Time and billing software was one of the first applications to make the leap from paper to PC, with the earliest forms appearing in 1979. Normally, this is a simple and straightforward process - record the time, send the bill, track the receivables - that doesn't require much change from year to year.Until now.

With mounting pressure on accounting firms to increase performance and productivity, time and billing systems have taken center stage in the battle for control of the desktop. Nearly all of the major packages have undergone or are in the process of making radical changes to update their looks, capabilities and integration. Tops among the updates are:

* Movement to current platforms and design styles, with a flurry of Microsoft .Net and SQL implementations backed by Windows XP-style screens and icons.

* Tighter integration with Microsoft Outlook, fusing the two to enhance collaboration and communication capabilities.

* Tighter integration with practice management software, particularly in providing senior managers and partners with the ability to better understand staff and client relationships in order to use them more effectively.

* Integration with emergent technology tools, from PDAs and Web-based data entry to cell phones and remote access.

The job of an effective time and billing program is to ensure that costs and time are properly accounted for, and that no hours or dollars are left on the table at the end of the day. To that end, the seven packages presented for 2005 represent some of the strongest and most effective software solutions available to accounting firms today.

Billing Matters 6.0 Plus

LexisNexis Time Matters Software

Billing Matters 6.0 Plus is a fusion of front-office billing and contact management with back-office accounting functionality. The result is a crisp, well-defined software application suited to the unique needs of the accounting office.

A relatively new product, introduced in 2003, Billing Matters sports a well-designed and intuitive interface navigated by large top-side icons for such functions as calendar, contacts, events management, billing and accounting. Separate screens for each function provide excellent work flow from one part of the system to another, though some of the functions pack a lot of information onto a single screen. The software addresses a wide range of billing types, including flat rate, consolidated and split billing, with accounting features for allocated fees, trust accounting and budgeting.

In its core function of time and billing, Billing Matters performs with strong capabilities and flexibility. Staff members can enter data the way they work - using an edit-in-place (quick item entry) or Timesheet view, or they can contemporaneously bill from the calendar so that the information is inherited from the calendar to the billing record. This information is carried to the master billing list regardless of the method used to enter the data.

The system is also designed to fit the work style of today's mobile professional, easily synchronizing calendar, contact and engagement information to PDAs, smart phones, Blackberry handheld devices or laptops.

The current release became available in September of 2004, and featured the introduction of the "Plus" version that integrates vendors, payables, check writing, account management and reconciliation, general ledger, and financial reporting with the time and contact management capabilities. Other upgrades in the new version include billing enhancements such as a receipt allocation report that allows users to print the amount billed and received for a specified period by staff, client/engagement or bill code, regardless of how it is being reported for general ledger purposes. Reporting enhancements include customization of billing and transaction reports.

Billing Matters 6.0 Plus is a time and billing program enhanced with engagement management, an office-wide contact list, true group calendaring and scheduling, and robust user security down to the field level.

The program's ability to handle unlimited rates and staff, along with high levels of flexibility, make it an ideal software solution for professional offices, distributed offices and enterprise accounting firms.

Timeslips 2005

Best Software

Timeslips is the original - the innovative product that swept away paper forms and brought time and billing functionality to the desktop beginning in 1985. Now a part of the Best Software family of products, it remains a powerful and flexible software product at the top of its form.

Key features of Timeslips, which can be customized using the industry template for accounting firms, include time and expense tracking, budgeting, accounts receivable tracking, detailed security, split billing, over 125 pre-defined reports, and the ability to manage large numbers of timekeepers, clients and entries. For back-office functionality, Timeslips 2005 offers remote access options and integration with the Peachtree and Quickbooks accounting systems.

For a product in its 20th year, you would expect the interface to be gray and stodgy, but Timeslips 2005 does an excellent job of keeping its look fresh and the navigation relatively easy. Navigation is by either top or sidebar icons, depending on the screen, and a Timeslips Today dashboard allows users to customize views of the most critical data for instant access.

New in Timeslips 2005, released in July of 2004, is a tight integration with Microsoft Outlook. A button embedded in Outlook features tasks, meetings, appointments and e-mail messages that make it easier to turn the time spent on those items into billable slips, while links in Timeslips enable e-mail and scheduling features. Other enhancements in this version include a redesigned billing tool, faster entry of time data, and the ability to back-date the accounts receivables report. One of the more useful additions in the upgrade is a missing time management report, which allows staff and management to identify differences between actual hours worked and minimum requirements for each timekeeper.

Timeslips 2005 is a productivity tool aimed at small and midsized service firms with multiple timekeepers. It is a single-user system that expands easily into a networked environment, providing a critical migration path essential for these service firms. Easily at the top of its form, Timeslips 2005 is a sharp, flexible management tool well suited for the accounting market.

CPAPractice Manager - Time & Billing Edition

Best Software Inc.

For small accounting offices, software must provide both a robust feature set and a scalable architecture suitable to their size. In 2004, Best Software met that need by introducing the Time & Billing edition of its venerable CPAPractice Manager. It is software aimed at firms with up to 10 timekeepers that also handles the more demanding back-office roles needed by growing companies.

The Time & Billing Edition provides time entry, billing/invoicing features, accounts receivable management and reporting capabilities. Positioned between simple timekeeping products and the comprehensive practice management packages, this edition is an economical way to expand time and billing features to include client contact management, due date tracking and integration with popular payroll solutions.

It also provides for integration with other CPASoftware products, as well as the Best Software MAS family of accounting products and Abra human resources for payroll integration.

Built on the Microsoft SQL engine and running on either SQL or the MSDE desktop engine, the Time & Billing edition carries over the navigation ease of the hyperlinked and tabbed complete CPAPractice Manager. This reduces transition costs and time when the firm grows to need the full capabilities of the standard edition. Though geared toward the smaller office, the Time & Billing Edition will manage an unlimited number of staff members and permit up to 25 different billing rates for each.

The software supports time and fixed-rate billing, as well as expense accounting, client contact management, due date tracking, invoicing and AR. In addition to billable hours, the program also manages employee continuing professional education, vacation, holiday and sick time.

In addition, core client contact management synchronizes with Microsoft Outlook to simplify the chores of managing lists and sending letters.

CPAPractice Manager - Time & Billing Edition is a strong expansion of the CPASoftware lineup, and fills the needs of growing accounting offices without sacrificing the functionality and flexibility of its more robust standard edition. It provides both a starting point for better practice management and a migration path for the future in a single, economical package.

Practice CS

Creative Solutions Inc.

To say that Practice CS is revolutionary doesn't do justice to its excellent architecture or its ability to redefine practice management from the bottom up. This is an entirely new generation of software, built on the .Net architecture and sporting one of the most advanced interfaces and navigation systems in the industry.

Slated for release in May of 2005, Practice CS incorporates the Creative Solutions experience with more traditional practice management solutions, but aims to customize the software to fit the firm, rather than the other way around. Instead of presenting a software application, Practice CS uses the look and feel of Microsoft XP to create an integrated workplace, or hub, for all of the staff members' daily activities.

Practice CS focuses on integration, customization and navigation to allow different work styles and management practices to flow smoothly across the firm. The core of the software are digital dashboards, with different dashboards defined for clients, for staff members, and for partners in the firm. Each dashboard contains a collection of real-time interactive "portlets," or snapshot views, that display up-to-the-minute information about the specific staff member, the specific client or the firm as a whole.

The most impressive feature of the staff dashboard is the program's tight integration with Microsoft Outlook - integration that makes practice management an extension of

Outlook and expands its productivity toolset to encompass timekeeping, billing, contact management and client file management. It also provides one-click access to other CSI accounting applications, Microsoft Office programs and tax research.

The firm dashboard provides an at-a-glance view of the state of the firm's receivables, billings, collections, profitability, staff productivity and historical information. The dashboard allows quick and easy access to the firm's financial situation without having to search in multiple locations. Access to the dashboard can be limited to partners, office managers or specific individuals.

Creative Solutions has crafted an exceptional new entry to the field of practice management, and one that deserves attention not only for its customization features and scalability, but also for its numerous innovations. Even firms that are not contemplating a change in their practice management systems owe it to themselves to take a hard look at Practice CS.

Imagine Time

Both Worlds Software Inc.

It is hard for many accountants to remember what computing was like 20 years ago, when the x86 computing architecture was brand new and pioneering firms built their own software applications to meet their own needs. But that was how Imagine Time began, as a DOS product used by just a handful of firms. Today it has grown to a robust suite of practice management, contact/calendar management, due date tracking and project/work reminder applications running under Windows and used by more than 3,000 companies.

Imagine Time brings a strong set of features to the accounting office, with an uncomplicated interface and a straightforward work style that translates into a shorter learning curve and more immediate productivity. There is a strong focus on reports, with over 40 standard reports, plus customized reports that can be generated using Microsoft Access. Reports cover not only accounts receivable but staff and client realization reports, a work-in-progress history and tax tacking.

ImagineTime keeps complete client and staff histories that include both billing adjustments and timeslip production for virtually an unlimited number of periods. It is date-flexible and does not require period closings that often limit access to prior detail information. For additional accounting support, Imagine Time integrates with Quickbooks.

Integration with Microsoft Outlook enables the firm to track clients and contacts, while staff scheduling and a remote office module form more elements of this fairly complete set of productivity tools. For the accounting road warrior, the software also provides tools to synchronize with PDAs and other devices on the Palm platform, as well as the ability to enter time and billing data after the fact.

Imagine Time was built by accountants for accountants, and its commitment to midsized accounting firms shows in its emphasis on technical support, usability, flexibility and robust practice management features. Retaining the solid workmanship of a mature product, Imagine Time is clearly focused on keeping pace with the needs of accountants in the 21st century and the tools they need to be productive and profitable.

ProSystem fx Practice

CCH Tax and Accounting

ProSystem fx Practice is a modular set of management tools designed to serve as a component of the ProSystem fx Office suite and offering a variety of levels of integration with ProSystem Tax. Its clean integration with other applications in the suite provides for rapid access to management information from those applications, while the modules themselves directly address the requirements for time entry and billing, project management, inquiry and reporting.

The time and billing module provides basic time-clock capture, a day-planner interface, customizable time revue processes, a total calendar for review of monthly hours, and a to-do list. Data entry options for this module are impressive, with capabilities for global time entry from the Internet, PDA time entry from devices using the Palm OS, and remote time entry via a laptop. Even more impressive are the customization features, which include up to 250 custom fields each for clients, projects and employees; seven different data types for validation and minimized entry errors; instant access from multiple areas within the software; and client communications tracking.

The project management module provides due date monitoring and detailed budget management tools for multi-step jobs such as audits or information technology consulting. Features include a project status report, access to a tax library, customizable views to quickly flag details of a project's status, and a notification system to monitor for missed deadlines or budgets. The billing module handles all of the functionality of accounts receivable and billing, with the ability to generate and edit invoices in Microsoft Word. The inquiry module allows the firm to access and filter information for time, payments and adjustments, work in progress and AR. In addition to an extensive list of standard reports, the Reporting module provides a custom report generation wizard for effective report creation as needed.

As capable as these modules are, there is another element that will help to make them even more useful. An additional program, Practice Driver, offers partners and firm management the ability to dynamically mine the time and billing data to allow analyses of job allocation dynamics, opportunities and client retention/attrition information.

While admittedly most valuable as an integrated solution within the family of ProSystem fx products, ProSystem fx Practice provides a flexible, customizable practice management solution that stands on its own as well. With its growing integration with Microsoft Outlook and other standard productivity tools, Practice is a suite exactly tailored to the needs of mid-range and enterprise accounting firms.

Tabs3

Software Technology Inc.

Version 12 of this venerable time and billing package is a substantial update that includes a makeover to a Microsoft XP-style interface and tighter integration with Microsoft Outlook.

First introduced in 1979, Tabs3 is one of the most widely used time and billing packages for professional offices, and combines basic timekeeping and reporting features in a customizable format. While more widely used by law than accounting firms, it nonetheless offers a strong feature set and tight integration with both its own accounting and practice management systems, but also with QuickBooks. And as with other products keeping pace with accounting technologies, Tabs3 provides for integration with Palm PDA devices as well.

Version 12, which was released on March 1, 2005, is not only an update, but adds new capabilities to allow the system to work more effectively with Outlook. Also added is a new SnapShot feature that makes it easier to find client information, along with a DropBox in which to store PDF versions of reports and documents, with the ability to send multiple documents in a single e-mail; new collection reports that show each client's contact information, statement and payment history; and a new quick-sort capability for columns.

Tabs3 is not the most sophisticated time and billing package on the market, but it does offer strong customization, flexibility in billing rates and split billings, an effective array of productivity and profitability reports, and an exceptional level of usability. For more advanced functionality, Tabs3 was designed for use with Software Technology Inc.'s PracticeMaster practice management program. That program, and the Tabs3 General Ledger, Trust Accounting and Accounts Payable programs, create a fully developed suite for firm management.

Sporting a user-friendly interface and uncomplicated navigation, STI's Tabs3 offers a straightforward time and billing system that will appeal to those firms that are seeking strong features without unnecessary clutter. Tabs3 combines the best of its 26 years of experience with a fresh and dynamic interface that small and midsized firms will find attractive and economical.

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