10 minute read

It has been a couple of years since I heard from Santa Claus. He, like everyone else, has been quite busy working around all the issues from the COVID-19 pandemic. So it was a pleasant surprise when I got an email from his Chief Administrator Elf that Old Saint Nick wanted to set up a Zoom call.

The Zoom invite said that Santa was interested in discussing ways to improve capabilities with his upstream Christmas Express Supply Chain (CESC) supplier partners. Santa must have seen my LinkedIn announcement that I had taken a leadership role with Nulogy, a leading supplier of digital supply chain solutions that enable brand companies and their supplier communities to collaborate on a multi-enterprise platform to deliver with excellence to ever-changing market conditions.

The Christmas Express Supply Chain

From previous discussions with Santa, I knew that the CESC is quite complex:

  • The CESC is handling more than 1,000,000 SKUs, many of which are new each year and have no demand history.
  • The CESC has over 30 large manufacturing plants at the North Pole which are all ecologically friendly, carbon neutral and self-contained.
  • Santa’s supply chain is staffed by an army of Elves who handle everything from the naughty or nice list, Gifts and Operations Planning (G&OP), gift procurement, gift manufacturing, gift testing (one of Santa’s favorite departments), gift prepositioning, and gift transportation.
  • There is also a large support staff of Elves to handle finances (which is headed up by Mrs. Santa Claus as the Chief Financial Elf), elf resources, reindeer relations, and the magic department.
  • And last but not least, the CESC upstream supply network consists of multiple tiers and tens of thousands of supply partners.

Over the last few years Santa has invested in enhancing Elf, process, data, and technology capabilities. Santa’s team of industrious Elves has implemented Christmas 4.0 capabilities that span the internal CESC operation, including advanced planning and optimization solutions that enable advanced analytics and a near real-time view of the CESC supply chain. Santa explained that providing real-time information is just not possible due to how fast he has to travel on Christmas.

After catching up (it is amazing how much he knew about what was going on in my life), Santa got right down to business. He is a pretty smart guy and confided in me that much of his CESC team’s success on Christmas is due to hard work by hundreds of thousands of humans working in his upstream supply chain. He told me that over the last two years, there have been significant disruptions in the upstream supply chain due to COVID-19. He knows (of course he does) that his supply partners have been working around the clock and he greatly appreciates their efforts. However, he wants to find ways to work smarter, not harder, to streamline collaboration, and to speed up response times to accommodate the ever-changing gift lists he receives as Christmas nears.

Santa wants to find ways to work smarter, not harder, to streamline collaboration, and to speed up response times.

I told him I fully understand and have seen many supplier networks (although not at the scale of the CESC supplier network) struggling with the same issues. We spoke about the need for near real-time data visibility and collaboration with key upstream supply partners to increase agility and resilience. He smiled and said he knows a bit about agility, having to be pretty agile himself to get down some of the more modern chimneys! He also thought improved resilience to disruptions sounded good and spoke about the time Christmas almost had to be canceled due to a blinding snowstorm. Of course, that is where magic is helpful (but that is another story). Santa put his finger beside his nose and asked what magic can he apply to gain this increased visibility and collaboration in his supplier network.

The Multi-Enterprise Effect

That’s when the discussion turned to multi-enterprise supply chain platforms. Santa is very sharp and quickly picked up on the differences between one-to-one supplier portal solutions and a many-to-many multi-enterprise solution. He knew from hundreds of years of experience it was difficult to establish true collaborative relationships with suppliers because often the supplier did not see value in doing so. Much of the onus of adhering to closer relationships fell on the supplier, who normally has dozens of major customers all demanding that the supplier use their flavor of supplier portal technology.

With a multi-enterprise platform, each party on the platform only needs to connect once to be able to collaborate with any other party on the platform. The supplier can collaborate with all of their customers on the platform through a single interface to their operating systems and a single user interface. Real-time data flows back and forth to align and synchronize all partners improving efficiency and effectiveness through the extended supply chain. Cross-company process and performance collaboration is real-time, benefiting all partners. Talk about Magic! Santa was thrilled with the prospect of building win-win partnerships. You see, Santa likes to give as much or more than he likes to receive.

Santa is very sharp and quickly picked up on the differences between one-to-one supplier portal solutions and a many-to-many multi-enterprise solution.

I told him about the multi-enterprise network effect, and how platform participants can “Plug & Play” with other platform participants to easily add new partners to the CESC supplier network. Santa liked the sound of that. He knows that children are constantly changing what they want for Christmas. Finding a capable supplier to provide new products and establishing a working relationship is difficult and time consuming. Santa said that adding new suppliers quickly is just as important to the success of Christmas as having a competent cross-trained elf force and a team of healthy reindeer.

Supercharging Supply Chain Capabilities

Santa said that all this multi-enterprise visibility, collaboration, agility, resilience, and plug & play capabilities sound as good as fresh snow on Christmas Eve. I agreed, although we don’t see much of that white stuff in Arizona. But I told him: there’s more. Since Santa had already invested in digitizing the CESC and building a detailed CESC digital twin, I told him he could supercharge his investments through bringing near real-time upstream supply network data directly into his CESC Advanced Planning & Scheduling (APS) Digital Twin.

His lively eyes lit up when I spoke about supercharging his supply chain capabilities and he told me he has been considering adding a supercharger to his sled, but he didn’t think the reindeer would appreciate it. I told him that the data from his upstream supply chain will extend his digital twin beyond what he currently had for his own plants to enable what-if scenarios, simulations and other advanced analysis capabilities for combined internal and partner operations. Santa’s belly expanded, let out a hearty laugh, and said that his planning Elves would do backflips to have that kind of capability.

Until Next Year's Zoom Call

It never gets old talking about the Christmas Express Supply Chain with Santa Claus. Just something about his smile, blue eyes, red nose, rosy cheeks and snow white beard. But alas, our time was up. Santa told me he would keep me advised on his efforts to improve visibility and collaboration with his upstream supply chain partners. He smiled, winked and said he hadn’t forgotten about the red sports car I asked for two years ago. I smiled back and said I had my eye on a red supercharged Dodge Challenger Hellcat. He laughed and said he would have to look into that.

If you see Santa zooming around in a red Dodge Challenger Hellcat, you will know where he got the idea.

Written By
Dec 09, 2021

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