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Review of Time & Billing Software — 2005

Time-based billing was pioneered either by lawyers or by another of the world’s oldest professions, and many accounting and other service-based professionals have adapted the process, as well...

From the November 2005 Issue

Track Your Time, Whether You Bill By It Or Not

Time-based billing was pioneered either by lawyers or by another of the world’s
oldest professions, and many accounting and other
service-based professionals have adapted the process, as well, because it is
an excellent method by which to ensure that the firm is appropriately compensated
for the services it provides to clients.

There is, of course, a growing advocacy of value-based billing — the
concept that a price should generally be fixed for traditional services based
on the value the client receives, without regard for occasional irregularities
in time, which may be caused by training new staff or differences in the aptitude
of staff members. Many accountants use a hybrid method of billing, whether they
realize it or not. They often charge a fixed rate for common services (like
simple returns, monthly write-up or sales tax compliance), while charging based
on time for services that are less predictable in nature (such as complex personal
and business returns, audit services and full-service client bookkeeping).

Whatever the method, time and billing systems provide a great asset to accounting
firms by enabling them to bill accurately. Of course, they solve that difficult
mathematical equation Time x Rate = Bill for straight-line time billers, but
they also offer reporting and analysis tools that let firm management keep on
top of productivity by staff member, client, task or many other factors. This
is essential when setting up fee structures since pricing must reflect many
aspects of being in business, and may also include the cost of some expenses
routinely incurred during that type of service.

Clients’ needs change, however. Despite technology, some tasks get more
difficult. Prices change, and rarely do they decrease. Overhead costs go up.
Staff salaries go up. Printing costs rise. The price of gas skyrockets. In short,
the cost of providing a particular service goes up over time due to many variables.
Time and billing software enables partners or other management to periodically
adjust rates as warranted (but hopefully not as frequently as gas stations).

Time and billing software, however, is about more than just tracking time
and expenses, ensuring appropriate billing rates, and invoicing clients. Through
reporting and analysis tools, these programs let key staff monitor the billing
process, which ensures that work doesn’t “slip through the cracks.”
The systems also provide insight into key productivity indicators, allowing
senior staff to make adjustments as necessary. These factors are essential to
maintaining client service and for the profitability of the firm. As such, all
time should be recorded, even firm “housekeeping” functions such
as HR, payroll processing, performance reviews and interviewing applicants.
This will help ensure that you know where all of your time is going and can
help maximize efficiency on less profitable activities.

The programs reviewed here approach time and billing in a variety of ways,
from basic programs geared toward very small organizations, to larger systems
that border on being practice management applications. Some of these provide
calendaring and scheduling tools, automated processing, integration with outside
accounting and communications programs, and enhanced analysis capabilities.
All, however, provide the essential ability to manage time and expenses and
invoice clients. After consultation with professional accountants and software
vendors, we have focused this review on the following areas:

Ease-of-Use/Program Setup. Getting staff (even partners)
to actively track their time can be a challenge, yet their adoption of the software
is critical to the benefit the firm can realize through use of these systems.
Therefore, the product must be simple to navigate with common tasks easily accessible.
Customization features add value by letting users adapt the software to their
needs. Additionally, the ease with which the system is maintained has a bearing
on how well management will embrace the system.

Management Features. All of the systems in this review allow
time-based and flat-fee billing while tracking time, but there are special needs
to consider. Does a program support multiple currencies? Does it allow split
and consolidated billing? Can it handle the necessary number of clients and
timekeepers? Additional features like the ability to set up some processes to
run automatically, staff calendars and contact management functions can greatly
add to the utility and effectiveness of a time and billing system.

Billing & Reporting Features. Get paid for what you do.
That’s obviously a cornerstone for any business. How the billing processes
within these programs work is essential, as is the ability of the firm to perform
markups/markdowns, declare some hours as unbillable, manage AR aging, and customize
options for addition of graphical elements to invoices. Are the bills and reports
easily editable, and in what formats can they be exported? Word, Excel, HTML?
Additionally, analysis tools promote more competent supervision of the firm,
enabling productivity analysis.

Integration. Does the system share data with other programs
already in use by the firm, such as third-party accounting systems, contact
management applications and productivity tools? Are timekeepers able to record
time and expense entries while away from the office, whether through a web interface,
by e-mail or on their PDA?

Support/Help. A time comes with any program when a user is
going to need assistance, whether it’s a new user wanting training or
a tutorial, a seasoned user with a specific query, or someone in between. In
this section of the review, we address the built-in assistance features as well
as online options and identify whether human-based technical assistance is included
in the cost of the program or through subscription support packages.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AccountantsWorld — Time2Money
Time2Money is the time and billing management component
of AccountantsWorld’s Accountants Office Online (AOO) practice management
BothWorlds Software — ImagineTime
ImagineTime is unique in that it was originally
designed specifically for use by CPAs and other accountants. In the years
since its release, Both Worlds has made it more amenable to other professional
services firms…
BQE Software — BillQuick
BQE has actively developed its BillQuick time and
billing system, continually adding productivity features, enhancing integration
capabilities, streamlining workflow and increasing its capabilities.
CPASoftware (A Division of Sage
Software) — Sage CPA Practice Manager: Time & Billing Edition
CPASoftware, which was acquired by Best Software
two years ago, who changed its name to Sage Software earlier this year,
remains a separate division of the software vendor, and continues to produce
applications specifically for accounting firms.
Group AGI, Inc. — Abak Software
Abak Time and Billing is a comprehensive time and
billing system that helps manage time and expenses, invoicing and client
relationships, and also offers modules for project management, workflow,
remote access and HR planning.

LexisNexis Time Matters — Billing
Matters Professional Edition
LexisNexis continues to actively develop its Time
Matters and Billing Matters practice management and time-based billing
applications, most recently releasing version 7.0 of the two products
with added and enhanced features.
Sage Software — Timeslips
Timeslips by Sage has long been the Coca-Cola of
the time and billing market. That is, the name is almost a generic term
for time and billing software in general. The program was first developed
in 1985, so it has earned this ubiquity over the past 20 years.
Tenrox — Tenrox Timesheet 8.5
Tenrox Timesheet is a browser-based system for
tracking and billing time and expenses. The system is hosted on a business’
file server or on Tenrox’s servers through a hosting arrangement…
TimeRewards Software — EZtime
EZtime is a different sort of time-based billing
system in a couple of ways. First, it is designed for integration with
QuickBooks (and is an authorized QuickBooks add-on), which obviously means
it has the potential to tap into a huge market of small service-based
TPS Software — TPS Time &
Geared for professional services firms, TPS Time
& Billing provides strong time and expense tracking functions, customizable
billing and client correspondence capabilities, calendaring and timer

Time & Billing Software 2005
— Executive Summary
It is obvious that time and billing software can
help manage more than just billing for time and expenses, but narrowing
down what a professional services firm needs or expects from such software
is not always as simple.