Want a New Job? How About North Pole CIO?

4 min read
  • Information Technology
  • Information Governance

Think your job is tough? Imagine being the CIO for a company that has to develop 7.4 billion individual products, deliver them correctly to more than 1.4 billion households around the world—and, moreover, do all that in a single night from one vehicle and driver. Sounds like a logistical nightmare, not to mention a supply chain challenge.

Over the years, a number of people have speculated on what being the North Pole CIO would be like, as well as ways in which Santa’s workshop could take advantage of updated information technology.

“Things are hopping at Santa 2.0 (S2) – the new name for Santa’s Workshop. The North Pole toy factory has undergone a serious digital transformation, with centuries-old processes giving way to new and more efficient methods,” imagines Keith Shaw in Network World. “Even the sleigh has gone digital – it’s now a self-driving, self-flying gift distribution system. Initially the S2 team wanted to hire Uber drivers to deliver presents, but after some more tinkering the autonomous system kicked in. While good girls and boys might still be handwriting their wish lists and delivering them via the post office, once the S2 team gets a hold of the requests, they’re quickly scanned, digitized and processed through the new ecosystem. Collaboration elves all work hard together (via a dedicated private Slack channel) to guarantee that production is on top of their game as well. Drones, robots, virtual reality and other emerging technologies are all being used to make sure that the S2 has another successful holiday season.”

Well, that sounds great to us. For the North Pole—as well as most organizations—CIOs are looking at enterprise content management and workflow projects to save money and make business processes run more efficiently.  While we’ve developed some ideas on how to automate the Secret Santa process, the same idea can apply to the real Santa, as well. Especially the part about digitizing the wish lists—or even using an electronic form—and creating a workflow. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise even created a video of how it all works.

Security is also an issue, Shaw writes, noting that the biggest culprit is children hacking in to try to change their status from Naughty to Nice. Apparently unscrupulous vendors do the same in an attempt to get their products on the short list for inclusion. He even speculates that elves might hack in to change their workload to easier-to-make items, but that sounds like it’s just going too far, even though it’s true that in-house employees are often the biggest security risk.

As it turns out, Hermey (the elf from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas special) was actually instrumental in re-engineering the operation. Giving up his childhood plan to be a dentist, Hermey became CIO in 2001, according to Tom Wailgum in CIO.

“Up until about a year ago, we were operating in a complete legacy environment—so it wasn’t easy,” Wailgum writes. “We had elves faxing hand-written order to all of our suppliers—Playskool, Fisher-Price, the Island of Misfit Toys. We finally decided to implement an SCM system—though getting an integrator up here to the North Pole wasn’t easy.”

Some CIO problems are universal.

Moreover, it turns out that elves had just as much trouble with change as any other employee, Hermey reported. “The elves on the shop floor were very resistant to the new ways of handling orders and keeping track of inventory, but I identified some super-user elves, and I showed them how it could improve their ability to schedule better,” he writes. “Now everyone seems real excited. The warehouse supervisor, Yukon Cornelius, says that it was like we struck gold with this supply chain system.”

As Hermey identified, change management isn’t a problem unique to The North Pole. Because technology changes so often, CIOs inherently have to be good change managers, even though, psychologically, people don’t like to change.

While the idea of Santa’s CIO may seem silly, it turns out the North Pole is an awesome place to put a data center. A number of data centers have been located in the far north. And the northern most of all of them is Facebook’s, located 900 km from Stockholm and 70 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

The advantage of such a location—and the reason that other data centers are also located in the north—is that they can use the ambient air to cool the data center rather than paying for expensive air conditioning. “While an average data center needs 3 watts of energy for power and cooling to produce 1 watt for computing, the Luleå facility runs nearly three times cleaner, at a ratio of 1.04 to 1,” writes Ashlee Vance for Bloomberg.

As our systems come online for the first time, we are proud to say that this is likely to be one of the most efficient and sustainable data centers in the world,” Facebook wrote when the Swedish data center came online in 2013. “All the equipment inside is powered by locally generated hydro-electric energy. Not only is it 100 percent renewable, but the supply is also so reliable that we have been able to reduce the number of backup generators required at the site by more than 70 percent. In addition to harnessing the power of water, we are using the chilly Nordic air to cool the thousands of servers that store your photos, videos, comments, and Likes. Any excess heat that is produced is used to keep our office warm.”

So Santa’s CIO is ecologically friendly, too. Kind of gives red-and-green a whole new meaning.

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