Santa’s secret solutions for gaining insights on the most important night of the year

Senior Content Marketing Manager, Communications Sector, IBM Analytics

As the holidays are quickly approaching, I realized it had been a few years since I last talked to Santa Claus about his complex—and increasingly analytics-driven—operations at the North Pole. Instead of using my spare miles to fly up and see him in person, we opted to hop on Skype and have a chat over a cup of hot cocoa and some delicious cookies.

After reviewing my good behavior over the past year and my growing interest in receiving a new PS4 bundle, we started talking about how Santa’s Christmas enterprise is being transformed by the insights inherent in advanced analytics.

Here’s what I asked him:

With so many kids aging out of believing in you each year, how do you reduce believer churn while simultaneously increasing family satisfaction?

HO! HO! HO! Well, Graeme, that’s a great question—and the answer is all about Proactive Customer Care. We use an advanced analytics solution codenamed TINSEL (Tactical Intelligence Network Supporting Elves’ Logistics). It detects Elf-on-the-Shelf and Parental Observation Network data and Good/Bad Behavioral Sentiment Index data that affect the Christmas experience for all the little boys and girls. We can then analyze that data in real time and addresses issues proactively, thereby reducing inbound letter volume and overall operating costs at my Christmas Contact Center on Kaffeklubben Island off the northern coast of Greenland. Remember, I have to pay, feed and house thousands of elves, so it really adds up. If I can reduce costs, I can put those savings back into my global delivery network and toy manufacturing quality control processes. I can also analyze operational events and identify performance deterioration and delivery outages that typically lead to crying children. And as you can imagine, there is nothing more that I want to prevent than a crying child on Christmas morning., with Proactive Customer Care, I can predict when the kids will need new batteries for toys, upgrade their new video game platform software or change a child’s new smartphone service plans based on their parent’s historical subscription, devices and usage data.

What you call angels, I call analysts. And I can’t work without them. They truly deliver petascale miracles that give me the ability to deliver eternal joy.

Christmas specials on TV are an annual tradition for a lot of kids. How does that content relate to your operations at the North Pole?

We’ve been using television specials like that since the advent of television and even going back to radio and—if you can believe it—books being read aloud by the fireplace. What was true then remains true now: content is king and relevance is the currency of Christmas. Only now we have to understand the differences between broadcast TV, OTT TV and mobile content consumption. It’s important that we know how, when and where families watch the Christmas specials so we can accurately gauge audience sentiment and fan engagement.

Using behavior-based audience insights, we can improve program content and viewer experience even though we use the same specials year after year. We can target ads correctly in order to help kids compile their lists, ensure we provide a top-quality omni-screen experience and much more. Using media information that’s associated to a specific child or family enables me to provide a lot of value if the insights from that data can be quickly and accurately attained. Analytics helps me provide families with smarter, more personalized viewing experiences and targeted on-demand advertising by utilizing a comprehensive suite of advanced data integration, analytical and decision-making capabilities. In other words, what once was guesswork is now reliable enough that we can give kids exactly what they want, when and where they want it. This takes a lot of pressure and worry off their parents and gives me the ability to deliver better results for one and all.

But that’s just the half of it. We also use advanced fan engagement analytics that are built on an underlying platform of Predictive Customer Intelligence in a preconfigured cloud environment codenamed COMET (Content Optimized for Media & Entertainment Targeting).
For example, we want to view and understand millions of “instant replays,” so to speak, of kids opening their presents around the tree. The elves and I love that. Why? Because Christmas morning is our Super Bowl and just like you enjoy watching a big game, we enjoy watching and analyzing videos, comments and photos posted by parents on Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Periscope and YouTube just to name a few. We string these various data sources together like garland and store them in our gingerbread data warehouse so we can deliver a single KPI dashboard displaying key metrics for detailed holiday performance tracking. For me, that’s like presents in a stocking or the icing on the cake!

How do you prepare for the uncertainties of such a jam-packed global flight schedule? Surely you’re used to snowstorms, but what about the varieties of weather around the world where deliveries have to be made?

Now, that’s a real challenge. This year, we started using data from The Weather Company for Christmas Flight Intelligence Reports. In order to do that, we need to keep the data fresh and evergreen so we know what’s happening in real time. We rely on a Weather Analytics platform that can ingest all sorts of information, created inside or outside the North Pole, at massive speed and scale. Consider that the average speed of my sleigh is typically around 5,083,000 miles per hour so I can deliver presents all over the world in one night. That kind of hyper-flight requires hyper-accurate insights to keep me flying safe and sound.

Our cloud-based weather analytics solution codenamed WREATH (Weather Reports Ensuring Accurate Transport to Homes) can analyze data from 3 billion weather forecast reference points, 50,000 flights per day and tens of millions of mobile phones in locations around the world. We can then apply that data to create signals called “jingle bells”—which is an indicator of reliable predictions—that warn us of possible inclement weather.
Just because we like it cold doesn’t mean we like it wet or dangerous when I am behind the reins of the sleigh. I need the ability to support timely and reliable forecasts every few minutes for billions of locations worldwide so I can gain clarity on the impact of the local weather on my delivery plans and take immediate action. Rudolph is good in the fog but what about when we need to route my flight around a hurricane? That’s up to me.

Santa, thanks again for taking the time to chat with me. It’s always a pleasure to hear how you and your teams improve this much-loved holiday year over year.

You’re welcome, Graeme, and keep up the good work being a good boy. I think you might find that PlayStation waiting for you under the tree this year.

Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!