Christmas MDM – How Santa does it

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Here at Capgemini we take Christmas seriously, very seriously, that is because unknown to the world’s children, a major part of Santa’s Christmas operation is run by us as a BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) in sector specific solution CPO – Christmas Process Outsourcing. Clearly the actual present giving and list reception remains in Santa’s extremely […]

Here at Capgemini we take Christmas seriously, very seriously, that is because unknown to the world’s children, a major part of Santa’s Christmas operation is run by us as a BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) in sector specific solution CPO – Christmas Process Outsourcing. Clearly the actual present giving and list reception remains in Santa’s extremely capable hands but he is a busy man and the population of the world’s children is ever growing which means in certain areas he looks for world class expertise and for support on MDM he came to Capgemini.

MDM and Santa?’ I hear you say ‘why does Santa need MDM?’

Santa has a massive need for MDM and due to the global nature of his organisation its a complex task. Broadly it fits into six key challenges

  1. Children – where do they live, where will they be at Christmas?
  2. Locations – What type of magic is required to enter the building and where should the presents be put
  3. Presents – Children use lots of terms to ask for the same presents
  4. Suppliers – Santa has a LOT of suppliers
  5. Materials – lots of presents are manufactured onsite
  6. Elves – Elves are incredibly talented individuals but they all have unique talents. There is no point pointing a wood carving elf on duty setting up a mountain bike!

There are other smaller elements around Finance but overall it’s these six areas where here at Capgemini we help ensure that Santa runs his operation with legendary efficiency.  To run the sort of procurement, manufacturing and distribution organisation that Santa has its critical that this information all be under total control, previously this was not only a manual task but one that was prone to issues which caused much additional stress on the lead up to the big day.  By running the CPO, and helping Santa institute a strong Data Governance organisation, we’ve been able to reduce the stress, increase the efficiency and generally make sure that kids get the presents they are asking for.

So what do we do for Santa in these areas? Well let’s start at the business end of the scale and an area of high contention within Santa’s operation.

Reference Data – What is naughty?

As part of Santa’s data governance practice there is a continual debate over what constitutes ‘naughty’, this bar has changed over the years, not really getting higher but certainly getting different. To help with this Capgemini maintains the critical ‘naughty matrix’ against which children are measured :

Santa Matrix

This piece of reference data has as you can see two axes – doing as told and acts of kindness – over the years there has been much internal elf debate over where the ‘naughty’ sections are and a degree of tuning is often required at this time of year. I can confirm however that sulking because you can’t go to a Justin Bieber concert is a definite black mark this year as Santa is a massive Lady GaGa fan.  The red area on the matrix is this year’s ‘naughty’ zone, you’ll notice that Santa is interested not just in whether you do what you are told but whether a child moans or argues BEFORE then doing what they are told. There are lots of other pieces of reference data to be managed for Santa from product hierarchies, skills matrices and of course countries (Santa is a keen supporter of ISO in this regard and insists that we follow their standards wherever possible). Reference data is therefore the first job, it’s impossible to manage all of the information if we don’t have clear definitions on these central pieces. After all if there wasn’t a definition of ‘naughty’ how on earth could Santa hope to do his job?

He’s making a list, we’re checking it twice

At the heart of Santa’s operations of course are the children who are receiving the gifts, the individual children, not just names attached to christmas wish lists but actual individuals.  It’s critical that a child appears once, and only once, on Santa’s list.  With children being born and growing up every minute then this is a constant task of making sure we know exactly who all the children of the world are.  Checking against birth records, government systems and of course our own internal information we keep the list up to date, often requiring eleves to go out and double check whether there really are multiple George Foremans living at the same house (there were!) or whether two different addresses are actually related to one child.

Once we’ve got the list, a continual task, its also then important to check which children actually believe in Santa, if you don’t believe in Santa then he doesn’t deliver presents to you.  Haven’t you ever wondered why Christmas was less interesting when you got older?  Its because your parents had to pick up the slack, and good though they are they just aren’t Father Christmas.  The children tracking part of our MDM BPO for Santa is easily the biggest part as it has the most change and the most volume.

Making sure he doesn’t get stuck in the chimney

Locations are the next challenge, they need to be matched to children for the big delivery day – it’s no good shipping presents to the main address if everyone is over with the grandparents!  With a real-time link to most government postal address systems and the very latest satellite imagery we are able to add new locations and remove unused ones as part of our on going service.  Santa however doesn’t just need to know where the house is, he also needs the TITO plan.  TITO stands for ‘Three In, Three Out’ which refers to the number of entrance and exit plans that we need to supply to Santa for each house.  This is probably the area with the most outbound verification as come the big day we can’t have Santa wandering around trying to work out how to get in, he needs the route and he needs it fast.  For each location therefore there are three different routes

  1. Primary – this is the main and straight forward route, chimneys, magic doors etc
  2. Kid avoidance – if the kids are still up and trying to catch Santa out then this is the route that ensures no one can possibly see him
  3. Last resort – if the other routes are blocked and Santa has run out of magic dust then this is the fall back route

Fortunately in the 10 years of running the CPO we’ve never had to use route 3 but its a core part of our service that we ensure that these routes are planned out and tested 3 months in advance.  All new locations have an elf run a route verification run and for existing locations we first verify if there have been any structural changes and if there have whether these impact the routes, we also randomly sample existing routes and make sure that all routes have at least a test every 10 years.  This part of the operation is all about making sure that on the big day everything runs super smooth.  The level of documentation that was previously created on this was huge, but thanks to our experience in KPO (Knowledge Process Outsourcing) we’ve been able to simplify the documentation and put a more rigorous version control around it, previously there had been occasions where Santa had been given an old TITO which led to several delivery issues.

My little pony, it’s not a real pony

Presents, the reason for the whole thing.  Here the challenge is three-fold

  1. Matching a child request to a specific present – if they ask for a ‘My little Pony’ don’t send an actual pony
  2. Understanding the substitutability of presents – if they ask for chocolate and you provide a Lindt reindeer then that is fine, if they ask for a chocolate reindeer then supplying a cuddly reindeer is not
  3. Understanding the volume and dimensions – sack packing is a mathematical challenge

Presents are also the things that cover the most internal systems for Santa.  From ERP (Elf Resource Planning) and PLM (Present Lifecycle Management) through to SACK (Sack analysis for Children/Kids) and Rudolf (the distribution planning system) they all need to know about presents, often with their own local additions but its important to make sure from the manufacturing till the moment its put under the tree that we always know exactly which present we are dealing with, this is what we call the SMPL (Santa’s Master Present List).  One of the key skills that we helped Santa with was the multi-lingual challenge of children’s list translation, with a global staff capable of supporting over 30 languages natively and many more via text and technical translation Capgemini provide a full set of translations, pseudonyms, nicknames and other alternatives for items on the SMPL.

Minimising Santa’s Carbon Footprint

Next up in the services we offer Santa is the ability to manage his massive list of suppliers, from sourcing wood from sustainable forests through to the latest cool toys direct from the manufacturers it’s important that Santa knows exactly who he is buying from.  This means we have to create the full structure of companies, their distributors and provide Santa with a full environmental assessment on each company’s supply chain, what with living above the Arctic Circle the environmental impact is a big issue for Santa these days.

This means that when a new supplier is on boarded our MDM CPO folks have to go into full details around ownership, company structures, tax registration and enable the company’s effectiveness and performance to be rated by the rest of Santa’s organisation. Having a global BPO team really helps in this as our folks in China, India, Australia (which supplies many of the raw materials) and Latin America are able to give Santa the global visibility he needs on his suppliers.  These suppliers have their own catalogues which need to be mapped either into the SMPL or the EMM (Elves Material Master) so internally we are always just dealing with our own pieces.  This makes it easier for procurement to negotiate with suppliers as we have a clear substitution policy and with their global buying reach they are able to get the best deals often buying from multiple subsidiaries to hide that it’s Santa doing the buying.  Suppliers wise we’ve helped Santa reduce his suppliers by around 20% by providing visibility on organisational structures which drives procurement efficiency while also enabling him to use local suppliers for ‘Just in Time’ pick-up on the big day.

Quality counts – stockpiles cost

The last externally facing piece is materials, the elves make a lot of the products directly on-site from raw materials (not many people realise that Santa has an extensive IP licensing deal with major studios) and Santa is always clear that quality counts when it comes to these critical products.  Capgemini manages both the EMM and the mapping of suppliers materials onto the EMM, this includes MTBP (Mean Time Between Failure) assessments for certain materials (normally semi-finished products) and quality ratings for others.  This means that depending on the final finished product the elves can use exactly the same material from the EMM but the procurement elves can optimise the actual material supplied based on the quality level required.  This approach helps Santa to manage his materials stockpiles more effectively.  By using the EMM for stockpile management the warehouse elves are able to manage single stockpiles across suppliers, sometimes with multiple ‘bins’ within a single pile if there are quality differences.

This approach, driven by our MDM BPO team, has really reduced the out-of-stock problem that Santa used to have while helping him reduce his stockpiles and materials budget by around 30%. There was an embarrassing case a few years ago where one procurement elf accidentally got the units wrong and ended up buying 5000 tonnes of gold instead of 5000g, this caused quite a spike in the world gold price at the time but fortunately as the price has continued to rise Santa has made quite a profit on the mistake.  The reference data was absolutely clear but the elf in question had been used to buying wood and had never selected the ‘g’ option before, we’ve now updated the master data so each commodity now has a ‘default’ and ‘allowable’ units definition.

Elf and Safety

One of the big pieces of internal work that we undertake for Santa is the HR BPO side which includes the employee MDM BPO.  Elves are a talented bunch but they tend to specialise from quite a young age on a single area which means it’s really important for Santa to marry future demand forecasts with his current training programme.  Capgemini manages this list of skills for Santa and enables the elves to self-administer their profiles so they can detail their skills and have their supervisors enter effectiveness and performance ratings for those skills.  This makes sure that elves always have the right training required for their job and proudly Santa’s elves haven’t had a single work place accident since we introduced this new approach, previously there had been wrong allocations into the saw mill which had led to some very nasty accidents, today that sort of thing just isn’t possible.  The other positive is that we’ve been able to identify opportunities where elves can move from one area to another directly or through cross training, this has helped as children’s requests change with elves.

Setting the Big Man up for the Big Day

The final piece of work we do for Santa is in providing him with all this information in a simple to consume way, as an extremely mobile user of business information our experience in Mobile BI has been critical.  Providing Santa with a mobile application (on an iPad if you are interested in that sort of thing) which uses his current location, distribution route, sack contents and the various pieces of master data to give Santa the current TITO for this location and the presents within the sack that he should be pulling out.  Thanks of course go to the folks at NORAD who help Santa by enabling him to use military grade GPS technology.

The new mobile automation is a great time-saver over the previous print-out approach and also means that Santa is able to play Angry Birds when he finishes, something he finds helps him unwind. During the rest of the year this Mobile BI for MDM solution means that Santa can track next year’s plan, his current Elf resourcing and training schedule and make modifications to the TITOs based on his experience from the year.  This means that the big man can take a nice break in January, I won’t say where but let’s say that it’s hot, and still be connected back to Santa HQ, it’s really helped the work/life balance for both Santa and the elves as enabling mobility means that procurement elves can get this work done in the field rather than flying forward and backward and Santa now has elves in most Capgemini locations helping him do the local pieces that need doing.  Mobility means that elves now get to experience the world rather than have to keep schlepping back to Santa HQ to do the data entry, it’s a very popular program with the elves with a long list of folks who want to get out into the field.

Why Santa chose Capgemini MDM BPO

As one of the world’s foremost providers of MDM services Capgemini was always going to be on Santa’s short list for MDM BPO but what Santa really liked was our ability to work with his elves, our global multi-lingual capability (kids don’t all write in English you know!) and our technology automation.  With a standardised set of leading practice MDM BPO processes automated through our BPOpen solution we were able to demonstrate to Santa both the speed and quality that he demands.

This year Santa is trialling our new BPO MDM technology solution which reduces the amount of desk-based integration required and means that rather than embarking on his own MDM technology project he is able to gain the advantages of MDM technologies without the risk of his own implementation project (elves aren’t the best at package implementation as they are used to custom building things), so far it looks good with further reduction in stockpiles and real-time child identification and present synchronisation meaning that previous year’s batch reconciliation processes have now been significantly reduced as the information is guaranteed in real time.

The picture below is what we use with the elves to explain what we are doing, clearly they are the experts at the Christmas Transaction Processing and business side so we just explain how we work with them to create an operating model that suits their business and help them set up a governance model that works for them.  This is then backed up by out global technology platform (BPOpen) and industrialised through our global operations centres

Christmas CPO

Having that clear goal from Santa of running a slicker and more efficient Christmas really helps both us and the elves concentrate on what matters, if you can’t say why it makes Christmas more magical for the kids then don’t both proposing it!  We’ve found that a lot of our BPO skills in other industries, particularly Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) and Manufacturing, have really helped in optimising how Santa’s operation works and both the operational processes and the technology are used in the broader BPO organisation as well as CPO.

Santa was also a fan of our experience in setting up complex Data Governance organisations, getting procurement elves and packing elves agreeing on the definition of a present hasn’t been easy but our MDM RADAR approach allowed Santa and his elves to concentrate on where agreement was actually needed rather than arguing over things that were perfectly okay to be separate.  The more Santa and his elves have been able to get those standards agreed the more we’ve been able to help them get the standards implemented.    We ran a large scale Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE) event for Santa a few years ago to help him get this all started and agree the foundations, including getting the chief data stewards assigned. These eleves had been in roles for many years as Christmas Helper Entity Expert Resources or CHEER for short, Santa’s elves are acronym nuts, hence the term ‘Bringing Christmas CHEER‘ but unfortunately hadn’t had the structure or co-ordination to really make them successful which meant they were seen as superflous to the business.  These days CHEER is seen as an integral part of Christmas at Santa HQ and we are proud at Capgemini of helping Santa create a CHEER full Christmas which has really reduced the number of occasions where children are matched to the wrong presents (I mean seriously haven’t you noticed how kids are getting more of what they ask for these days?).

We are proud at Capgemini of how our MDM BPO organisation has risen to this challenge in the same way that they have risen to so many others and created the sort of MDM approach for Santa that we consider to be the only sort of MDMapproach that works, namely one that works as an integral part of business operations and is aligned to the business challenges, sure we do MDM technology but we see it as the automation of the business operations not as a thing in itself.

A quick request from Santa

Thanks to Santa for allowing us at Capgemini to explain how some of his back-office works to ensure that Christmas day works as promised but there is one request that I’ve been asked to make.  There are traditions of leaving milk, sherry or other drinks out for Santa as well as mince pies, cakes or cookies.  The carrots for the reindeer are always well received and helps keep their energy levels up but Santa would like to make clear that he is also a fan of a fine Cognac and the occasional refreshing Ginger Beer or Mojito helps break up the monotony.   Read more about Capgemini and MDM

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