Why Santa needs a Chief Technical Elf

December 17, 2018 • Reading time 2 minutes

In England alone, there are 30 children hospitals who specialise in providing care for many thousands of seriously ill children each year. There are also many more hospitals that also look after children generally. And there are millions of homes.

Even if Santa and his reindeer only visited the specialist hospitals, he would have a logistical nightmare to make it around each of them in the few hours available. Travelling fast helps, but reindeer can only go so quickly. So, route planning is critical.

Photo credit: Michael B. Myers Jr.

There are over 4.4 nonillion (i.e. 1 followed by 30 zeros) route options between the 30 specialist hospitals. Picking the quickest route is a “combinatorial optimisation” problem. It is like the one faced by booking managers trying to fill NHS operating theatres. It is also a problem that Santa is yet to solve, which has created a market for Santa impersonators. But a lack of compliance with GDPR and infection control is forcing out these impersonators.

“To save Christmas, Santa needs to employ a Chief Technical Elf”

Picking the quickest route from the 4.4 nonillion options is not easy. As any good CTO or CTE knows, even the world’s fastest computer the IBM Summit, which can do 200 Quadrillion calculations per second, would take over 700k years to find the quickest route with a “brute force approach” (i.e. trying all possibilities).

Fortunately, the problem faced by Santa and his CTE is one of the most famous mathematical problems, so various heuristics have been devised to help. These include:

Each of these has its merits (and challenges), but the CTE would, of course, know these and how best to analyse the results. The CTE would also have responsibility for putting together the raw data, such as travel times – it is almost impossible to get close to a good answer without these estimates.

Unfortunately, there are not many good CTEs around at the moment (no one invested in the pipeline). This workforce shortage means that Santa’s reindeer will need to work even harder (unless they can be replaced by machines)…

Photo credit: Jordan Siddall

Perhaps you can help Santa and Rudolph find the best route?

It goes without saying, keeping children well at home where they can thrive is the best option, which is why Edge Health supports WellChild and sponsored their Doctor Award in 2018. You can also help by sponsoring WellChild – here.


(1) Santa is of course trained in both GDPR and infection control

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Edge Health are a specialist UK healthcare analytics consultancy that use data and insights to improve the delivery of health and care services, so that better outcomes can be delivered more efficiently.