Technology Disrupts the Elves



The legend of Santa Claus dates back to the 4th Century St Nicholas – Nicholas of Bari or Nicholas of Myra. The elves have been talked about since Pagan times – in Scandinavia as house gnomes – some of whom were helpful, and trolls, who were not.

Some of the modern-day elves include Alabaster Snowball, Buster Evergreen, Pepper Minstix and others. Alabaster is the only elf with a university degree and updates the Naughty and Nice list – some say as frequently as four times a minute. Sugarplum Mary is another famous elf – she is an assistant to Mrs. Claus. And there is Wunorse Openslae. Wunorse is one of the oldest elves – almost 600 years old. Wunorse invented Santa’s sleigh and handles maintenance today.

The elves all play an important role in the holiday season. Alabaster has to maintain the Naughty and Nice list, which (obviously) has been moved to the cloud now. He’s gone from a massive paper file system to writing cloud-hosted SQL stored procedures now. He’s worried about data security and privacy issues – the last thing Santa needs is a breach and the Naughty and Nice list gets leaked to social media! The other elves have gone from sorting through the children’s letters to following @Santa on Twitter and Instagram, text messages, Whatsapp, Skype, and Facetime, and email – not so many written letters anymore.

Wunorse maintains the sleigh – and he has to stay abreast of new developments in electric vehicles. Of course, Santa wants to be carbon neutral. Advances of autonomous vehicles are also of interest to Wunorse. A Tesla sleigh – yep, something to consider.

All of the elves are worried about the impact of automation and robots. They work year-round making toys – and advances in industrial automation threatening their jobs. A robot elf is not too much to imagine.

Shinny Upatree is the oldest of the elves – older than Santa himself. He’s an old curmudgeon, skeptical of any “new technology” that’s less than 400 years old. It’s clear that when Shinny got a smartphone that the world has changed.

As we enter the holiday season – the winter solstice, the end of the Julian calendar year – there is a lot of history – and religious tradition – that mark or celebrate this time of year. One of these traditions is Santa Clause and his elves – and when we think about the impact of technology on Santa’s workshop – and looking at a child’s letter to Santa maybe now being sent through Instagram – we can see how things have changed. It’s not that elves will be displaced by technology – but their jobs will certainly change.

This is a wonderful time of year to reflect on the past and look ahead to the year ahead. We all need to be cognizant of how technology influences our lives. Am I spending too much time looking at my phone? (like Shinny) – or is my job going to change as my company deploys new technology? Am I reading up on the state of the art to know if/where my skills are at risk of being automated? Should I consider a career as an elf? Am I growing my own skills to stay ahead of the curve? As an HR professional, am I helping my constituents to answer these questions?

There is a lot to think about. Advances in technology are impacting every industry, so it’s not a surprise that Santa’s workshop would be impacted. A few years back, the elves were all issued chip-based smartcard IDs and required two-factor authentication just to even enter the workshop. Facial recognition and fingerprinting raise privacy concerns in the workshop. Now, they are worried, like many of us, how their jobs will change in the coming years with AI and automation.

Artificial intelligence, automation, and robots – machine intelligence a whole – is disrupting every industry, and it’s incumbent upon HR professionals to prepare themselves to support worker re-skilling amidst this digital transformation. Elves included.

Read other posts in this series.

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