They were printed on one side of a yellow sheet of paper. On Friday of each week, before you left for the weekend, you filled in each daily log and detail, and forwarded the sheet (with attachments) to Billing. If you were gone on Friday afternoon, you had to do it first thing Monday morning, so that the Billing Department had time to tabulate and generate a billing report before the partners met in the late morning.
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We called the exercise "fiction-writing" or "filling out the swindle sheets." The partners called it time & billing. No, the clients were not actually swindled. It was just that the tools for time & billing, all those years ago, were bad. Clumsy. Untimely. Manual.
Today, time & billing systems have evolved into a rich set of utilities that enable accountants to manage workflow, assign tasks and review roles, capture information about costs in a dozen different ways, and produce meaningful reports.
While the best programs have their differences, they do share some common traits:
• They are flexible and customizable.
• They are Internet-accessible to allow for the capture of information from an unlimited number of places and devices.
• Billing and invoicing is likewise flexible, easily tailored to the needs of each client.
• Reports enable management to assess performance of staff, tasks, clients and even types of service performed.
For 2012, we assessed a total of eight leading software packages for practice management/time & billing. Each of these meets the criteria to be tops in its field.
Pricing: $40 per month or $395 per year.
Practice Relief is the online time & billing system that operates either as an integrated part of the AccountantsWorld Power Practice system or as a stand-alone system. Designed for accounting firms, Practice Relief uses a desktop module with integrated wizards to provide both basic and advanced timekeeping, and billing and analysis services.
The time & billing system enables tasks entered in Practice Relief to automatically generate invoices in Accounting Relief, with all the journal entries created behind the scenes. In addition, Payroll Relief synchronizes with Practice Relief -- payroll tasks performed for an employer in Payroll Relief get automatically transferred to Practice Relief, generating an invoice in either Practice Relief or Accounting Relief for the client.
Key features include the ability to set up for entry of standard users, clients, projects and expenses, with up to 10 titles and corresponding default rates for each user; and the ability to generate invoice and billing with a variety of payment terms, delivery methods (print or e-mail), billing date of month, tax rates, billable versus non-billable tasks and expenses, flat fee versus computed billing, invoice prefix format, task and expense groupings, flat fee description, and invoice footer text. In addition, the system appointment scheduler synchronizes with Microsoft Outlook, and the software provides differing levels of security with appropriate rights to users, managers and administrators.
The most powerful assets of Practice Relief lie in its reporting architecture, which includes client realization rate reports, payment tracking, client ranking and analysis, and a list of receivables outstanding. Firm and user reports provide a summary of firm performance, invoice information, expense and task choices for the firm, and a list of users by rates, and analysis of user productivity.
New to the system is Practice Relief Mobile, which allows the user to add, edit or delete tasks and expenses for clients anytime and anywhere from any smartphone. Mobile updates sync instantly with Practice Relief to enable faster and easier client billing.
Pricing: Big Time Lite -- $25 monthly for up to five users; Big Time Premium - $150 monthly. Additional fee for additional users.
Big Time is customizable time & billing software for professional services firms, designed for easy adaptation and smooth integration with each firm's existing procedures for engagement workflow, billing and tasking. Designed to work seamlessly with Intuit's QuickBooks, the accounting version uses a familiar timesheet format and specialized billing formats for accounting that include multiple billing rates, write-up and write-down (for WIP analysis), and progress payments.
The timesheet formats enable staff to enter their daily time at the end of each day or use a timer, with simple reference to client lists and billing/expense codes. Big Time offers a flexible rate structure tailored to each client, with the ability to invoice standard time and expenses, or fixed-fee engagements -- with numerous printed invoice styles and limitless billing formats.
Big Time is designed to "learn" from the workflow style of the accounting firm. Each client plan is saved in the system as a "virtual template" from which engagements, special projects, rates, tasks and team members can be copied for new clients. Management reports can enable automatic analyses of WIP (by staffer, billing code, and client), capacity and other critical measures, and offer more than 150 standard report templates and endless report customization options.
Planned enhancements for Big Time Software include a Pro version of the mobile smartphone app later this summer.
Caseware Time 2011
CaseWare International Inc.
Pricing: Single timekeeper -- $500; up to five timekeepers -- $1,000; additional timekeepers over five -- $175 per timekeeper. Annual license renewal -- 50 percent of license value.
Caseware Time is a practice management tool that enables time and expense entry, at-a-glance monitoring, improved billing, numerous ready-to-use reports, and powerful project and contact management.
Time 2011 uses a dashboard-style interface to summarize information, with specific task information in a Workflow layout. This Workflow layout is tailored to the requirements of each user in the firm, and provides access to documents, program features and the help system. The CaseView word processor with spreadsheet and database capabilities has the ability to create invoices, statements, marketing letters, customized working papers, forms, and schedules. Accountants can create professional-quality documents using CaseView's desktop publishing enhancements, which are directly linked to accounting data in Time.
With the Workflow you can access program features, documents and help from the same screen. The layout and content of proposed, interim, recurring and final invoices can be customized, as can the hundreds of sample reports. Time's document management system allows for organization of reports into hierarchical folders, allowing specific reports to be accessible by staff function. Time has over 200 reports that can be edited and filtered to manage the practice. In addition, Time provides built-in contact management with the ability to generate marketing and form letters with filtered address fields.
Features planned for Caseware Time 2012 include a hosted solution on the CaseWare Cloud, eliminating the need for installed software and SQL Server; Web functionality that integrates with CaseWare Collaborate and Working Papers; a new time and expense application with a redesigned websheet application; and a new time and expense mobile application for leading smartphones.
With the new mobile app, staff can input, view and edit their time and expense entries using a tablet or mobile device, including those running iOS 5.0.1, Android 4.0.1, and Blackberry OS 5.0.0 and 7.1.0.
Imagine Time Inc. Bostic, N.C.
Pricing: Single user, stand-alone -- starts at $295. Five-user networked -- starts at $795; Annual optional support is extra. Cloud subscription -- starts at $40 per month per user.
ImagineTime 10.0 is a remarkable upgrade to a strong and respected practice management utility. Its standard features include time and expense tracking, with flexible billing, credit card processing and both client and staff realization reporting. Invoices have highly customizable formatting, allowing companies to create bills with as much or as little detail as they like, including a click-to-pay link, discounts, narratives, itemized timeslips, mini-statements, account history, etc. The program also provides historical realization reporting by client, by staff and by work code.
With Version 10, released this year, they've added a new Finish-Line Workflow Module to enhance the existing Due Date Module. In addition to tracking the status of tasks and forms and assigning these to staff, the workflow module allows the user to create customized subtask steps to any given task, assigning to one or many staff, and tracking time and budgeting.