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REVIEW: Time and Billing Software

hour glassThe area of practice management for accounting is undergoing a fundamental evolution as managers in firms of every size attempt to gain better insights into processes, practices, and their clients. It's not simply a move to eke better efficiency and better profitability out of these processes, but a push for greater understanding of how the processes relate and interact.
When it comes to time and billing software, there appears to be a clear break between the simple and economical applications on one end of the marketplace, and the more robust packages that add workflow management, document management, customer relationship management and other elements to the mix.

At both ends of the marketplace, however, the evolution of time and billing software is centered on four elements:

A move to an online architecture. Whether this is web-based, ASP, SaaS, "Cloud-based," or simply "online," the intent is to make the data and the workflow more accessible from anywhere the accountant happens to be.
•A common database, This assists in reducing the number of data-entry errors and speeds up information retrieval
Enhanced reporting. Professionals and their managers alike want to be able to determine who is buying services, what services they are buying and other key metrics of performance.
•Flexible reporting of time and expenses. This contributes to the ability to capture costs more effectively and to present the costs in a format more understandable for the client.

Virtually all of the packages we evaluated for this 2010 review of Time and Billing software for accountants have undergone upgrades and enhancements in the past year, indicative of the growing importance of these applications and the attention being paid to these four elements.

BQE Software
Torrance, Calif.BillQuick
(866) 945-1595     
Price: BillQuickBasic, starts at $495 (two users); BillQuick, starts at $1,295.

BillQuick for Accountants and CPAs, a robust package designed by accountants, handles time tracking, project management and billing while supporting professionals working from a PC, on a network or via the web.

It manages engagements of every size, including large engagements that are conducted into separate phases. It integrates with leading accounting software packages that include QuickBooks, MYOB, Peachtree and Microsoft Office Accounting. Invoices can span multiple engagements for each client in a consolidated Joint Invoice, and there is flexibility to add billing for sub-consultants.

The software is offered in three versions: a Basic version for up to four staff members; a Pro version for five to 20 staffers; and an Enterprise version for more than 20.

New features in the 2010 version include the use of Memorized Invoices for faster invoice generation; a new screen to management staff task allocations and hours; and a new Person Time Off management tool. Also new for 2010 is an updated BillQuick Lite version, which offers fewer capabilities but is a free download.

Practice CS
Thomson Reuters Tax and Accounting
Dexter, Mich.Practice CS Art
(800) 968.8900
Price: $1,800.

Practice CS
Practice CS is a comprehensive practice management program that combines time and billing with workflow management, organized into four unique dashboards.”

The Staff Dashboard enables each staffer to access his or her personal information, schedule, projects, tasks and email, integrated with Microsoft Outlook. The Client Dashboard centralizes demographic data, payment history, client documents and other information – plus access to the CS Professional Suite of tax and accounting applications. The Firm Dashboard provides a real-time view of receivables, billings, profitability, and historical information. And the Home Dashboard displays multiple "portlets" with system information, RSS Feeds, Practice CS News Feed, web pages and more.

Combining time and expense management with billing, comprehensive reporting and customization features, Practice CS is one of the most robust practice management systems available. And it is highly scalable, operating either as an in-office solution or an online hosted SaaS application.

Practice Relief AccountantsWorld
Hauppauge, N.Y.
(888) 999-1366
Price: $395 (annual subscription).

Practice Relief
AccountantsWorld is another service that has undergone a substantial overhaul recently. Though the original AccountantsWorld portal was ground-breaking in its day, the new direction will be toward web-based cloud computing with the introduction of the Power Practice System, a suite of eight applications for accountants that includes an updated Practice Relief application for time management, invoicing, analysis and reporting.

The system setup for Practice Relief allows for creation of up to 10 titles and corresponding default rates for users in each firm.  Flexible entry of invoice information includes payment terms, delivery method (print or e-mail), billing date of month, tax rates, billable vs. non-billable tasks and expenses, flat fee vs. computed billing, invoice prefix format, task and expense groupings, flat fee description, and invoice footer text.

Practice relief may be integrated with the full Power Practice System or used as a stand-alone application. As a stand-alone application it is appealing both for its $395 annual subscription rate and its tight integration with Microsoft Outlook.

ProSystem fx Practice
Riverwoods, Ill.cch logo
(800) 739-9998
Price:  ProSystem fx Practice SaaS, initial set-up $1,000; $200 for first 10 licensed users. ProSystem fx Practice Management, starts at $3,090; $210 (each additional user)

ProSystem fx Practice
At its user conference in October of 2009, CCH introduced a new generation of integrated, centrally-hosted practice management applications that feature a common client database, individualized dashboards and enhanced collaboration tools.

Among the first three products to be re-introduced in this Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) environment is ProSystem fx Practice, the time and billing management system. Though there are plans to provide on-premises versions of the applications beginning in 2010, they currently reside in an IBM Data Center located in Missouri.

The five applications currently available in new versions are ProSystem fx Tax, Document and Practice, as well as two new applications, ProSystem fx Workstream and Portal. All are built on Microsoft’s .NET 3.5 Framework, so it is scalable and flexible.

Tightly integrated with Microsoft Outlook, ProSystem fx Practice offers a combination of time entry, billing, calendar control and flexible new ways to enter and view critical practice management data.

Time and Billing
Sunshine, N.C.
(877) 520-1525ImagineTime
Price: $295 (single user).

Time and Billing
ImagineTime provides timer functionality and after-the-fact data entry designed to meet the need of accounting, law, or engineering firms. It includes capabilities for work codes, tasks, tax forms and even engagements, each with its own time slip.

With an integrated calendar and contact management system, due date monitoring, and financial tools for forecasting and budgeting, the software provides the ability not only to track time for billing purposes, but to evaluate client and staff performance to enhance profitability. The software integrates with Pocket PC, Palm Pilot, Blackberry and other PDA devices, and key information can be exported to QuickBooks for enhanced tracking and billing.

The software is economical at $295 for a single user and options for network and multi-user capabilities. More importantly, it allows the small accounting firm to track tasks, deadlines and schedules for staff member, and to compare budgeted and actual hours by task, tax form and engagement or project.

Time Ledger
San DiegoTimeLedger logo
(800) 239-2201
Price: starts at $14.95 per month per user.

Time Ledger
TimeLedger, a straight-forward time and expense management system, has a web-based architecture and economical pricing that make it an attractive option for accountants. It offers the ability to track time and expenses daily or weekly for clients, engagements and activities. And it integrates tightly with QuickBooks, so that data can be used to generate invoices from that accounting application.

Reports available from the system include reports by department, user, client, project or activity, as well as budget reports and billable/non-billable reports. In addition, custom reports can be generated via the web data, and Crystal Reports are scheduled to be added as a feature in the near term.

Starting at just $14.95 per month per user, TimeLedger is a simple but powerful application that offers web-based delivery, flexibility, and minimal setup and learning costs. While it does not have all of the bells and whistles of a practice management system, it does an excellent job of the basic tasks of time and billing.

Time Matters
New YorkTime Matters
(800) 328-2898
Price: $700 (single user).

Time Matters

Time Matters is practice management software produced by LexisNexis for professional firms. Originally developed for law practices, the software retains this focus in the current Version 10, although it is used successfully by accounting firms.

Key features of the software, which claims to increase productivity by up to 30 percent, is a centrally-managed client and contact database; centralized notes, phone calls and events associated with a client or engagement; a comprehensive alert and reminder system for deadlines and meetings; a document management capability with version controls; billing in conjunction with Timeslips, Tabs and Intuit QuickBooks; and tools for data import of business applications.

Moderately priced at $700 for a single user (and discounted for additional users), Time Matters offers exceptional customization features that include the ability to select accounting terminology and create up to 30 customized data fields for information gathering. The heart of the program, its calendaring and scheduling functions, likewise offers a rich array of user-based customization options, overviews, multi-staff views and to-do lists.

Time Matters, one of the best-selling off-the-shelf products in its class, offers a deft blend of customer relationship management, time tracking and workflow management. Though it works best with some customization, accounting firms will find it an easy fit with other practice management tools.

Timeslips 2011Timeslips box
Sage North America
(800) 285-0999
Price: $499.99 (single user).

Timeslips 2011
Now in its 25th year, Timeslips has an established place as an industry leader in this facet of practice management. Timeslips offers the ability to enter data via email, and integrates will with Microsoft Outlook.  It offers extensive time and billing capabilities, with more than 100 pre-defined reports and a report design tool for custom reports.

The 2011 version features the ability for clients to pay with a credit or debit card through the Sage Exchange service; additional custom fields for clients, tasks, timekeepers and expenses; and enhanced details for clients on payments and other transactions.

Timeslips 2011 is $499.99 for the single user version. For firms with multiple timekeepers, value packs for up to 5 users are $899.99, and $1,599.99 for up to 10 users. However, the company is running a special of $100 off this list price through the end of November, 2010.

Dave McClure

David P. McClure is a technologist and business consultant whose career has included eight years with the NASA Space Shuttle Program and assignments in marketing, environmental services, software publishing and broadband.  He founded the US Internet Industry Association, the nation's primary trade association for Internet and broadband companies.  In 2004 he was awarded a Cornerstone Award for leadership in the broadband industry.  In the same year, he was named to the Board of Directors of the Universal Service Administrative Corporation, the non-profit corporation that oversees the nation's $8 billion universal service telecommunications fund.  His areas of expertise include software management, strategic and market planning, global technology policy and technology audits.  He is the author of more than 100 white papers on business management, technology, customer service and strategic planning.

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