Santa Deploys the ‘Internet of Things’ Across his North Pole Operations

Over the past five years I have been providing updates on one of our more secretive customers based out of a large factory in the North Pole. Nearly all of our B2B solutions have been implemented across the supply chain and distribution network of the big man himself, Santa Claus. I have listed five years of worth of project updates below, simply click on the web links to learn how cloud B2B integration helps Santa with his operations.

2008GXS Managed Services chosen to support Santa’s new B2B hub, GXS Intelligent Web Forms deployed to create SantaNet

2009Santa completes deployment of GXS Managed Services and begins to embrace social media tools

2010 – Santa evaluates how cloud computing and mobile devices could improve North Pole operations

2011 - GXS Active Community (formerly RollStream) gets rolled out across Santa’s trading partner community to improve day to day collaboration across his Present Delivery Network and he also gets nominated for B2B Hero award by GXS

2012 – Santa begins to evaluate the information flowing across SantaNet and implements a Big Data strategy

Five years on from the initial discussions with Santa’s IT team I have just returned from a three day trip to the North Pole. Getting an audience with Santa has always been difficult, especially this time of year, and it was whilst I was returning from a business trip to Amsterdam that I received a email from one of his many assistants.

“Please can you come up to Santa’s factory in the North Pole as he would like to update you on how we have expanded our Present Delivery Network Hub during 2013. A seat has been reserved for you on ELF001 which will be leaving from Schipol Airport at 21:00hrs”

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I cancelled my flight home and boarded ELF001, a 747 ‘DreamLifter’ up to the North Pole International Airport. I showed a picture of one of these aircraft in last year’s update and it always amazes me how much you can fit into one of these aircraft, Santa leases several of these aircraft each year to help with the distribution of over 520million presents to his global network of Present Distribution Hubs.

santa1When I arrived at Santa HQ I was whisked through the fast track security channel, (security is normally tighter here than any TSA check point found at North American airports) I was taken straight to the ‘Project Dasher’ war room where the global deployment of GXS Managed Services was initially masterminded from. In the corner of the room was Santa, sitting by the fire reading a copy of our new EDI Basics book (download a copy HERE). One thing you quickly learn about Santa, probably due to the nature of his job, is that he knows most of the IT and technology trends that have made news in recent years. Santa always looks for ways to continuously improve his operations and during 2013 he has been implementing a new project relating to the ‘Internet of Things’. The Internet of Things basically relies on machine to machine connectivity via the internet to exchange real time information from one device to another.

‘The Internet of Santa’s Things’ (IoST) has now been deployed across his entire operation. Santa already had good visibility across his operations but the connected nature of the Internet of Things has meant that he has been able to take enterprise wide visibility to an entirely new level. Santa already had his trading partners connected to his Present Delivery Network Hub and last year he spent a lot of time implementing a Big Data strategy to analyse information flowing across this platform. Santa quickly realised that if he could somehow connect his digital and physical supply chains together then he would obtain even greater operational efficiencies. However there was one major stumbling block to deploying IoST, he had to connect every machine or piece of equipment to the internet. Santa decided to extend this still further by connecting every employee and reindeer to IoST as well, but more on this later.

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Santa had to sign partnership agreements with numerous network and industrial automation providers as well as one of the world’s largest mobile network companies to allow all aspects of his operation to connect with IoST. Every piece of equipment that needed to be connected to IoST had to have a WiFi card connected to the machine or equipment’s main control board. The extended real time connectivity that IoST now provides allows Santa to obtain some interesting insights into his operation. Here are just a few examples of how IoST is beginning to help Santa’s operation.

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  1. Every piece of warehouse and logistics equipment within Santa’s global network of Present Distribution Hubs is now connected to the Internet. Increased connectivity across his distribution network has helped to remove traditional blind spots where inventory levels had previously been difficult to monitor. Every stock movement via ‘internet connected’ machines such as fork lift trucks and pallet movers can now be accounted for and this provides a more accurate view of inventory levels. Given the tight schedule that Santa has over the Christmas period, every second saved through improved visibility helps to improve the overall service to his customers, the children of the world.
  2. Closed loop processes were implemented to allow the automatic ordering of toy parts. As soon as the level of parts inventory fell below a certain level, sensors in the storage bins sent a message to the order management system and electronic orders for new parts would be sent directly to the supplier with no elf intervention at all. This closed loop ordering process has helped to significantly reduce buffer stocks of toy parts which are now ordered on demand, as they are required.
  3. Santa’s army of warehouse associates, elves, work in warehouses ten times the size of Amazon’s largest warehouse in the world. To improve elf productivity it is important for presents to be located quickly in their respective storage locations within the warehouse. In order to maximise efficiency, each elf has been issued with Google Glass which helps to locate specific presents in the warehouse and provide instant access to product information. The extensive network of sensors and other connected devices transmit a constant stream of information across the warehouse and factory locations. Google Glass provides one of many visual ‘entry points’ into information flowing across Santa’s Present Distribution Network.
  4. The North Pole Union of Elves (NPUE) has been keeping a close eye on the working environment of Santa’s elves in recent years. The elves work tirelessly during the Christmas period to fulfil ‘orders’ from the little children of the world and to protect the health of the elves, they have been issued with a slightly modified Jawbone device which they can wear on their wrists during the working day. The Jawbone device helps to monitor the work, health and sleep patterns of each elf. As each elf clocks out at the end of each day, information from their Jawbone device is uploaded to a central database and the health of each elf is analysed overnight to ensure they are working within the union’s guidelines. So as well as machines being connected to IoST, every one of the 10,567 elves are connected to IoST as well.
  5. Santa started to implement a Big Data strategy in late 2012 but now with every machine and elf connected to IoST, Santa has a huge amount of data available to him which helps to make improved and better informed management decisions. Santa heard from one of the leading industry analysts that Big Data Analytics was going to become a more important area in coming years and this is why Santa has now decided to sponsor a degree at a local Elf University which will help elves analyse these rich data sets and essentially become world leading information scientists.
  6. The scale of Santa’s operation is huge and so are his energy bills to run his numerous factories and distribution facilities. Santa’s business is at the heart of an area often depicted in news reports relating to global warming and for this reason Santa has an added interest in preserving the environment. The Internet of Things presented Santa with an opportunity to monitor energy levels across his facilities and take corrective action to improve the energy efficiency of these operations. Over the past year Santa has built up a global network of technology partners, one example was Google discussed earlier and another is NEST, a producer of leading edge thermostats and smoke detection systems. These devices are installed in every major work area of Santa’s operation and each device is connected to IoST. They allow Santa to remotely monitor and control the temperature to ensure his elves have an optimum environment to work in. Santa also worked with local water supply and electricity companies to find ways of monitoring energy usage. Power for his factories and warehouses can be supplied from either water based power generation equipment located under the Arctic ice flows or the giant solar panels and wind turbines that have been installed across the North Pole.
  7. Santa takes great pride in the operational efficiency of his elves on the production lines as they are assembling toys. To improve his levels of factory automation, Santa has also worked with leading industrial automation companies to install automatic assembly and packaging machines. Needless to say these pieces of production equipment have also been connected to IoST. In fact since connecting to IoST the production line has experienced virtually zero downtime. This is due to the ‘predictive maintenance’ processes that have been put in place. In the old days Santa’s maintenance elves would carry out preventative maintenance on production equipment but with the introduction of IoST, Santa decided to implement a predictive maintenance process that would harness the information being transmitted from each machine and allow them to make decisions on whether parts needed replacing. This process has been so successful that even Santa’s contract manufacturers have connected their production equipment to IoST so that they can leverage the benefits of predictive maintenance.
  8. Some people think that Santa’s reindeer have some form of nuclear power source as they are able to go around the world in a matter of hours. In fact following the elves adoption of Jawbone devices, Santa thought it was only fair to ensure the well-being of the other key members of his extended staff, his herd of reindeer. Santa had read in a recent edition of Wired magazine that some scientists had experimented with health monitoring chips embedded under the skin to monitor key functions of the body. Santa worked with one of the world’s leading universities conducting research into improving animal health, to see if a chip could be embedded under the skin of a reindeer. This would allow the reindeer’s health to be monitored remotely 24/7. The chip monitors nearly a dozen key body functions and this information is transmitted back to Santa HQ via IoST every minute so that if necessary Santa can replace a reindeer as and when required and thus ensure that the herd of reindeers are working to their optimal performance.
  9. Santa’s sleigh contains nearly as many sensors as a Formula One race car. The 150 sensors placed at strategic points on the sleigh monitor everything from speed, sleigh distortion, temperature, weight and on board inventory levels. The information from ‘Sleigh Force One’ is transmitted to Santa HQ via IoST. The burst of information, nearly 2Gb worth of data, is transmitted every five minutes and is archived on a bank of storage devices within Santa’s newly upgraded data centre. Remember those barges mysteriously floating off the California coast recently? Google said that they were going to become facilities for show casing new products. In fact one of the barges is actually a new data centre that was recently towed up to the Arctic Circle. This data centre is at the hub of Santa’s IoST infrastructure. A team of elves located in the Mission Control facility at Santa’s HQ are constantly monitoring the sleigh to make sure it is perfectly balanced and optimised during its journey through some of the harshest weather conditions around the world. Santa’s sleigh also contains a temperature controlled locker and sensors placed on presents stored in this locker ensure that the temperature is maintained to a specific level.
  10. The one other area where IoST has been applied is with the presents themselves. Whilst on the sleigh, sensors monitor the condition and temperature of the presents. However when they are dropped down a chimney the sensors switch mode and start transmitting information about its condition after being delivered. As presents are sent out from Santa HQ, two identifying labels are automatically applied to each present. One label has an embedded RFID device which is directly linked up to IoST and the second label is essentially a QR code. This QR code is applied for the purposes of the children’s parents. The QR code once scanned, takes you to a website which not only shows what the present is, but includes downloadable instructions etc, more importantly it describes how the packaging should be recycled or disposed of. This initiative alone has helped boost Santa’s green credentials and as the information is transmitted across IoST it has helped Santa achieve REACH and RoHS compliance to ensure materials are disposed of safely.

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Following the implementation of IoST, Santa also upgraded SantaPAD, a mobile app that was developed last year to help him keep track of his operations whilst he was delivering presents around the world. SantaPAD v2.1 now provides details of every device connected to IoST, through a machine to machine equivalent of Facebook, and this means that Santa can effectively monitor the ‘pulse’ of his operations from anywhere in the world by simply using his iPad app.

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So it has been quite a year for Santa, each time I visit he manages to extend the functionality of his IT infrastructure in a different way. Santa’s Internet of Things strategy has been his most ambitious project to date and it seems to have stretched into every area of his operations. I think it certainly provides a great case study in terms of how other companies could deploy the Internet of Things across their own production and logistics operations and I am sure Santa will be open to showing companies around his new and fully connected operation.

2014 will see many companies start to embrace the Internet of Things and Santa’s big bang approach to rolling out IoST across his operations has worked out well but not every company will want to take this approach.

Providing an update on Santa’s B2B platform traditionally means that this is one of my last blogs of the year and so with this in mind I just wanted to offer season’s greetings and best wishes for 2014, See you next year !