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On Risk Management, Business Continuity, and Security
26 May, 2017
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Santa's Business Continuity Plan

Some time ago we were asked to advise Santa on Business Continuity. Here is a summary of our findings...

Background

The Santa organization distributes a large number of presents around the world, with the objective of spreading Christmas Cheer. An elf-run factory at the North Pole is responsible for the research, development, and manufacture of presents, while a delivery team consisting of Santa, a sleigh, and several flying reindeer responsible for worldwide delivery. The recipients of presents are determined from a naughty or nice list, maintained using manual record keeping at the North Pole headquarters.

Risk Analysis

Our risk analysis identified a number of risks which we believe are unique to this organization:

  • Data loss or corruption of the naughty or nice list. This list is critical to the operation: any loss would result in nice people not receiving presents, or naughty people receiving presents. Minor clerical mistakes (which already happen) are a consistent cause of PR problems for the organization: it would be difficult if not impossible to recreate the list if it was lost.
  • Sleigh or flying reindeer failure. In order to achieve the delivery promise ("worldwide in 24 hours") a unique custom flying vehicle is used. Any damage to this vehicle or its multiple Cervidae power units puts the whole operation in peril. We note that the increasing use of personal "drones" operating at low altitudes presents a new risk. While delivery times are currently chosen to avoid the risk of bird strikes, it is not yet clear whether measures will be needed to avoid police or personal drones operating at night.
  • Injury to Santa. It can be said without exaggeration that the delivery service is Santa. Any injury (such as slipping on an icy roof) would seriously imperil the delivery operation.
  • Flu and communicable diseases. Santa puts in a lot of personal appearances in the weeks before Christmas which results in close contact with children, who are frequently carriers of influenza and other diseases. If Santa is incapacitated by illness during the Christmas delivery period, it is not clear whether there are any other individual could take Santa's place.
  • Adverse weather. Operating a sleigh and team of flying reindeer at altitude requires some cooperation from the weather. Global climate change is resulting in an increase in the number of days with extreme weather, when the sleigh is unable to fly.
  • Santa's Workshop Risks. Most of the production risks are common to all manufacturers. However, we note that the remote factory location makes obtaining replacement equipment or staff difficult, leading to major problems if equipment breaks down or key staff leave.
  • Inventory Risks. Santa maintains an unusually large inventory due to its peak demand schedule. Some of this inventory (such as bottles of whiskey) cannot withstand extremes of cold. Due to the North Pole location of the warehousing facilities, even a brief failure in the heating system could lead to a significant inventory loss.

Business Impact

We were not asked to perform a full Business Impact Analysis. Santa's is a non-profit organization whose objective is to spread Christmas Cheer. It would therefore be difficult to fully quantify the effects of a breakdown in the present delivery operation. However, any failure would undoubtedly result in a major loss of Christmas Cheer, would affect public confidence in the organization, and could have a significant impact in the organization's future viability.

Recommendations

We therefore recommend the following steps be undertaken to minimize the probability or impact of disruption:

  1. Switch to computerised record keeping to maintain the naughty or nice list. Backups can then be easily kept on external media and transported off-site. It does not appear likely that the North Pole will receive a high-bandwidth internet connection allowing automated off-site backup in the foreseeable future, so a manual backup system with off-site rotation will need to be adopted.
  2. In the event of a major breakdown (e.g. loss of power) of the naughty or nice computer server, proceed as if all people with Christmas decorations are on the nice list. (Psychological experiments have shown that it is better to treat naughty people as nice than nice people as naughty.)
  3. Given the current difficulties in keeping the naughty or nice list accurate, we recommend discontinuing delivery of coal to people on the naughty list. There is a minor public relations disaster when coal is delivered to the wrong person. Given the current concerns with pollution and global climate change, we must also ask what naughty people are likely to do with their lumps of coal. Will they simply burn them? Is the current policy simply contributing to global levels of carbon dioxide? This questionable distribution of fossil fuel should be phased out immediately.
  4. The current arrangements of backup sleighs and teams of flying reindeer stationed at secret "white" locations around the globe appears to be adequate to deal with sleigh malfunction or reindeer injury.
  5. To minimize production and storage risks, subcontract manufacturing to a number of companies. This will eliminate the risk of major production problems at the North Pole, as well as the possibility of frost damage to a large centralized inventory. A beneficial side effect of this policy is that it will also increase the diversity of the presents that can be produced without requiring a capital intensive investment in plant or machinery.
  6. Use actors to play the part of Santa in non-critical operations to avoid risk of injury or infection to Santa. In particular, use surrogate Santas in parades and at shopping malls. While it is desirable for Santa to hear all children's wishes in person, the risk of Santa contracting an illness or injuring himself on this non-essential service is simply too high. (Note, however, that this strategy introduces a new risk: a poor choice of personnel to act as Santa will reflect badly on Santa himself).
  7. Deliver presents in advance and ask parents to store them secretly until Christmas day. This increases the delivery window, and in the event of a sleigh failure or adverse weather conditions means the presents will still get through. This would also give us the option of delivering the presents using a contract shipping service, such as FedEx or USPS. This would also reduce the number of sleigh flying hours (saving on maintenance) as well as giving Santa some help with the "small chimney" problem.

So far the Santa organization has been lucky. It has yet to experience a serious outage (although the "Christmas Pudding Incident" was a close call). Some of these recommendations may be controversial, but if the Santa organization is to continue in its mission to supply Christmas Cheer in future years, we believe it is important that Santa acts on the recommendations above.

Michael Z. Bell
December, 2014

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