What do you need to work in Iraq or Afghanistan? 3G, business intelligence - but no servers

Control Risks CIO on how technology supports its operations in some of the most dangerous regions in the world...

In the last of our series examining the role technology plays in helping businesses to operate in some of the most testing environments, silicon.com investigates how IT serves those in politically unstable areas.

Iraq and Afghanistan are among the most unpredictable regions in the world, so if you're planning to do business there, you need to be well prepared.

Companies such as Control Risks provide advice, risk assessment, support and physical security for organisations in the financial services, mining, gas and oil industries, with the aim of allowing them to work in such regions as safely and productively as possible.

Technology plays an important role in Control Risks' work, according to the company's CIO Duncan Scott. When helping clients move around in dangerous areas, for example, Control Risks uses business intelligence to plan safe routes, using information that has been gathered about previous incidents to create a picture of situations in different regions that can inform operatives' travel decisions.

Control Risks supports clients in politically unstable regions such as Iraq

Control Risks supports clients who want to exploit natural resources and other business opportunities in politically unstable regions such as IraqPhoto: Control Risks

"We have this fantastic data reservoir of incidents and we have now mapped all of those incidents onto a tool. We can project that [information] pictorially through a map, so people driving around in protected vehicles can make decisions about where they go and where they don't go," Scott said.

"The database can show you that there's been quite a lot of mine activity in this region, or this town or this village, [so staff can say] 'let's go round it, let's go another way'. They use the collateral that we have, before they travel, to make plans."

The tools are built with readily-available software including Microsoft's SQL database and SharePoint as well as Google Maps. "It's common IT tools that are being used in a real-world life-saving way," Scott said.

One of the areas Control Risks works in is hostage negotiation – and business intelligence plays a part in such work too.

"We've collected collateral over many, many years around kidnap; we obviously can profile the kind of situations that we find ourselves in. In the more modern world we're using historical information to help consultants in the field to understand what they have and what their options are," Scott said.

Satellite communications and 3G

According to Scott, "communications and radio transmissions are vital" for those on the ground.

"If you're going anywhere, you have to take a...