Santa Reins in his Data to Deliver the Holidays

By Matt Turner

Published on December 23, 2021

Santa sitting on his desk with a laptop, gift box, and packaging envelopes.

If you think your holiday season is busy, consider the demands at the Big Syndicate up north! In less than 24 hours Santa and his team must deliver 1.9 billion gifts and make sure every kid gets the right gift!

Fortunately, their jolly CEO has always been a trailblazer of innovation. (Perhaps you’ve heard of that shiny red nose guiding his sleigh?). The elf teams used data engineering to improve gift matching and deployed big data to scale the naughty and nice list long ago, before either approach was even considered within our warmer climes. And who was surprised that Mr. Claus was up to the task of the massive changes in operations that occurred in 2020 — adopting safety visualization for planning and even getting into no-code to enable the newly social distanced teams?

While this season still isn’t the same as years past, the North Pole employees had been settling into a sense of normalcy when one of the elves noticed some disturbing trends in the data workshop: Some kids were identified as both naughty and nice … and the gift matches were sometimes way off. While no one noticed the pony shipped to the head of engineering, the ice skates landing in Málaga and the beach toys in Helsinki were a sure sign of trouble.

It seems with all this innovation, Santa had one of just about everything — sometimes two of everything! And even though Santa had made the leap to the data cloud — using Snowflake of course — making a list of all the data turned out to be tougher than finding a polar bear in a snowstorm. The data-science elves were bogged down in automating sleigh-packing, the analysis was dragging, and Santa’s famous dashboards couldn’t be updated.

And Santa was hoping to make 2021 his most data-driven year yet. He had secretly attended this year’s Iron-Viz contest and was wowed by the holiday section of Tableau Public … but the data elves kept coming back with “maybe next season,” or ‘‘can we triple the team?” Things were looking dire and Santa was starting to get “sad.”

No Need to Pout or Cry: Just Know Your Data!

Finally, one of the elves worked up the courage to lay out the problem: Santa needed to know his data, EG, where it was and how it could be used. He’d shied away from heavy-handed command and control — who’s more agile than the guy who can smoothly slide down a chimney? — but things were getting out of control. Santa wondered, maybe there might be a better way?

No one knows when the first conversations started. The first clues were at the BARC Research Data Culture Release Party, when we noticed the attendance of more than a few suspiciously pointy-eared guests.

Elves on Zoom in an Alation Data Catalog Discovery Series

Then the Alation team started seeing names like Sparkle and Frizzle showing up for their weekly demo, and the Alation community site spotted traffic surges from an IP address listed as “Up North.” Pretty soon, it was obvious that the data team up at the Pole was getting serious about tackling their data problem.

Tracking down my source on Santa’s team, I learned things were much further along than any of us realized. Santa was very quick to pick up on the need to ensure data is both accessible and well governed. And he’s always been about empowerment, so everyone needed a way to get their hands (or in the case of his reindeer, hooves) on the data.

Walking in a Data Wonderland with Alation

With Alation, the team was taking off faster than a Rudolph-led sled. The best data was discovered, experts were identified, and conversations were starting. For the first time, data governance was no longer a naughty concept. Yup, the big syndicate was doing data culture – nice data culture.

My source says that using Alation has been transformational. Now, elves of all rank and file can:

  • Know their data and how they can use it.Now, everyone can see the data… even Dancer, who’s fighting his way off the naughty list after spiking the reindeer trough with eggnog in the ‘80s.

  • Get the most out of their Snowflake data cloud.Did anyone else catch Frizzle and Sparkle on our joint webinars this quarter? Now we know why!

  • Collaborate and innovate across the workshop.Elves from different teams can even re-use and update the best query forms in seconds.

  • Boost collective data literacy and showcase experts. Who knew that Frosty Elph in accounting has loads of data advice that’s already transformed the sleigh-packing process! And even Mrs. Claus has gotten into the act, sharing some baking secrets!

  • Make data governance an asset.At first “data governance” was a sore subject. Santa and the team are, at heart, fans of data democratization. But early returns have encouraged the team to love the Alation approach to active governance where they can both make data available AND ensure it’s used properly. Santa does love his polarities!

And this is just the beginning. Apparently there are some big plans brewing for next season. Now that they know their data, Santa’s crew plans to rework their entire data pipeline … after finally being able to take their well-deserved summer break … grabbing those beach toys in Helsinki along the way!

  • No Need to Pout or Cry: Just Know Your Data!
  • Walking in a Data Wonderland with Alation
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