I got the most shocking news of the season over the weekend – my wife’s coworker has never seen the modern(ish) Christmas classic, “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.” Being unable to reconcile this emotionally, all I could do was watch it (not for the last time this year). Emotional state confirmed – still as great a movie as ever.

As a Procurement pro, however, a few things always stick out to me.

Let’s start at the very beginning. The film’s intro sees Santa visiting our old buddy Clark Griswold. Why here? Why now? Simply because his name begins with a “G.” That’s right – of all the route optimization strategies, this guy is travelling the globe in alphabetical order. He doesn’t hop from neighbor to neighbor afterwards, either. This guy is flying in and out of the neighborhood for a single delivery. Talk about inefficient!

The whole thing got me thinking: Who’s up there planning this logistical nightmare?

‘Tis the Season (to Strengthen and Improve our Logistics Strategies)
We’ve already identified an inefficient delivery system, bouncing from house to house randomly. What else is wrong? I’ve put together a few items that I’ll be sending up north for review later.

  • Redundancy. The winding path Santa takes across the globe is dangerous, heading through literally every weather pattern the globe could experience that day. Is air transport always going to be the best choice? Investigating land and sea shipping lanes would not only add some much needed redundancy, it would help avoid the dangers of an air-only strategy.
  • Distribution center. Regardless of the mode of transportation, all product is flowing out from a single point of distribution. A better system would see regional distribution points to better serve the many geographies in play.
  • Customer service. Speaking of that single, far off distribution center, let’s talk about how orders come in. Of all the technological advances we’ve seen, the over-reliance on physical mail deliveries of Christmas wish lists seems… dated. I envision a Sugar Plum Portal, allowing users to set up accounts and populate wish lists in real time. This portal can, in turn, be tied to an inventory management system on the production side.

Recognize the Need for Change
Look, I can’t say that I know Santa’s game better than the big guy does. He’s been doing this a long time. But isn’t that part of the problem?

The problems I cite above are real concerns for any operation. Being able to anticipate and respond to disasters and optimize the distribution process are important. But another important element is making sure we’re constantly going back to the board and evaluating our strategy in a critical fashion.

Just because our current setup worked yesterday doesn’t mean it will tomorrow. Likewise, the suppliers we use may have been good partners historically, but are we getting the same great service at competitive rates that we did at the beginning?

Just a few things to think about as you get your ‘nog on this holiday season.

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Brian Seipel

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