Why Watching "Lost" Is Like Managing ERP

You've got your bewildering subplots (confusing vendor roadmaps), spectacular crashes (ERP project failures), island archetypes (penny-pinching CFOs) and smoke monsters (scary upgrades). Need we say more?

By Thomas Wailgum
Wed, February 03, 2010

CIO — Since the fall of 2004, I've invested a lot of time, given way too much thought to, and probably annoyed plenty of people over all things Lost. Like a crazy, unpredictable friend in your life, the show has consumed me, frustrated me, surprised me, exasperated me and kept me on my toes.

Which is very similar to another part of my life: My fascination with the coverage of ERP systems and enterprise software for CIO.com. So in honor of Lost (the final season kicked off Tuesday), here's how watching the show is just like managing ERP systems. (Warning: If you haven't watched through season 5, there might be some spoilers in here.)

Lost and ERP

I'm on Their Side—For Now
It's tough to know whose side everyone's really on when watching Lost, especially as frequent flashbacks, flashforwards and jarring time travel occurs. In the "Exploring the Devil's Triangle" blog, as promulgated by industry consultant Michael Krigsman, he describes the dysfunctional relationships among software vendors, system integrators and the customers' teams that all-too-often propel many ERP projects toward failure. There's a real parallel to this in the Lost universe, and the three people encompassing the Devil's Triangle would be: the ageless Richard Alpert, the untrustworthy Ben Linus and mythical John Locke.

The "Smoke" Monster Always Wreaks Havoc
"What the hell was that?" ask flummoxed and terrified island inhabitants upon seeing the smoky, worm-like creature that has perplexed Lost viewers for years. The beast comes and goes without warning—just like those unexpected integration and customization headaches that terrorize ERP implementation projects. When will they strike? "No idea, Hoss," one can imagine a smart-mouthed Sawyer saying.

Those Numbers!!
Lost's vexing number set that won't go away: 4 8 15 16 23 42.
ERP's vexing number that won't go away: 22%.

Just as you can always count on Hurley to say "Dude" and Desmond to say "Brotha," Ben to lie to everyone, and Kate to do the opposite of what she should do, there are several archetypes that do and say the same types of things when dealing with ERP systems. There's the "Ostrich" executive, the CFO "Penny Pincher," the dangerous Power User and many more akin to our Lost archetypes, as outlined in Infoworld.com's IT's Greatest Enemies.

The Jungle Is One Scary Place
Many of the mysterious "Island" inhabitants spend long periods of time in the jungle—hearing whispers from dead friends, running from the smoke monster and polar bears, and typically trying not to get shot by the "Others." A new report provides an analogous situation for the ERP world: "Welcome to the Jungle: Lessons from ERP Software Implementation Failures," by Panorama Consulting Group. What's life like in the ERP Jungle? Let's see: 65 percent of enterprise software implementations fail, according to Panorama research. "Dude, that's really bad," Hurley would most likely say regarding those results.

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