Santa Corp. Selects USAT to Automate Field Deliveries

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Nearly 10,000 Mall Santas, all employees of Santa Corp., will be equipped with mobile data terminals, global positioning systems, plus a range of wireless voice and data services helping Santa Corp. to maintain accurate, on-time Christmas Eve deliveries.

After a successful pilot program in 2003, Santa Corp., the world’s premier holiday delivery service, is quickly expanding its use of mobile devices, GPS tracking and wireless data services. Santa Corp. will soon deploy USAT’s complete automation bundle across its entire fleet.

USAT opened discussions with Santa Corp. in 4th quarter 2000, suggesting that the time would come for the team to adopt “In-Sleigh Computing”. Mrs. Claus, Santa Corp’s Chairman and President, elected USAT as a primary contender for the move under conditions of confidentiality until the project was ready to go live. Several years were spent in extensive feasibility studies. Said Mrs. Claus, “At one point I realized that I needed my sleighs connected to continue to get the job done at the quality standards that we’ve set for ourselves over the past 150 years. Due to the world population boom, we were falling behind, missing houses; I’m embarrassed to say missing whole villages. In some places, the presents weren’t getting delivered until December 27th. This is just not acceptable to me.” “Despite enormous pressure to take the project live, we held out for a viable wireless connection technology with the kind of coverage we needed,” noted Santa Claus, Santa Corp.’s CEO.

At the outset of the project, USAT helped Santa Corp. to identify the key performance criteria that would make the technology upgrade successful, then specified the equipment needs based on meeting these core criteria. “Our driving elements were connectivity that ensured ‘5 nines’ [99.999%] of network uptime, easy adoption of the technology by our aging field force team of mall Santas, and a lightweight and portable mobile platform that could be removed from the sleigh and used by a worker navigating many small rectangular brick entryways in rapid succession,” stated Santa Claus.

Wireless data and Mobile Resource Management continues to be a strong growth opportunity for Santa Corp. In its first quarter earnings, the company reported the addition of one million new ‘Chimneys’ and annualized increased delivery requirements of roughly 11%. Although largely attributable to the national housing boom, Claus also cites a general upswing in the 5-7 year old demographic shift from naughty to nice.

“Panasonic Toughbooks were an early and obvious choice. All of our sleighs are open air, and we weren’t about to enclose them or scrap the whole fleet. So we needed a unit that worked in the elements, namely snow and freezing cold, and that we could rely on. Equipment failure was not an option—every unit is deployed in a mission-critical environment, so this meant Toughbooks”, Santa stated.

USAT lead with several innovations that helped bring the project to deployment:

Automatic Sleigh Location (ASL) was developed combining Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology with GIS maps designed with an overlay of Santa’s Inc.’s proprietary house-by-house map of chimney locations. “These maps are central to our success and have been developed over hundreds of years—ASL would enable us to direct our teams to houses, but to risk damage to this database was unconscionable. Finally it was USAT’s approach to security with their SSL that opened the path to using the ASL. I am happy to say we haven’t looked back,” detailed Bob Gift, Chief Engineering Elf for Santa, Inc.

Secure Sleigh Layer (SSL) was developed to provide Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability for data transferred from the Santa Corp Data Center to the Panasonic Toughbooks mounted on each Sleigh. SSL technology provides 128-bit encryption via the US Government standard AES cipher, with industry-standard MD5 integrity verification. The protocol provides rock-solid security protection. The use of multiple public wireless data carriers in combination with middleware to manage inter-network roaming enabled us to create an organic network that would adaptively re-transmit failed transactions and queries. “This combination of technologies enabled USAT to confidently sign off on the ‘five nines’ availability requirement,” noted USAT’s Chief Project Engineer, Mitch Foxworth.

Sleigh Area Network (SAN) was constructed to create a local area coverage grid around the sleigh, and move data out to Toughbook 18s that the Santas carried at each delivery location. The data will be pushed via Wi-Max by 2007, although in Pilot we were on 802.11b. This was sufficient save for a few steel homes, and massive urban apartment buildings. The Toughbook 18s contain detailed, precise structural maps of each home, including tree location and chimney exit location. “We even mapped the locations of plates of cookies. This was a big hit with the sleigh drivers in pilot - it helped ease the adoption by the teams, and was a big morale boost,” noted Bob Gift.

“Installation of the Toughbooks, GPS and carrier antennas, and other gear into thousands of sleighs in the North Pole was an incredible challenge,” said Joe Goss, National Services Manager for USAT. “Let alone that we were working in sub-zero temperatures, but placement of 5 antennas, a Panasonic hot dock, and battery systems on a 6 foot long sleigh developed centuries ago required the remarkable ingenuity of my install teams. We have never had to consider the impact of static buildup caused by reindeer rubbing against installed equipment before! Santa Corp’s Fleet Manager, Hermey Elf, was incredibly well organized—he had an accurate sleigh list to me in advance, there was no impeding equipment that we didn’t know about, and we could work on 10 sleighs at a time—this made the project deadline achievable for us.”

“Customers like Santa Corp. demonstrate the unique value that USAT can deliver in terms of providing mobile resource management, data security, and wireless voice and data for a customer,” said Keith McRae, CEO, USAT. “At USAT, we understand the unique requirements each customer has, and we can tailor a solution with end-to-end secure wireless data on durable reliable equipment which enables us to exceed customer’s expectations. Santa Inc. operates a massive operations center and call center in a very remote region of the world. It has an extensive mobile field service force and a very progressive approach to reaching its client base. USAT brings all of the pieces together to help Santa Corp. meet its needs and serve its clients.”

About Santa, Inc.

With approximately 60,000 employees in over 120 countries and no ongoing revenues, Santa Corp. is one of the world's largest not-for-profit providers of holiday deliveries. Santa Corp. designs and develops or sources gifts which it delivers to end-users via their proprietary CRM with a sophisticated, integrated “behavioral tracking system”. For further information please visit http://www.usatcorp.com /santa

About USAT

USAT, http://www.usatcorp.com, a privately held company headquartered in Chapel Hill, NC is a field computing systems integrator that specializes in ruggedized computers, reliable wireless data communication systems, and technology installation services. As part of USAT’s wireless offering, USAT provides wireless WAN modems and activations and wireless LAN infrastructure site surveys and installations. Since USAT’s clients often contend with harsh environmental factors during day-to-day operations, USAT makes it a priority to provide technology solutions built on durable, industry-tested hardware. A full-service hardware partner, USAT provides and installs ruggedized laptops, handhelds, printers, data modems, GPS receivers and specialized antennas into vehicles. USAT also offers client services focused on helping companies successfully manage a large deployment of computer technology into vehicle fleets. For further information please visit http://www.usatcorp.com /santa

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Beverly Mcrae
USAT
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