We tend to imagine that the work of Santa’s elves at the North Pole is full of happy songs, bright smiles and endless cheer. For the most part, that’s true. But, many of us don’t know about something else at their workshop. It’s a clock—or a simple timer, actually. And it’s ever present in all aspects and locations of the most complex manufacturing, procurement and logistics operation the world has ever seen.
Nicknamed, Father Time, this clock counts down to Christmas Eve and then, when the holiday finally arrives, it automatically resets, and the big show starts all over again. While Santa’s workshop is indeed a happy place, it’s also full of pressure that builds with each tick and every tock that takes the elves one step closer to the next Noel.
We also commonly think that Santa’s operation spends most of the year making toys. Until recently, that perception wasn’t the case. Instead, Santa’s elves typically found themselves bogged down in manual planning processes along with inefficient budgeting and forecasting by endless spreadsheets pulling information from disparate data sources that exist in silos within various departments above and below the 85th parallel.
All of these challenges combined, year after year, to create significant waste of the elves’ extremely valuable and extremely limited time. Because of the countdown, they never feel as though they have enough days, weeks or months to properly design, develop, build, buy, pack and deliver the best possible toys for all the children.
Of course, all the pressure in the world doesn’t seem to bother jolly old Saint Nick. He works hard, suits up, flies straight and makes his deliveries, just as he has always done, without a care in the world. His concern isn’t everyday decision making. His focus is entirely on customer satisfaction.
But, one person in the organization has had enough with hundreds of years of watching a growing, global enterprise become bogged down in endless inefficient processes that resemble an underpowered snowplow in a heavy, wet blizzard. And that person is Mrs. Claus, COO at Artic Circle Carriers Consolidated (ACCC), which happens to be the delivery arm of Claus Enterprises.
Beginning the day after Christmas 2015, as soon as Father Time’s countdown commenced once again, Mrs. Claus realized it was time for a change. And that’s how Planning Analytics Revolutionizes Christmas Eve Labor (PARCEL) was born—not in a starlit manger but on a snow-whiteboard in Mrs. Claus’s office. From the first moment it was ceremoniously opened, project PARCEL wasn’t just for baking more cookies in the background or ensuring that the elves have the dental benefits they so often require. It’s about fundamentally transforming the entire yuletide planning cycle, from target setting and budgeting to reporting, scorecard analysis and forecasting.
The only other time such a massive undertaking as this one had occurred was decades ago when the elves had transitioned from hand tools and wooden toys to modern assembly lines and talking dolls. Now, once again, Mrs. Claus needed help—not the kind of help that has a glowing red nose or cute pointy hats. She needed a different kind of professional. She reached out to Tripp Braden, an old friend of the Claus family and a recognized expert in big data, advanced analytics and Industry 4.0. She wanted to see how Braden could assist in making this critical evolution take place as soon as possible.
Recently, I was lucky enough to catch up with Braden and ask him some questions about how he has been helping out with project PARCEL over the countdown of the past year and to chat about all the data-driven goings on at the top of the world. Braden was nice enough to carve out some time to answer a few questions during a routine flight from the mainland US to the Arctic.
I lead special projects for Santa’s executive advisory team.