Christmas comes but once a year. Well, how inefficient can you get?

David Bowen talks to the management team hired to re-engineer the Santa Claus Organisation
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The Independent Online
What management fads are likely to rise up out of the morass of acronyms next year? This year, there has been a trend away from fad - indeed, anti-faddism has become something of a fad itself, with a num- ber of books appearing to pour cold water on the whole concept of the quick-fix business solution. Similarly, "Post re-engineering" has replaced Business Process Re-engineering. Originally developed by consultants for the Royal Mail, it is widely credited with having done for BPR what post- modernism did for the Post Office Tower.

Nevertheless, there are signs that a powerful new trend is making itself felt. It is so powerful, indeed, that gurus as eminent as Arthur J Prink have declared it could mark the start of the first post anti fad fad of the Nineties. The trend is deseasonalisation.

More properly known as deseasonalization, given its US roots, this is seen as a highly efficient way of spreading the workload more evenly. In layman's terms, it optimises available personpower resources by horizontally layering them across a chrono-based continuum.

Take the humble Easter Egg. Before Charles T Solokowicz and his person- centred team at Integrated Global Solutions developed a deseasonalisation strategy, the Easter Egg was sold in the few weeks before Easter. IGS worked with Hershey, Nestle and other confectioners to reposition eggs - to "lay" them, in the jargon - so that they are now available every day of the year. The Cadbury's Creme Egg is now the centrepiece of many families' Christmas meals, where it is enjoyed served with lashings of gravy.

"It was a complex scenario," Mr Solokowicz explains. "But basically we had to re-engineer the retail outlet throughput so the egg availability was ongoing. It was a matter of developing the vision, then implementing it."

Now, the IGS team has the biggest task of all: to deseasonalise Christmas. It has been hired by the Santa Claus Organisation to tackle some of the problems that bedevil this well-known but secretive group. IGS has just completed a $9m contract to identify Santa Claus's problems, which can be summarised as follows:

q 97.3 per cent of the group's activities takes place in a six-week period.

q 78.5 per cent of that 97.3 per cent takes place in an 18.2-hour period. Without judicious use of time zones, this period would be much shorter.

q Most of the group's activities take place in sub-optimal light conditions.

q The group has had to choose between keeping a full-time staff on the payroll or coping with a mass hiring of elves in early November. It has recently been hiring them on short- term contracts, but has found this increasingly difficult. Many have retrained as computer engineers and have gained lucrative, though sometimes fatal, employment battling with software gremlins in Silicon Valley.

q For brand-impact reasons, SCO's transport fleet cannot be expanded. Maintenance costs are also soaring as Federal Aviation Authority safety requirements have been tightened. The group's sleigh has to travel at

650 miles per second to deliver all its parcels, which puts it under stresses not normally experienced by commercial jetliners. It has to defy the laws of physics to achieve this speed, which adds an extra element of complexity.

Mr Solokowicz has recommended that the best solution to all these problems is to deseasonalise Christmas. "There are guys out there who now say Christmas was in September, so I don't see why it shouldn't be on any day of the year," he says.

IGS has been working on a matrix-based model that would provide a steady stream of business throughout the year. This combined with elf-empowerment schemes would, he claims, improve return on shareholders' funds by a benchmarking 3 million per cent.

IGS has considered what he calls the "Easter Egg solution" delinking the giving of presents from Christmas. "The bummer is, that duplicates the Birthday Present solution," he says, pointing out that before the Dissolution of the Monasteries, all birthday presents were given on the same day.

The answer, he believes, has to be to spread Christmas itself. "I would analogize with the time zone solution: at any point in time at any point on the Earth, it is another point in time at another point on the Earth. We need to look at a wholesale re-engineering of the calendar."

IGS's preliminary paper, a copy of which the Independent on Sunday has seen, proposes dividing the world into 365 1/4 vertical segments, which would be superimposed on top of the 24-hourly segments already defined (the quarter is necessary because Leap Years would be impractical). If it was 25 December at Greenwich, it would be 25 June on the International Date Line, which is exactly halfway round the world. In India, roughly a quarter of the world away, it would be 25 March, while in Dallas it would be 25 September.

On any day of the year, therefore, it would be Christmas somewhere; Santa Claus and his now fully employed elves would have to negotiate only tens of thousand of chimney pots every night, instead of millions in one night.

Although this would cause some complications for the money markets - New York would be permanently 10 weeks behind London, for example - Mr Solokowicz is convinced it offers the best solution for his client: "The Santa Claus Organisation is chronically inefficient. "We need to tackle the fundamentals. It's a matter of developing the vision, then implementing it.