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Is Santa operationally resilient?

If there is one person whose operations need to be resilient, it’s Santa!

St Nick might get the spotlight one night a year, but the Chief Operating Officer (Mrs Claus) makes sure everything is running well behind the scenes all year round. Her goal is to make sure everything runs smoothly – or that even if there is disruption, that the Christmas magic still happens.

So what has Mrs Claus done to make that operation resilient? Let’s follow her footsteps as she walks through our ‘how to’ guide on operational resilience.

The important business service

Santa conducts a range of activities, such as making appearances in shopping malls, attending parades and pageants, and writing letters to children. But there is one activity that Mrs Claus has identified as an important service – delivering presents to all the kids at Christmas.

How long could disruption occur before there is intolerable harm? After some discussion with Santa, it might be acceptable for some kids to get their presents later in the morning. Kids who run to the tree on Christmas morning at 5AM are going to be disappointed, but if they get their present by noon, the Christmas magic will stay alive. They set the impact tolerance at six hours.

Mapping it out

The next step is to map all the processes required to deliver the services. After bringing together a cross-functional team, they come up with the following map that includes the processes required to enable delivery of the presents on Christmas Eve. They then identify the resources needed to support those processes, including one-to-many relationships.

Figure 1: Important business services map for Santa Claus


Running scenarios

After a break for some eggnog and cookies, they come back to develop some scenarios. After documenting many, here is a summary of their top five:

Scenario name Overview Resources impacted
Grinch-ident The Grinch steals the manufactured toys in order to squash the Christmas spirit. Manufactured toys
Wrath of the North Wind Santa annoys the North Wind so much (he always wins when they play poker) that the North Wind creates blizzards so intense that it causes damage to infrastructure, disrupts electronic systems, and destroying or displacing hardware. Toy factory
Reindeer team
Elf-ageddon Factions of the elves disagree with each other on the best way to build toys, ending in fisticuffs. In a rage, one of the elves destroys the toy blueprints. Elves
Airstrike During delivery of the presents, a lightning storm hits and the sleigh is damaged while Santa is in transit. Sleigh
Lost List Lament Some of the naughty kids get rambunctious and use their cyber skills to get into Santa’s network and destroy the list. List


While coming up with these scenarios, one thing stood out for immediate improvement. While they have a replacement sleigh and engineers on site in case the sleigh doesn’t start, no one had considered a failure in transit. Based on current capabilities, there is no way they can meet the impact tolerance in that scenario.

Mrs Claus decides to run a full walkthrough of the Elf-ageddon scenario (the elves in the room shuffle their feet a bit, but agree to participate). This walkthrough makes Mrs Claus realize that existing contingency plans for each individual resource may not be enough. They have outsourced providers on hand if absolutely necessary, and they also have a backup of the toy blueprints that could be restored – but in a walkthrough of the scenario the slighted elves would also go out of their way to destroy those backups (the elves really got into the scenario when they were told to be as destructive as possible).

Addressing weaknesses

Now that they’ve identified some vulnerabilities, they can document the actions they are going to take to address them. This includes:

  • Providing the outsourced provider currently on standby with a secure copy of the toy blueprints, to be updated on a yearly basis
  • Enabling service crews to be on standby on each continent to deal with sleigh failures in transit
  • Initiating regular toy design workshops for the elves to collaborate and reduce friction (while the primary purpose of running scenarios is to assess the capability to manage through disruption and meet impact tolerances, you should also identify opportunities to reduce the likelihood of scenarios occurring)

Mrs Claus sits back with her sherry as she looks over the remaining vulnerabilities and scenarios she needs to test. She knows operational resilience won’t be built in a day – but ensuring that the magic of Christmas remains alive is all worth it.

Figure 2: Operational resilience dashboard for Santa Claus 


Merry Christmas and next steps

A Merry Christmas from me and the Protecht team. I’d like to acknowledge colleagues who contributed ideas and scenarios – it was too fun a topic not to crowdsource and let others join in the fun! We hope you have a resilient and safe Christmas.

Protecht recently launched the Protecht.ERM Operational Resilience module, which helps you identify and manage potential disruption so you can provide the critical services your customers and community rely on.

Find out more about operational resilience and how Protecht.ERM can help:

About the author

Michael is passionate about the field of risk management and related disciplines, with a focus on helping organisations succeed using a ‘decisions eyes wide open’ approach. His experience includes managing risk functions, assurance programs, policy management, corporate insurance, and compliance. He is a Certified Practicing Risk Manager whose curiosity drives his approach to challenge the status quo and look for innovative solutions.