Delivering the Christmas presents is still a mammoth, or rather, reindeer operation, Darren Greenwood discovers on a recent visit to the North Pole.

Father Christmas is bracing himself for his busiest time, ready to serve billions of customers this month. It's a large and growing operation, says this jovial man with the white beard. "My annual turnover is somewhere between Work and Income New Zealand and the US Defence Department," he smiles.

I look around and ask, where are the toy factories?

"It's nearly all made in China. A few years ago, I had to slash costs, so out went the factories, along with the elves. It was a painful experience," he continues.

"Institutional knowledge disappeared. The Chinese workers were efficient, but there were social costs as well. My redundant elves had nothing to do all day. They turned to drugs, drink and gangster rap. It became more like Detroit than Disney!

"What's more, we are technically in Lappland, that's Saamiland for the politically correct. Cost savings were eaten up by extra social taxes. It's an EU thing."

Fortunately, a government agency, Enterprise North Pole, lent the proverbial helping hand.

"They helped build a call centre for the elves to take orders globally. Every day, millions of email arrive from parents and children with their gift orders. People can also make requests online, ring the 0800 number, or even text. No-one writes anymore," explains Santa.

The government also built a technical college so the elves could retrain and learn new skills like CAD and e-marketing. Thus, some elves work as developers on the 'toys of tomorrow'. Or they staff the new Santaland theme park and museum.

"We thought about opening a wananga. It might have disguised the unemployment better, but we wanted our elves to graduate with something useful," smiles Santa.

So how does Santa know which children have been good?

"Spyware, it's simple! Little bugs on PCs tell me what websites people look at. I can also read email and other messages by using keystroke loggers like KeyGhost. I also use magic to view them through webcams and other devices. You could say magic is open source, but it is quite proprietary."

My poor reindeer

Once orders are collated and analysed using Santa's secret CRM system, these are then processed online with an integrated ERP suite instantly emailing the factories in China.

So will he be extra busy this holiday season?

"Yes, I will but not as much as I earlier thought for New Zealand. During your last election campaign, everyone wanted to play Santa Claus. I had special red suits made for Michael Cullen and John Key. But your new government opposes tax cuts and with interest rates going up, you Kiwis will have less to celebrate."

To help share his burden, Santa even experimented with clones. "I made a bi-cultural Santa called Sharples. He was brown with a shaggy grey beard. Can't think what happened to him."

Santa also ruminates on the repercussion of India and China becoming economic superpowers.

"As these countries get richer, their kids will want more toys too, eating up the planet's resources. Global warming might mean leaving here in 50 years if the ice caps melt every summer.

And what about my poor reindeer? We need those Pacific Islands so we can rest as we cross the ocean."

So do you physically cross the oceans and deliver the presents?

"I wouldn't say physically. Let us just say it's magic again."

So what will you be doing on Christmas Day? "Mother Christmas and I will go somewhere warm. This may not be the year for goose or turkey. We'll also tour Asia looking for new factory sites. Security of supply is the in-thing now.

Imagine if that tsunami had hit earlier along the east coast of China. Think how many unhappy children we would have had this year. And I don't know about you, but there's something wrong about Godless communists cashing in on a religious occasion."

I then leave, wondering if I had been good this year.

Boarding the plane, I open the media kit and look inside for a present. Inside is a small bag of coal.

Disclosure: Darren Greenwood was NOT flown to the North Pole by Air New Zealand.

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