Time to Send the Bills

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Billing More Quickly Builds Profits

By  Barry Knaster

While attending Convergence, the annual Microsoft Business Solutions users’ conference, I took a break from the keynote and concurrent sessions to visit the exercise spa for a quick workout. During my session on the treadmill, the LED message panel kept flashing “STRIDE faster.”

Partner Insights

This got me thinking how wonderful it would be if time and billing software products alerted the timekeeping professional to “BILL faster” each time they failed to promptly record billable hours spent on their numerous daily client activities. The timely recording and invoicing of billable hours is the single most important task each professional service firm faces. Inefficiency in time and billing functions will inevitably have a negative impact on both firm productivity and profitability.

Accountants and other professionals who bill for their services rely on time and billing software. Generic accounting programs cannot accommodate the innumerable bill formats, reporting requirements, and preferences of a professional service firm. Some firms have relatively simple billing cycles. They record time and expenses, review billing data, print bills, and apply payments. Others have more complex requirements, such as the need for multiple billing arrangements and fee adjustments, custom terminology and report formats, various billing rates for different situations, and firm-specific personal preferences. In both cases, the need exists for comprehensive management and operational reporting, reflecting both staff productivity and client profitability.

A plethora of products exist that allow the immediate capture of time spent on activities completed. Regardless of where these activities physically occur, remote timekeeping via the Internet, a PDA, or desktop synchronization provides the means to immediately record the billable hours spent on these activities.

The products reviewed provide all necessary time and billing functions.

Among these are multiple billing rates, timesheets, and invoice formats, drill-down access to aging and WIP information, and productivity reports.

Screen and report customization options vary in depth between the different vendors, as does the ability to capture time from a remote location. Most packages provide connectivity options both from and to other accounting and productivity software solutions. A few feature extra options typically found in practice management software.

Begin your analysis by evaluating the online tutorials and sample data sets. These can help determine how each vendor’s product best fits your specific requirements. Your firm will align better with some products than others, depending on its size. You might even be able to purchase the software on a trial basis before buying.

Regardless of which package you choose, create an environment where professionals record their hours on a timely basis. The more time that elapses between the billable activity and its eventual input into the time and billing system, the greater the likelihood of inaccuracy and understatement of billable hours. To paraphrase the Steve Miller Band, if you continue to let the capture of billable time keep slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future, your productivity and profitability will most likely slip away as well.

CaseWare Time
CaseWare Time performs the complex functions of time and billing in a simple, easy-to-use manner with minimal upfront set-up. It handles time and billing challenges in practices both small and large.

The main window provides a set of tasks such as data entry, reports, and document management. Extensive keyboard shortcuts provide quick and efficient navigation through the screens. Time and expense work codes control billing rates for each staff member. These work codes can be billable or non-billable. Work code classifications group common work codes for custom presentation on invoices or WIP reports. Billing codes create the common text that appears on invoices. CaseWare Time provides the ability to import work codes from other time and billing products.

The staff list contains name, address, billing rate, cost, and overtime rates for each staff member. Standard hours track the number of hours by period that each staff member is expected to work. Grouping of staff codes provides specific management reports. Staff members designated as “approvers” are able to authorize time and expense entries.

Time sheets for an unlimited number of employees are processed on a daily or other periodic basis. Each time entry can have unlimited work codes and description text. Each employee can have up to 10 separate billing rates. Blocks of time can be entered if you are using an entry method other than daily. CaseWare Time also permits entry of future time or expenses, which is useful when some staff members have not completed their time or expense sheets for a past period. CaseWare Time’s pop-up timer records the time worked for clients, providing details as to client name, project, work code, and staff group. The timer then transfers all the details automatically onto a time sheet. Up to five timers can run simultaneously.

After all time and expenses are entered, WIP reports determine the amount of time to bill. WIP reports are sorted by client name or number and show all outstanding time and expense entries for a client, as well as any interim or final invoices issued during the current period. On-screen interim and final billing provides flexibility by frequency, method, and amount. The actual invoice can be entered and edited directly on the screen.

There are six types of invoices: interim invoices from WIP, final invoices from WIP, miscellaneous invoices, interest invoices, proposed invoices, and recurring invoices. Interim invoices generate invoices without relieving any time or expenses from WIP. They are useful to perform month-end billing where staff have not yet entered their time or expenses. Proposed invoices are created for review and approval purposes only. Recurring invoices provide batch billing for charges incurred on a regular basis.

Invoices are generated using either the automatic invoice or CaseView. Automatic Invoices is a standard invoice format that cannot be modified. CaseView Invoices can be customized to display multiple formats and company logos.

This package provides nicely designed reports with numerous filters that also let you do a fair amount of customization. You can further edit reports by using Word or Excel. An optional CaseWare Reporter module provides even more flexibility in creating custom and ad-hoc reports. CaseWare Time certainly proves itself by offering flexible data capture and reporting capabilities. Its Windows Explorer-like interface adds a nice look and feel to the product, enabling the timekeeping professional to expedite the time and billing process with minimal effort.

Billing Matters
Rich in features, great functionality, and intuitive navigation all describe the Billing Matters time and billing software package. Navigation through the various screens relies on multiple toolbars, status bars, hot keys, and shortcuts. Both generic and custom keystroke combinations help expedite data entry and screen movement. User-defined keyboard accelerators and multiple screen navigators round out this especially strong user interface.

Initial set-up occurs at the program, user, and workstation levels. Data entry occurs through a series of forms containing both common and unique data fields. These forms are event, to-do, contact, and engagement. Auto-entry forms are pre-completed forms that reduce data entry for records containing recurring data. Each form provides multiple user-defined data entry fields. Fields common to all forms include classification code, staff, notification alerts, user fields, and memo fields. Classification codes categorize and organize records for more productive reporting. Multiple staff can be assigned to each record. Notify checkboxes create alerts for other users to review a specific record. The memo field on all main forms provides basic word processing functionality.

Fields specific to billing set-up include rates, billing methods, and payment methods. You can choose to bill by contact, by engagement, or a combination of both. Rate tables create either hourly or flat rates, which can be assigned to staff, billing codes, or clients. Billing preferences include fee arrangements, consolidated billing, and split-fee billing. Client bill profiles determine the information that appears on a bill.

Time is entered via the quick item method which allows time and expense entry on an ongoing basis, one staff member at a time. There is also the timesheet window that allows entry for multiple billers simultaneously. Timers keep track of the various billable activities throughout the day. Both Pocket PC and Palm devices can capture time for remote synchronization. The BillFlow Manager selects which bills to process and allows you to view each client’s time and expense entries. It also allows you to filter billing components, run pre-bill reports, obtain billing histories, and review and approve bills.

The Report Designer creates custom reports for special formatting of required report information. More than 50 standard reports provide critical productivity, work in progress, and aging information. Report types include billing, transaction, tax, staff, and set-up. You can output reports to PDF and RTF formats and can export billing and other transaction information to several accounting packages.

Billing Matters is an excellent choice for accomplishing your time and billing objectives. Its versatile set-up and customized reporting provide the functionality necessary for any size professional firm where time and billing really matter.

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