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While any accountant can appreciate the value of practice management, this part of the firm's business becomes mission-critical in times of economic downturn. When new clients are harder to come by, and existing clients have greater needs but less to spend, the ability to track time, bill it effectively, and management receivables, all become crucial to the survival of the firm and its growth in the post-recession period.

Some firms, particularly small to mid-sized practices, have their greatest need in the ability to management the time spent by each staff member. Larger firms must fit this need within a larger context, and be able to integrate it seamlessly with other applications for document management, customer relationship management, and project management.

Still other firms will perform with more integrated and robust practice management applications that are able to give partners near-instantaneous fingers on the pulse of the firm and potential problem areas that need immediate attention.

Seven applications dominate the field for practice management solutions today, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some excel at simply doing time and billing; some at more expansive capabilities in workflow and project management; others yet in communication and remote access.

All seven we examined for this article meet the test for stability, flexibility and a commitment to the needs of the accounting firms they serve best. The question of which to use will largely come down to the unique needs of each firm and the level of practice management tools they can use best.

Caseware Time 2009
CaseWare International

CaseWare Time is a flexible and powerful application that has evolved from a simple time and billing application to encompass a more complete approach to practice management through contact management, project management and workflow capabilities.

Time is an accounting-centric application designed to integrate well with and share data with CaseWare's Working Papers, Scenarios, Benchmarking, OpenEngagement DMS and IDEA packages. The user interface, called Time Workflow, was one of the first accounting applications to emulate the Windows Explorer interface. It presents a three-pane window, divided into a file system on the left, the central working window, and a selection of core functions – setup, transaction processing, and task completion – on the right.

Notable in CaseWare Time are the functions beyond time and billing, notably the customer contact, project management and reporting functions. Customer contact is managed through the Contact List, and offers the ability to generate word processing and spreadsheet documents filtered for each specific client or group of clients. The project management and engagement tools support unlimited work codes and billing rates, and invoicing and invoice review system, and the ability to manage projects across diverse locations and departments.

The reporting functions, captured within the application's document management system, offers more than 200 standard reports that can be customized and exported in a number of formats, including PDF and Excel. Partners are able to view total exposure for any client through integrated Work-In-Process  and Accounts Receivable  reports; produce detailed and summary WIP reports by work code and employee subtotal; monitor partner productivity summarizing partner reports for WIPs, accounts receivable and billings; generate productivity and profitability reports for all staff and clients; and produce accounts-receivable trial-balances, payment histories and statements.

One of the most powerful features of Time 2009, though, is its Today add-in. Today is built on the Outlook and Exchange programs from Microsoft, and uses their digital dashboard technology. The result is a clean and seamless interaction between Time and Outlook's personal information system functions.

CaseWare's Time is a first-rate practice management system that functions as wither a stand-alone system or integrated with other CaseWare products. It stands out for its highly functional capabilities in project and contact management, and offers an economical and well-crafted solution for both small and large accounting firms.

ImagineTime
Imaginetime, Inc.
www.imaginetime.net

ImagineTime is an integrated time management software solution designed to increase the firm's revenues, maximize collections, improve productivity and eliminate penalties. Though the core program is focused mainly on time and billing, the used of additional modules can quickly ramp up the application to a complete practice management solution.


Those modules include Due Date Monitor with Tax Tickler; Contact Manager and Calendar integration with Outlook; and remote office data entry. This provides an approach that allows the accounting firm the flexibility to use only the modules it needs to keep the system economical. For mid-sized firms, however, the use of these modules may be critical to the functions of assessment and analysis that will enable the partners to make effective decision about client, staffing and billing.
Sporting a familiar MS Office-style interface, the core time and billing system provides for after-the-fact time entry and a timer utility that allows staff to clock multiple events and activities as they occur. Reporting capabilities include daily time reports, performance reports, pre-invoicing reports and forensic reports. The flexible invoicing system offers a variety of formats, including a flexible row format that can describe the services in detail and show an amount for the services rendered regardless of the amount of associated time. Other key features include QuickBooks, Lacerte and Outlook Integration; Online Credit Card and ACH Processing; and Client Relationship Management.

The optional contact management and calendar and scheduling software monitors contact activity and creates a history of client and contact notes. Appointments and tasks can also be synchronized to Microsoft Outlook and be downloaded to a Pocket PC, PDA or Palm Pilot.

The Remote Office time entry module, available for networked versions of the software, provides support for satellite offices and remote engagements via a network connection or email. It includes remotes support for Palm Pilot and other PDA devices.

Imagine Time is a straightforward but elegant application that can easily meet the needs of small to medium-sized firms. It offers a clean and easily navigated user interface, a strong core set f features and an economical entry price. Its practice management capabilities are substantially enhanced by use of the add-on modules that extend its capabilities, and it would be difficult to imagine an accounting firm that would not use the modules, even if this pushes the price up into the mid-range.

 

Time Matters 9.0
LexisNexis
www.lexisnexis.com

Time Matters, the practice management software from LexisNexis, manages time and expense tracking, scheduling, contact management communications tools, due date monitoring, project management, invoicing, research, and document management. The company also offers Billing Matters, a basic client billing and payment management application, in a bundle with Time Matters.

 

Developed originally for law firms, Time Matters integrates with a variety of other software products from both LexisNexis and other vendors, including Quicken, Microsoft, Palm, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Word Perfect, and Adobe Acrobat. It enables tracking of information critical to each engagement, including notes, documents and communications. A key to its use, though, is that the program is set up using the accounting preferences so that it uses appropriate terms and functions for an accounting firm.

The most critical functions within the application are those related to contact and project management. Contact records may be customized to track all pertinent information, including documents, communication and the relationship of the contact to engagement and projects. In addition, the project management functions enable management of firm-wide calendars, to-do lists and deadlines, all linked with specific projects, contacts and other records. The calendar and ToDo lists synchronize both with Outlook and the full range of PDAs -- BlackBerry, Windows Smartphone and Palm OS handhelds, plus built-in laptop synchronization.

The reporting system is similarly comprehensive, providing the means to track profitability and productivity based on users and clients, as well as to generate reports for time, expenses, AR, WIPs, projects and YTD summaries. Reports are customizable and can be saved to PDF, Word and other formats, and can be easily stored in the program’s document management system.

New in Time Matters 9.0 is an updated interface with multiple new enhancements including enhanced usability, up to 100 staff members per form, an enhanced archiving process, and an updated, more powerful search tool.

Time Matters is a practice management powerhouse, offering extensive sets of management tools in addition to time and billing functionality. The result is an application well-suited to the needs of mid-range and enterprise accounting firms. Its only perceived drawback – mediated by customization and the correct setup – is its strong association with law firms and their case management structure.


Practice CS
Thomson Reuters
www.thomsonreuters.com

In its fourth year, Practice CS is a refreshing break from the time-and-billing centric accounting applications. It takes a more holistic view of practice management than its competitors, serving as a workflow hub in which all information if available in a single location for fast access and efficient review.

The application is built on four customizable digital dashboards – for Firm, Home, Staff and Clients -- that enable views of key information specific to each. Within each dashboard is a collection of portlets that provide snapshot views of the critical, real-time information such as email, billing summaries, receivables, staff availability, and more. In addition to providing a quick view of key information, portlets serve as convenient links to additional resources within the firm—including frequently accessed programs, website links, and documents.

The user interface emulated Microsoft Outlook in feel and functionality, and works seamlessly with Microsoft Outlook Mail, Calendar, and Tasks to provide a convenient workflow hub for communications and client relationship management. A template-drive project management module drives staff assignments, notification and project deadline/completion activities. And Practice CS seamlessly engages with the other products in the CS Professional suite for additional workflow and project management capabilities.

To customize the program to exactly the way each firm operates, Practice CS allows user preferences to specify how data entry fields are handled; customer terminology to match accounting terms as used within the firm; custom fields for report groupings; custom filters for data selection, and the ability to track an unlimited number contacts for staff, clients and business partners.

Though not focused just on time and billing, Practice CS nonetheless offers powerful time tracking, billing and reporting features. Multiple timers and unlimited filters provide needed flexibility, as do the two input screen formats -- a single-sheet entry style that separates time and expenses, and the other allowing entry across multiple sheets for both time and expenses. There are four different billing methods, each with its own level of detail.

New for 2009 is a staff management module, which provides extensive capabilities for managing and tracking staff, assigning staff to projects, tracking benefits, monitoring staff performance,  scheduling, and more.

In a field replete with powerful, well-designed practice management programs, Practice CS is notable for its flexibility, extensive customization features, and powerful modules for workflow, client relationship management and project management.


Practice Relief
AccountantsWorld
www.accountantsworld.com

Practice relief also differs substantially from competitors, for two reasons. First, it is the only major time and billing application that was implemented only online. Second, it eschews the full range of practice management applications to focus exclusively on time and billing.

In large part this is because additional modules are unnecessary – the application is accessible from anywhere there is a web browser and Internet connection, and can be shared as needed. Collaboration and client communication are thus facilitated by the format.

The system is preconfigured with defined tasks and projects, and includes a time-tracking wizard that allows the staff member to select a project and client and then start or stop the clock as needed. Lapsed time is continually displayed. When the task is completed, notes and other information may be entered and will be automatically logged into the Practice Relief system via the Internet.

Invoicing and accounts receivable tracking are straightforward, using a standard set of customizable invoice formats and reporting systems that can help determine payments. In addition, Practice relief produces a variety of management reports to help analyze realization rates, client profitability, project profitability, and staff productivity. Practice relief sports an attractive and functional user interface that is easy to use with minimal staff training. In addition, as a Software as a Service (SaaS) application, there are no updates or patches to worry about.

There is something aesthetically pleasing in an application that performs exactly as advertised, does its job well, does it economically, and does it without extensive setup or training time. Practice Relief is such a program, which makes it ideal for small to mid-sized firms, as well as those seeking a time and billing solution not encumbered by additional modules or unwanted features.


ProSystem fx Practice Management 2009
CCH
www.cch.com

ProSystem fx Practice Management is part of the CCH suite of professional tax, research, accounting and engagement management programs. Within such a comprehensive accounting solution, it nonetheless stands out for its strong capabilities and robust attention to key functions in management of the staff, clients, projects and payments.

 

Built on the .Net and SQL technologies from Microsoft, the application is offered in three editions – a basic edition, an Office edition that relies on Microsoft Sequel Express, and an Enterprise edition using the Microsoft Sequel Solution. It is integrated with ProSystem fx Tax as well as General Ledger and Payroll products, and offers a synchronization with Microsoft® Outlook.

Beyond time and billing, Practice management provides for contact management; project management that tracks dues dates, budgets and key milestones; an accounts receivable system, standard reports and customized report creation; referral and prospect tracking; CPE tracking for employees; and communications support for marketing and new business generation.

CCH offers two add-ons for Practice Management. Internet Time Entry enables employees to enter their time and expenses from any location with an Internet connection. And Custom library, an annual subscription service, offers more detail in analysis of the firm's performance. In addition to using advanced reporting capabilities, it lets you add almost any type of application or document to the product, transforming it into a desktop launcher.

Clearly a best-of-breed application for accounting firms that are mid-sized and larger, and those with more demanding clients and services, ProSystem fx Practice Management works best within the CCH suite of professional applications. Within that realm, it offers the best possible blend of effectiveness and economy for accounting firms.

 

Timeslips by Sage 2010
Sage North America
www.sagesoftware.com

Timeslips by Sage 2010 is a time and billing solution for sole practitioners and small to medium-sized service firms with multiple timekeepers on a network. Timeslips offers bill creation, payment tracking and remote access options. It integrates with Peachtree by Sage and QuickBooks, practice management solutions, and Microsoft® Office solutions such as Outlook and Excel.

In the professional services marketplace for more than two decades, Timeslips is another practice management solution that devotes most of its attention to doing time, billing and payments management well. The core product handles setup for an accounting office, collection of time and expense information and creation of billing invoices and reports – including a number of flexible formats for hourly, contingency, flat fee, percentage of completion, interim billing and work-in-progress billing. And a newly-redesigned user interface provides improved navigation and access to key features.

Initial steps toward workflow management are provided by a Slip Approval system, which enables the firm’s partners to designate that all slips of specified timekeepers require approval. This system also provides for simple notes to be attached to slips for better intra-office communication and management. For communication and sharing of project and time information, Timeslips integrates easily both with Microsoft Outlook and with QuickBooks. Timeslips also provides several remote options for time and expense capturing including solutions for laptops, web portal entry, BlackBerry, Treo, Palm, and Windows Mobile. And improvements to the Timeslips Today – a dashboard of management information at a glance – offer better workflow and at-a-glance reporting for key business information.

Timeslips by Sage 2010 retains its clear focus on time and billing management, and its stability as a notable software solution in an accounting marketplace where such stability and strong performance are considered greater assets than a bevy of new features and fixes.
 

CaseWare Time
CaseWare International 
Berkeley, Calif.
(800) 267-1317
(416) 867-1906 Fax
www.caseware.com
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Pricing: Single timekeeper license $499; License for up to five timekeepers $999; Additional timekeepers over five $175 per timekeeper. Licenses include technical support and updates for one year. Licenses renew for 50% of license value.


ImagineTime
ImagineTime, Inc.

Bostic, N.C.
( 877) 520-1525
www.imaginetime.com
Pricing: Single User $295, Network Starter Version $495. Modules priced in addition to base costs.


Practice CS
Thomson Creative Solutions
Dexter, Mich.
(800) 968-8900
 (734) 426-3750 Fax
http://cs.Thomsonreuters.com
Pricing: Five-user license starts at $1,800. The project management module costs an additional $750; the Client Management module is $450.

Practice Relief
AccountantsWorld
www.accountantsworld.com
Hauppauge, N.Y.
Phone: (888) 999-1366
Fax: (800) 927-1283
(888) 999-1366
www.accountantsworld.com
Pricing: $395 per year, or $40 per month

ProSystem fx Practice Management 2009
CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business
Torrance, Calif.
CCHGroup.com
Pricing: ProSystem fx Practice Management is available in three versions, with the basic system starting at $1,190 for a five-user license. Versions are also available that utilize Microsoft SQL and SQL Express.


Time Matters 9.0
LexisNexis
Cary, N.C.

(800) 328-2898
(919) 467-7181 Fax
www.timematters.com
Pricing: Professional Version, $665 for the first user, $335 per additional user, including one-year maintenance.

(800) 739-9998
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Pricing: $2,595, minus any applicable discount


Timeslips by Sage 2010
Sage North America
Lawrenceville, Ga.
(800) 285-0999
www.timeslips.com
Pricing: Single station pricing is $499.99. Network version value pack with five seats is $799.99, 10 seats is $1449.99. Remote Access Module is $129.95.

 

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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