Facts and Traditions
"Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire."
Gustav Mahler (1860 -1911)
Not long ago, we got a visit from the Goodholyman at for him a very unusual time. At our open-eyed questioning glance Sint started with: "Yes, yes. I understand that I am not quite expected to pay a visit to an IT-department. After all, they hardly give anything away there for free, do they? But today I'm here for something totally different. Look, I'm doing my work for hundreds of years already, obviously, and generally speaking to great satisfaction, I believe. But in recent years the volume of my work has definitely grown enormously, both in numbers, hence amount of work, and in financial terms. All this puts quite some pressure on my financial room for play - and pressure on any room for play is definitely not my cup of tea. Although, as you know, I do not have a profit motive, I absolutely do have to consider the livelihood of my loyal Petes, the number of whom has little by little grown to about 9000 man."
Sint heaved a deep sigh, then offered us a chocolate cigar, and pensively took one himself as well. "Recently, people told me that it might be wise for me to get a better grip on my operations, and that you guys can help me with that. It might be useful to me to have something like, forgive me if I say this wrong, an intelligence application with the name 'St Nicholas Information System'. I first told them that that didn't exactly sound as something not to be SNeezed at, but they assured me it was meant seriously. This system should give me insight in what is going on in my operational transaction-systems, in particular with an emphasis on the work performance of my Petes. And that is what I am looking for, now."
Of course, this information gave us good reason to do some serious thinking about the problems Sint was facing. After a brief exchange of views with him we were quick to find the following ingredients for the intended SNIS: inspection of costs against review angles like Time, Present, Present category, Age receiver, Residence, Type of sweets, Place of scattering, Pete, Pete type and Pete level just to name a few. As measures we saw number of presents, present cost price, present size, volume sweets, weight sweets, cost price sweets per kilo, and time spent on scattering.
"It would be nice if I would be able to analyse my data over the last hundred years", Sint continued. "Another important issue, beside the delivery of the requested presents, is the performance of my scatter organisation. My Scatter agents - colloquially better known as Scatter Petes - are doing hard work and the achievements per Pete tend to differ quite easily. It would be good to get a reliable picture of that. Much depends here on what type of Pete takes up the scattering operation and the level of experience of the Pete. Please note that you cannot measure that simply by the age of the Pete. I have many old Petes, that after a day on the rooftops come down with the zest and cheerfulness of a young dog, while some of the younger Petes come stumbling down like an old man. There is a standard disparity in scatter perfomances between Pete types. A starting Principal Pete, for instance, can easily scatter 20 kilo of sweets per day, while a senior Principal Pete may do as much as 46 kilo. With the Wrap-up Petes it is exactly the other way around: the more experienced the Petes, the less their scatter perfomances due to the many other tasks they have."
"When would you want to have what information available, Sint?" we asked. "Well, now you're asking, kids", Sint answered. "What shall I say? Look, I don't have to see the information about the delivery of presents any time of the day. I would like to refer to the current state of play particularly in the critical period up to my birthday at least once a week, but perhaps also after each twenty-four hours. That should be then in the early afternoon, when I have taken some rest from my nocturnal wanderings over the roofs. Comparisons of the deliveries over the same period with other years are definitely interesting. Am I on target? Do we have a hold-up somewhere? My Purchase Petes will find such things interesting too, I think. We do need quick answers to our questions then, for we can never rest on our laurels for long, and the quality of the information must be high, otherwise it is no use to me!"
Sint tossed some spice nuts in our laps and continued: "With regard to the scatter-information, I would like to have a clear understanding of that from hour to hour during the work. Strangely enough, that always appears to be what we are judged on most prominently by our youngest clients. So if that is not going well, I might just as well stay on the roofs all day long. And that is definitely not quite my intention, if you know what I meanů Anyway, just show me a suggestion that makes sense, then we'll talk again."
Well, as IT-department you surely start scratching your heads by now. What kind of information is actually asked for and how can one get it? What volumes of information are we dealing with here? What source data must be consulted? How often must the data collections for Sint be refreshed? How can Sint be assured of reliable information with the quality that is required?
It may be clear, that the kind of system Sint asks for may provide him with a lot of information. A correct interpretation of this information will lead to knowledge, and making good use of that knowledge to wisdom.
What insight can we extract from the questions of the Goodholyman? Well, even without access to the true data it is not so hard to make an estimate of the actual value of Sint's total portfolio. That can be done by answering questions such as: how many children in the Netherlands are receiving presents from the good Saint each year; how many presents do these children get on average each year and what is the average cost price per present? How many sweets do Dutch children eat every year and what is the average cost price of sweets per kilo? And how much fun does the celebration period of St Nicholas provide and to whom altogether? It is good for everyone just to think for a moment about the total value of this portfolio, in both a material and an immaterial sense. And - after making a correct estimate of it - to take the true facts on this kind of figures into consideration when assessing the importance of a tradition such as the St Nicholas celebration, particularly in these times of social and economic regression due to the corona crisis. Then here too, the information acquired may lead to insight and wisdom.
- Peter Alons, September 2020