The latest gadget in my ever-growing cache of technology toys is the personal video recorder. This device enthralls me - not just because it can be programmed to record multiple events over multiple time periods, but more so because it has the ability to "pause" live TV, suspending a program I am watching at my whim, thereby allowing me to manipulate the "time" of when I finish viewing my favorite shows. Extending this concept to the accounting profession, imagine the profitability boost achievable if every billing professional "paused" as they worked on multiple tasks to immediately capture the phone call, meeting or analysis task of the moment. Doing so could virtually reduce-or even eliminate-unrecorded (and therefore unbilled) time.
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Without question, the accounting professional needs tools to capture and "replay" time billed for services rendered. Time-based billing ensures that professionals (and the firm) are properly compensated for their accounting and consulting abilities. As the gap between incurring and capturing billable time increases, the more likely memory lapses and mistakes will result in lost productivity and cash flow.
Remarkably, most time and billing software programs today are capable of providing instant time capture, via on-screen timers, mobile devices, and Web interfaces, or even through email synchronization. No longer are excuses for untimely or incomplete timesheets acceptable; the technology for accurate time capture exists. What's often lacking is the discipline.
Firms that nurture an atmosphere of efficient time capture are able to effectively implement time and billing software, resulting in greater profitability. Capitalizing on the latest technology helps ensure that professional hours are captured and billed to clients in a timely fashion, increasing both realization percentages and cash flow. The end result is productivity and management reports that provide useful analytical analysis on who is busy doing what where.
Time and billing software organizes its main functions consistent with the typical billing cycle of most firms. Client and timekeeper information is entered or updated, fees and costs are recorded. Bills are first previewed, adjusted if necessary, then finalized for release to clients. Statements are updated; client payments posted; and then comprehensive management and operational reports are printed that provide analysis of staff productivity and profitability.
Differentiation occurs in how each time and billing package handles such standard tasks. Some offer quite extensive, time-consuming set-up scenarios; while others provide useful programming wizards to expedite the process. Multiple billing-rate tables and levels by client and staff are quite common, as are numerous invoice and statement formats. Time is typically entered directly via an on-screen timesheet or timer or remotely through any number of devices. Reports are flexible, customizable, and exportable to other programs for additional analysis by the timekeeping professional.
One key area in which the various time and billing systems vary is that some offer advanced data analysis. Often called digital dashboards, these user-defined concise displays capture key indicators, such as aged accounts receivable and staff productivity. These provide the executive with access to critical information useful in making key client and staffing decisions. Some programs also go way beyond traditional time and billing functions by providing practice management and document storage capabilities.
Each product reviewed had several outstanding characteristics. The key to finding the right fit for your firm is to first define and prioritize your specific time and billing requirements. Not every firm will require the robustness or complexity that some of these packages offer; often, a basic application provides a better and less costly fit. The trick is to select a time and billing system with enough functionality to handle both current billing needs and accommodate growth and expansion. The true measure of a successful time and billing implementation is one where all billing professionals are at ease with the convenience and ease-of-use of data entry.
We can't change the past, but we can certainly do a whole lot better in capturing it. If your firm's time and billing software is as antiquated as a VCR recording in Betamax format, consider upgrading to one of these time and billing packages. Within months, the increase in billable hours and profitability realized by your firm will be an accomplishment you won't mind replaying over and over again.
ImagineTime includes standard time and billing functionality in addition to calendar management and due-date monitoring. Among its standout features are its billing dashboard, multiple billing types, and variety of billing rates.
The main screen comprises four main modules: data entry forms, daily reports, utilities, and reports management. Data-entry forms provide fields for creating staff names, rates, permission levels, client names, and system-wide options. These set-up steps must be completed prior to entering time, creating invoices, and applying payments.
Data-entry screens capture account and billing data and other analysis information, including client and group profitability, performance statistics, and user-defined data fields. You can drill down from a client's account status window, providing quick access to invoice and payment information, and to detailed time slips and allowance data. You can also email clients from this screen and browse stored client documents. A Note window allows you to store ad hoc client notes. Within these screens is a comprehensive scheduling, due-date monitoring, and task management system.
The enter/edit staff screen stores information such as staff names and addresses, staff rates, and certifications. You can set up individual rates for each staff person, assigns a general default rate, and assign specific hourly rates to different types of work. You can also create a rate template, which dynamically creates and assign rates to staff based on their staff level. The fixed-fee grid allows you to easily add or edit fixed fees for all clients. Up to five types of fixed fees can be set up per client.
ImagineTime utilizes two methods of entering chargeable and non-chargeable time. The first, after event entry, records time as tasks are completed, or in advance or afterwards. The timer-sheet method is used to enter time as events take place. The daily time windows show a time summary of all slips for selected staff members. Time can also be entered from remote locations. The billing dashboard screen allows you to generate bills, view, edit, or delete invoices, add addresses, change billing options, and record write-offs.
Several custom bill types are available, including detail, fixed-fee, narrative, and progress bills. The Superbill master template screen provides additional alternatives for recurring bills. This template can be copied to different clients. The quick edit feature then allows changes to tailor the amounts and settings to individual client requirements.
Daily reports include aging, client statements, and address listings. The client master file reports summarize client billed and unbilled balances by any date in a variety of sort orders. The daily transaction reports provide information on daily timekeeping, invoicing, and payments. Realization reports by staff and client for selected date ranges are also available. Management reports include graphs on client and staff performance, plus due-date monitoring, task management, and tax and tickler reporting. The Client Snapshot summarizes all significant client activity and realization for user-defined periods. The Report Wizard creates custom reports using flexible criteria.
Boca Raton, Fla.
(877) 520-1525, ext. 201
Price: $295 (single user, stand-alone); $195 (due-date monitor, tax tickler); $295 (contact calendar with Outlook synchronization). Multi-user, small office, $795 (one to five users); $295 (due-date monitor, tax tickler); $295 (contact calendar with Outlook synchronization).
Billing Matters offers a very intuitive interface that features numerous keyboard shortcut keys, customizable toolbars, and interactive lessons for training and support. Its variety of set-up choices and customized reporting provides a powerful time and billing solution for companies with sophisticated requirements.
The set-up process encompasses adding staff, groups, classification codes, reminders, and forms. Auto-entry forms facilitate data entry and process repetitive tasks quickly. Billing Matters uses a series of lists to display all record types, providing a starting point for locating, reviewing, and manipulating records. List table data can be directly exported to Excel.
Billing set-up includes tabs for rates, billing, invoices, firm, aging, and GL accounts. The three billing methods include contact billing, engagement billing, and a combination of the two. Billing codes identify and categorize time-and- expense billing entries. Classification, phase, and billing codes are used to further delineate staff time and expenses. Rates and rate tables can be assigned to staff, billing codes, or clients. Billing preference templates can be assigned to multiple clients. Fee arrangements include standard, bill in advance, one-time charge, flat-charge, progress, interim, consolidated, and split-fee. Bill profiles determine the amount and order of details printed on bills.
Billing Matters' timesheets filter displays items by staff and date. They contain both time-and-expense entries and allow viewing of work in progress and billed records. Billing records contain supplemental billing information. The Billflow feature manages and tracks the progress of bills through the review and approval process.