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Screenshot: Asha Barbaschow/ZDNet

The Department of Christmas Affairs (DCA) was created by an administrative order issued on 25 December 2018 with the goal to “improve the joy of Christmas now and for future generations”.

The department is, of course, fictitious, and its website is run by two former public servants turned consultants Millie Clery and Clayton Smith, who were charged with getting something off the ground that would actually be used.

Clery and Smith have certainly committed. Speaking at the Digital Transformation Agency’s Disruption and Change Digital Summit last month, the pair walked through how they stood up the faux department which included a website and maintaining and operating the data and analytics network compliance enforcement register — DANCER. What it actually is, is the Naughty or Nice list [PDF].

“The DCA is responsible for covering activities across all aspects of Christmas season management, from gift manufacturing coordination, reindeer transport security and Christmas Eve assistance, to naughty behaviour processing, enforcement, and rehabilitation,” Smith explained.

Despite being a new department, Smith said the DCA realised it had a massive problem — that it was operating in the past.

“For example, kids around the world were still writing letters to Santa. The department was completely paper-based,” he said. “They were trying to operate the world’s most sophisticated surveillance system in a completely analogue environment.

“Do you know why Santa had to check his list twice? Because he was doing it all by hand.”

Clery said the DCA needed to modernise, so it embarked on an “ambitious” digital transformation agenda. She said kids were still sending in paper letters to Santa and parents were still reporting naughty behaviour to their local Elf Enforcement Officers, without a central, online reporting mechanism.

The DCA decided it needed a departmental website that would serve as the primary means of communicating with the public.

“Elves are great at making toys but websites, not so much,” Smith added.

The Australian government then went to tender, seeking a supplier to design, build, and maintain the public website that would be used by members of the department and the public to access DANCER, make gift complaints, and request a behaviour view before Santa’s yearly visit.

Clery and Smith were the chosen duo.

“Filled to the brim with unearned confidence, we lurched towards a first build like a drunken uncle with a pint glass full of eggnog,” Smith said. “Things went well at first, we bought the domain name, set up an environment using Millie’s existing hosting platform, and signed up to a number of third-party tools we had identified in the discovery phase, then we started building out the beta site, designing the user interface, drafting content, and refining the core features.”

At beta launch, the DCA didn’t anticipate the surge in visitor traffic and Clery said the concurrent user load crashed the website. They also didn’t realise the website was down for at least 12 hours.

“Beta was a bit of a mixed bag; we had some great highs but also some embarrassing lows,” Smith added.

However, after go-live, the duo was happy with the end result.

“The online Naughty and Nice list meant Santa could dedicate more time to Christmas strategy rather than wasting time with inefficient manual processes, and the elf marketing and comms team were able to use the site’s news and events section to release important Christmas messages to the world,” Smith continued.

Since go-live, the DCA has added features such as a mechanism to request a review of an individual’s naughty or nice status, an official channel to submit gift requests “directly to the big guy himself”, an option to make a submission to the national gift appropriateness inquiry, a printable infographic outlining how to properly prepare for Santa’s visit, and a career’s section.

Clery said there was more the department wanted to do, such as introduce a virtual elf assistant chatbot named Buddy, but she said that had to be put on hold to focus on more important website additions.

She said there are also plans for a new myGift feature where kids can submit an official Christmas wish directly to Santa, a real-time naughty/nice tracking dashboard, a new reporting feature that will allow anonymous reports to be made to the naughty behaviour tip line, and potentially, the implementation of a new revenue-raising legislation for “bad gift infringements”.

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