Professional journalist Jonathan Widran recently wrote the following profile of me for a major dot-com site:
SOFTWARE AND IT SOLUTIONS SPECIALIST IAN HOWLETT LENDS HIS EXPERTISE TO ENTREPRENEURS AND SENIOR BUSINESS LEADERS
The Veteran Software Success Expert and Oxford MBA Recently Published “How To Fix Your Software Project: The Plain English Guide To IT Project Turnaround For Business Leaders”
Gifted with both the expansive vision of an ambitious leader and the ability to tackle the minutest details in his long career as a developer and an IT Solutions specialist, Ian Howlett loves to connect his passion as a pianist with his work as a consultant to fellow entrepreneurs and senior business leaders.
Just as he seeks excellence in helping them achieve success and peace of mind with their IT and software projects, the multi-faceted software success expert – who has an MBA from the University of Oxford – is always seeking to improve his skills on the ivories and find bigger and better places to showcase them.
For his birthday in 2013, his girlfriend Victoria took him to Vienna, where Bösendorfer, the manufacturer of what is arguably the best piano in the world, is located. In their store, which is part of a famous concert hall, Howlett – in awe of and inspired by the instrument’s grand sound and rich craftsmanship – sat down and began to play Beethoven’s familiar Moonlight Sonata.
Closer to home in the UK, he has played Steinway grand pianos in some of over 300 residences owned by the National Trust. The other day, he was sitting in an ornate room decorated in gold, with massive chandeliers hanging overhead, playing Beethoven, Chopin and Scott Joplin on their piano.
Software Success Expert
Howlett is equally proficient as a software success expert, helping companies around the world to guide their software projects into successful ventures, sometimes from the initial stages of writing the software – but most often as a consultant, helping them get “unstuck” from a seemingly intractable problem and helping them maintain maximum efficiency as their business grows.
Brought up in Derbyshire, England, he has had an affinity for computers and software since the age of six, when he got an Amstrad computer for Christmas and, in addition to playing games, started writing programs on it. His father dealt with computer programming for his job and when Howlett was ten, brought home an old 8086 green screen PC with early word processing, spreadsheet, and database software.
He later earned a three year degree in computer science.
“I wrote my first program at the age of six,” he says. “That’s pretty old now, given that kids seem to pop out of the womb and land on an iPad, but in the 80s, it was pretty rare! Thanks to my dad, I got my first PC before many people, back when Windows was still on Version 2.”
Howlett brings a unique array of professional experiences to his current work with individual clients. He began his professional career as a software developer for Unisys before starting up his first business as an IT contractor at 22. He then took a position at BUPA, the UK’s largest private healthcare company, analyzing surgeons’ performances and developing a then-cutting-edge “reverse auction” system for purchasing.
After going back to school for his MBA, he stayed on at the University of Oxford to work in the quantum computing lab – at one point giving presentations to the European Union in Brussels and Bratislava, Slovakia about commercializing quantum computers. He then joined forces with a guest lecturer he met at Oxford on a website called Consensus View, a competition site related to predicting how financial markets would move.
Along with a third partner, they created innovative software to train a person’s intuition for financial markets. After switching to marketing a financial trading course, they started a new business called Publisha, a platform where magazines and authors could publish their work and monetize it through social media. Publisha then morphed into the writing competition site Viewshound. All the while, Howlett has worked with various clients, including a major European airline for which he serves as a business analyst.
One of the clients Howlett has worked extensively with is a prominent travel insurance company in Queensland, Australia. The firm’s traditional business was handling behind-the-scenes endeavors related to insurance. When they wanted to start selling policies directly to the public, or as Howlett says “go from B2B (Business to Business) to B2C (Business to Consumer),” they sought his expertise to help them deliver a multi-function website that would provide potential buyers with a quote, let them purchase insurance, and take care of the administrative issues.
As is often the case, Howlett was brought on after the company had engaged other developers. The struggles these developers had translating the company’s visions to a software program led to a project that ultimately went nowhere. Then another firm tried and failed to make it happen.
“While involved with various other business endeavors over the years,” Howlett says, “I had worked steadily as a consultant with a London-based travel insurance firm since 2002. The man who runs it is Australian and he recommended me to help the Queensland firm solve their issues. Face to face meetings are not required in this age of internet communications and Skype, but in this case I met the owners of the Australian firm in London. I simply asked them what they were trying to achieve and started to talk about their real requirements, about what the system should do and how it should look.
“Generally,” he adds, “that’s a process of talking a little and listening a lot, and guiding people through the process. I could get them to the point where they could really be precise about what they needed to achieve. The skill is in knowing what questions to ask, what can be glossed over, and what is important enough to go into more detail on. When the client says certain things, alarm bells ring in my head, and I can identify the problems – and solutions – based on my experience. One of their issues was the complexity of trying to sell online to consumers while also using travel agents to sell policies. This is a case of trying to accomplish too much at one time.”
New Book Launched
Trying to achieve too much (or, “scope is too wide”) is one of the 26 major root causes of software project failure that Howlett lists in his new book with a long but perfectly chosen title: “How To Fix Your Software Project: The Plain English Guide To IT Project Turnaround For Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs.” At the top of this exhaustive list are: 1) Poor project management; 2) Unrealistic expectations; 3) Unarticulated project goals; 4) Marketing Failure; 5) Wrong people on the project; and 6) Inadequate support from leaders and upper management.
In the concise but comprehensive 169 page work, the author shows readers how to turn their software projects from failure to success in seven simple steps. These essential strategies, explained in plain English rather than “tech geek” speak, are designed to help readers feel like a pro, going from first principles to knowing exactly which questions to ask – and what actions to take – to “get your show back on the road.”
As Howlett states on the back cover: “If you’re building software in house, building software with a third party vendor, or customizing an existing off the shelf software package, this is the book for you.” In the volume, he reveals some simple truths he has learned in 15 years as a software developer, business analyst and project manager with companies ranging from one man bands to major brands. These include: the one true silver bullet for successful software projects; the million dollar secret behind keeping your project continually focused on success; how to piggyback on the knowledge gained from thousands of successful projects; the #1 personal quality you’ll need in order to succeed (hint: it involves time management); and the insider’s trick to having software that doesn’t suck.
The topics that Howlett covers are reflected in the main headings to the key chapters, which lay out a 7 step process for success: Check if the project is still worthwhile; Determine what you’ve got to work with; Find why your project is currently failing; Understand project management for IT projects; How to fix your management problems; How to fix your IT skills problems; and Getting the right people on the project.
Towards the end of “How To Fix Your Software Project,” Howlett offers his services to those who require more specifically tailored help and advice. Each year, he explains, he works with a small group of private clients to provide them with guidance and practical support, helping ensure the success of their projects.
Though he is happy that the book will benefit business owners around the world he may never have the pleasure to work with, he is also using it to introduce himself to new clients, building a strong clientele for his growing consultancy business. While he currently works with clients in various countries, he is especially eager to further develop his relationships with companies in the U.S. His “perfect clients” are not IT technical people: they run companies with 10-250 employees, that make at least $1m – $20m in annual revenues, make at least $200,000 in annual profit, and have at least three years in business.
“My clientele will vary between owners who have existing systems that have gone wrong and need to get back on track, and those who are trying to build something new but are hitting roadblocks and need me to help them break through so they can get the results they want,” Howlett says. “In the second scenario, I would probably write a few of the requirements myself so I could show the client what they need to be aiming for. Then I would give them the templates and standard documents I use to help them communicate those requirements to a software developer.
“Usually,” he adds, “I work one day a month with a new client, split into two hours a week – just enough time to get them to a good place. Depending on their situation, maybe I will spend a little more time up front to get them headed in the right direction, then take a few hours a month to help them understand things that would make sure they stay on the right track. You see, to be most effective as an IT troubleshooter, you need to work with people over the lifetime of a project. When describing what I do, it really comes down to the phrase, ‘I’ve got your back’. No matter what particular service I am providing to a client, they always know that I have their best interests at heart, and that I will deliver what they want most: results.”