suppliers spread around the globe come to a head in humanitarian relief and development organisations, which often work in areas with poor or unreliable connectivity.
These familiar problems, such as data existing in silos, duplication of effort and lack of a reliable overview are sources of inefficiencies that charitable organisations can ill afford.
Danny Mar, lead architect for enterprise architecture at charity World Vision, told Computing about some of these issues.
"How do I tell if I'm putting the right resources, the right number of people into a particular project?" he asked. "At the moment it's really difficult. You've got all these country-specific systems and data sitting in silos. By the time you've worked it all out the project has probably finished."
World Vision is a Christian organisation that works in almost 100 countries with a focus on child protection, child health and emergency relief. As it depends largely on donations and sponsorships, Mar said that transparency of operations - making it clear where the money is being spent - is fundamental to the way it works, and that most donors will not wish their money to go on supporting unnecessary technology.
"We're on a journey of getting all the data to talk to each other so we can get predictive about our business," he said.
The final destination of the journey is to centralise and rationalise all of the disparate enterprise systems where it makes sense to do so, said Mar, "but to leave space for innovation at the edges, the [fieldworkers] who understand the local conditions far better than we do sitting in LA or London."
Mar dismissed the idea of open source being the solution in this case, despite the lower initial costs.
"Open source is great for smaller projects but later on the support costs can really ratchet up. For something on this scale we needed a partner that could help us on every step of the way."
Having put feelers out to the "usual rogues gallery - Oracle, IBM, BEA", World Vision settled on integration specialist Tibco.
"Their CEO Vivek Ranadive came to see us and made us an offer we couldn't refuse," Mar said, going on to refute any Mafia connotations associated that phrase by saying: "He put Tibco on the line, and his vision of the right data, in the right place at the right time - to do good - really resonated with us."
The initial journey will be complete in about six months' time, although Mar stressed that improvements will continue to be made after that.
The first stage was to deploy Tibco Managed File Transfer, to allow World Vision to connect with remote sites all over the world, then it put Tibco's Enterprise Message Service (EMS), BusinessWorks (BW) development platform and Spotfire analytics on top of that backbone.
"Today we are extending many of those components, standing up the service bus with web services that we can provide, bolstering EMS and BW, and introducing the Tibco Web Messaging Gateway to extend across the web over web socket protocol. We don't have a global VPN or WAN. Putting all the security into systems that you can then extend across the web... makes the process [of authenticating, commissioning and decommissioning users] a lot more streamlined," Mar said, going on to explain that it will be much easier for non-tech savvy fieldworkers and volunteers to use than the alternatives.
While the new arcitecture will support all types of data transfer and messaging, the main use case is the collection of child data - medical records, height, weight changes in education, inoculations, new family members - in order to communicate better with donors and also to have a proper basis on which to judge the success of interventions and to predict where new ones will be necessary.
Given the poor connectivity at many locations, at present data is collected on a "fat client", which is distributed to fieldworkers with the .Net application preinstalled. Using the service bus this data is then synched to a central repository when the device can be synchronised and replicated to the other devices. Later on, Mar sees no reason that standard feature phones using SMS or other mobile devices could not be used.
"We're at the forefront of thinking what mobile looks like. Where we work, bandwidth is a luxury, I don't want to send you everything, just what you need to do your job," Mar said. "The right data in the right place at the right time."