HLG Products & Functions Random Thoughts

Mobile Automation Streamlines North Pole Distribution Operations

This year, they introduced the mobilePLUS asset inventory solution to assist Distribution Operations.  Here is an update on these efforts:

Organization:  Santa’s Workshop

Location:  North Pole

Industry:  Toy Manufacture & Distribution


Santa’s Workshop (SW) is a 200-year-old, privately held organization headquartered at the North Pole. Many of their business processes have remained the same over the years.  However, to meet increasing demands from population growth, as well as the growth of competition (Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc.) the SW IT and Operations teams have been actively streamlining how work is conducted so that they can operate more efficiently. 

While there are many facets to Distribution Operations, the focus of the mobilePLUS solution rollout was on Readiness and List Management.


The mission of Readiness Operations is to ensure the Product Delivery System – The Sleigh – is fully operational and ready for launch. 

The product delivery window is a small, fixed period of time (after bedtime on December 24th to before daybreak on December 25th) when all worldwide deliveries must be completed.  Every minute is required – so it is critical that The Sleigh performs.

The mobilePLUS solution automated the Readiness Review process by enabling SW staff to leverage mobile devices such as handhelds and tablets to inventory and verify status all aspects of The Sleigh including the onboard supplies (replacement reigns, bells, etc.) and power components (reindeer,GPS/satellite equipment, etc.) – and do so where The Sleigh and its supporting components are stored and maintained.

mobilePLUS enabled the Readiness Ops Elves to extract full component inventory lists specific to The Sleigh from their ERP.  The Elves then downloaded the lists to the mobilePLUS handhelds and tablets. 

They then selected their focus location – Sleigh Hanger, Reindeer Barn, or Sleigh Supply Shop – and set out to that location to verify all assets (their presence, operability, etc.) against their downloaded list.  Once complete, the Elves returned to the Readiness department and uploaded their results.

Key benefits from the implementation for Readiness were

  • the speed of organizing and distributing the work to the devices,
  • the ease of scanning the wide variety of asset tags (onboard supplies have barcodes, reindeers have RFID tags, and so on),
  • and that the results of the Elves work could be uploaded electronically – no more key entry from paper spreadsheets. 

The latter eliminated a large volume of errors as Elf handwriting is notoriously bad and really hard for the data entry operators to read.

A key requirement of the Readiness team was the ability to operate disconnected from the SW network.  The Reindeer barns aren’t under network coverage and the Sleigh Hanger is a secured facility that operates on a restricted network. 

mobilePLUS gave the Readiness team the flexibility to leverage network communications where offered – and work in a disconnected mode where it was not available.

List Management

List Management was an easier rollout for SW since operations are conducted in a single facility – Gift Staging.  There are two key areas in the Gift Staging Facility – Naughty and Nice. 

All Gift Staging assets or “gifts” are delivered to the appropriate Area dock from either Manufacturing or Coal Supply. 

As it is critical that the right gift is in the right Area for the right recipient – inventory activities are frequently conducted by the List Elves.  The inventories ensure that the correct items are located in Gift Staging ready for load to The Sleigh. 

The contents of Gift Staging are frequently changing.  And the previous, manual checks that the List Elves conducted couldn’t keep up with the pace. That increased the possibility of mistakes and opened SW to risk of sending the wrong gift to the wrong recipient. 

That situation can really cause problems in Customer Support – especially if the mistake involved the Naughty area.

Introducing automation to the List Management processes made a huge impact on the team.  The List Elves now use mobilePLUS daily to download the latest Gift Staging Area Inventory list from the ERP to their tablets and handhelds.  They then quickly scan their assigned Area to make sure that the gifts are located in the correct Area for later load to The Sleigh. 

As the product delivery window nears, these inventories will be conducted hourly as order status can quickly change from Nice to Naughty or Naughty to Nice right up until the final check when it’s time to load The Sleigh. 

During crunch time, List Management used to have to pull staff from other departments to ensure that all lists were checked – and checked twice – before Sleigh load.  By introducing the mobilePLUS solution, the List Elves are able to verify the gifts located in the staging area in a fraction of the time. 

As a result, the other departments won’t need to loan staff during this critical time for everyone at SW. 

And hopefully, eggnog consumption by Customer Support will be significantly lessened.

Introducing mobile automation to SW has made an enormous impact on their operational efficiencies. Their current work and the initiatives planned for the near future will ensure they remain ahead of the competition when it comes to holiday gift-giving.

Could your operations use some streamlining?  Introducing mobile automation may be more beneficial than you think.  You might not have to worry about a misplaced reindeer, but you may have other critical items that need tracking. 

You don’t want to risk losing something important and ending up on the Naughty List, right?


Anne Hale is the Director of Client Services at HL Group, Inc., a premier provider of mobile inventory management, RFID and supply chain solutions. She manages our client engagements, helps with sales and marketing, and is hoping to remain on the Nice List this year.