Christmas is around the corner – what Santa Claus can teach us about supply chain

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town

Yup, the big guy dressed in red is getting ready to make his annual appearance. Bringing all the girls and boys, as well as some lucky moms and dads, presents and gifts for their Christmas trees. And all he expects in return is maybe some milk & cookies or even a carrot for his reindeer. But did we ever expect Santa Claus to provide us with some simple lessons that are applicable to our supply chains?

He has the global fulfillment thing down...

He has the global fulfillment thing down…

  • He makes and list and checks it twice. Sage advice about how to handle all the data and information that extended supply chains produce and leverage on a weekly and daily basis. Many of the conversations I have had with supply chain practitioners and service providers comes back to getting a cleaner and more complete view of all the data that their supply chain produces on a weekly and daily basis. Look at what Santa is able to do – put all those wish lists in one aggregate list. He does check it twice to ensure consistency and correct for errors. Also good advice. Since we all know what garbage in gets us…companies like Avaya have worked with solution provider Kinaxis to create a more clear and single view of their distributor network and the data that is the connecting glue. One clean and unified view! Make sure to clear out that garbage before it gets into the system – or on Santa’s list.
  • Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. Yup Santa also looks at his data to segment his customers. Granted he has two simple categories. Our supply chains’ customers and suppliers are also segmented and they do not fall into simple “naughty” or “nice.” But maybe the simplicity of how Santa does his segmentation should drive our own. The key is identify what key variables matter to our businesses and supply chains. Determine which variables you need to identify and focus on to create the most effective segmentation. Santa might not explicitly state it, but his segmentation like our supply chains leverages a greater number of predictive analytics to drive better clarity. For example service providers such as Infosys work with a large office products manufacturer to better understand customer segments to establish service level engagements. Santa and our supply chains need to lean on tools and service providers that can help identify the variables to effectively and efficiently segment our target audience.
  • He sees you when you’re sleeping …He knows when you’re awake. Maybe Santa has a secret deal with the NSA to eves drop on our calls…okay I joke…I think…but Santa makes sure he is aware of his consumers’ characteristics and where they are in the gift receiving pipeline. If we are awake he wouldn’t deliver our presents! Your supply chain needs to be sensitive to customers and where they are in the buying cycle. Think of how companies such as Steelwedge and Salesforce have worked together to help their customers better with the S&OP process by tying in the data coming from the Salesforce CRM to get a clearer view of where customers are with regards to the transactional pipeline. It is not simply about identifying our sleeping patterns, but understanding where we stand in terms of the buying cycle what our demand is and might be – are we in a position to have our gifts delivered by Santa?
  • Santa’s a busy man he has no time to play…He’s got millions of stockings to fill on Christmas day. Wow, talk about solving the delivery to the home enigma. Santa and his reindeer are able to criss cross the global, in one night, and accurately deliver a vast number of packages, of different shapes and sizes, to millions of locations! Unbelievable. Santa is also ahead of the curve as he has been able to provide home delivery since day 1. Now I am not saying we can all find a Rudolfo with his nose so bright to guide our fulfillment and logistics departments, but there is something to say about how integrated Santa’s workshop is with his distribution center and his logistics. He cannot be expected to demonstrate this level of efficiency is he stocks the wrong goods, doesn’t properly load them to his sleigh and then takes poor routes to his delivery locations. Clearly the value for supply chains to integrate the warehousing and transportation is what Santa’s efficiencies demonstrate.  Vendors like Oracle with their integrated WMS/TMS and now yard management (that is like what Santa does with regards to managing the elves and ensuring their are efficient) or JDA with their TMS integrated with the WMS acquired in the RedPrairie merger, are prime examples of solutions that even Santa would appreciate to ensure seamless optimization between the workshop and the big red sleigh – ensure the inventory that he has to haul around the world on the night of December 24th is properly slotted and routed.

The one aspect Santa does not seem to have worry too much about, is with returns. He does not seem to have a good reverse logistics or after sales service department. But since he has gotten so much of the upfront part right he does have to worry about delivering the wrong items! Alas our supply chains do not have that luxury, and our supply chains do need to take into account reverse logistics, returns, maintenance and other after sales issues. But thanks to Santa Claus we have something to aspire to with regards to our supply chains.

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

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