Estimated reading time: 9 minutes, 25 seconds

A couple decades ago when most of us got started, time and billing software was rather primitive stuff. Most of the advantage of using, say, Timeslips or a similar program was that it tied into the network and allowed the cost accountants to generate reports fairly easily that showed everyone's hours with cost and account breakdowns. But the software tended to be standalone stuff that didn't integrate well with many other products.

Things are vastly different now. Time and billing software is available as an add-on module for many popular accounting systems, providing complete integration with the company's GL and client accounts. Even the standalone packages usually have good import/export options so you can share data with your preferred accounting system.

This article reviews five popular time and billing programs so you can make an informed decision about the direction in which you might want to lead your firm.

What You Should Look For in Any Time and Billing Product
It's reasonable to can expect any time and billing product to have the following attributes:
• The product is easy to use. You shouldn't have to use the documentation to do basic tasks.
• You can customize the product to the way you run your business, including basics such as the minimum unit of time and preferred terminology. Invoicing and billing are also customizable to meet your needs and the needs of your clients.
• You can create new users, groups and projects easily.
• You can assign users to multiple groups.
• The product comes with predefined and customizable reports for tracking hours, projects, client activity, and tasks/bill codes.
• You can set security for access levels (such as data-entry clerks, timekeepers, and system administrators).
• The product's documentation must be easy to use and complete. In addition, although there are still a few time and billing products that are not available via the Internet, most of them are, allowing timekeepers to log in remotely and submit hours, frequently using dedicated mobile applications.

BigTime Software
Chicago, Ill.
(312) 346-4646
Price: Big Time Express: $25/month for up to five users. Big Time IQ: $125/month for up to 10 users. Enterprise pricing available.

BigTime, a web-based time and billing product that provides seamless integration for QuickBooks users, can also be used standalone. The product is designed for professional services companies and has many defaults available depending on the type of services your company offers.

BigTime is all about ease of use. It has 30 timesheet templates for time entry. You can set up three different levels of access: staff, manager, and administrator. The product supports multiple billing rates, WIP billing and payments, and other features, all of which can be customized for each client. There are 150 reports and you can create additional custom reports to fit your company's specific needs.

BigTime also has extensive invoicing and billing templates, all of which are customizable using a wizard. (BigTime IQ, the pro-level version of the product, has enhanced invoicing and reporting options.) In addition, if your company is working with government agencies, BigTime supports DCAA-compliant time tracking, approval processes and audit reporting.

The recently released BigTime Mobile app offers a complete range of time and billing options for professionals on the go. You can view, enter, and modify timesheets, expenses, projects, and clients. BigTime Mobile, an iPhone app, uses the security levels you've set up for your company, so data is only available to the levels you've determined. The app also integrates with phone and email features for complete mobile access.

The application has exceptional ease-of-use features. For example, you can use client-specific information and templates as the basis for new clients of the same type, making client setup quick and reducing the chance of omissions or setup errors. Strong navigational tools, several types of online help, and clean, attractive screen design make it very intuitive right out of the box.

BigTime suits the timekeeping needs for small shops, but is robust enough to handle the needs of larger companies well. If your company uses QuickBooks, BigTime is the first application you should try.

Imagine Time Inc.
Bostic, N.C.
(877) 520-1525
Price: Standalone single user, starts at $295. Networked five users, starts at $795. Cloud subscription, starts at $25/month/user.

ImagineTime is available as a standalone PC app, a client/server app, or a remotely accessible cloud-based app, depending on your needs and preferences. After setting up your clients and other information, you enter data through a standard time sheet. There are numerous reports such as aging, client master list, and client activity. You can build and customize reports using the built-in report generator.

In addition to the time and billing module, ImagineTime has three other modules for a complete practice management suite: Finish-Line Due Date/Workflow for workflow management and deadline tracking, Document Management for document management and scanning, and Calendar Scheduling and CRM for individual and group calendar management and customer communication.

ImagineTime says one capability that sets its product apart is its Super Bill. With Super Bill, users can creates templates for different kinds of clients to avoid the need to create invoices for them in the future. Super Bills can handle billing that doesn't involved time, including value billing. Users can create detailed invoices, invoices connected to time slips, progress billing, narrative billing, with expenses or without, with write-ups or write-downs. Billing for different services can be submitted via the same invoice.

ImagineTime shares data with a number of other products, including QuickBooks, Lacerte, UltraTax, ATX and Microsoft Outlook. There is a remote office time entry module that lets you download the main database to your laptop or local computer so you can enter your time and expenses. These are then flagged for export back to the source computer. A mobile app gives you remote access using your Blackberry or mobile device.

The company's support policy sets it apart from many software vendors - users do not need to buy support plans. The norm in the industry is to require purchase of maintenance, especially during the first year.

ImagineTime offers two plans: Silver and Gold. Purchasers on the Silver plan get six instances of phone support. Those with the Gold plan get unlimited calls. But like many software publishers, the company requires those not on a plan to pay catch-up fees if they decide they want on board.

Practice Relief
Hauppauge, N.Y.
(888) 999-1366
Price: $40 per month or $395 per year.

Practice Relief
Practice Relief, a cloud-based practice management application, integrates with AccountantsWorld products such as Accounting Relief and Payroll Relief, but it is fine as a standalone application as well.

Because Practice Relief is a full practice management system, it has time and billing features as well as other features, such as a secure built-in chat module for messaging between accountants and clients. There are 100+ standard reports that are customizable. There are good tools for email blasts, and appointment calendar that integrates with Outlook, and import/export features for client lists.

Practice Relief is aimed at the one- or two-person operation, so the price is very competitive for a small shop. However, its biggest product differentiator may be that you can have an effectively unlimited number of users for the same $40/month. The product is very scalable and can support large firms, potentially bringing the amortized user cost down to pennies per month.

The least-expensive option per user of any product in this review, it simultaneously offers many features that make it competitive with some of the most full-featured. It is simple, comprehensive, and affordable.

Practice CS
Thomson Reuters
Dexter, Mich.
(800) 968-8900
Price: Starts at $2,050 (five-user network license)

Practice CS
Practice CS is a time and billing module available as a standalone PC application, a client/server application, or a cloud-based service. The product integrates with Thomson Reuters' solid accounting and business management product, CS Professional Suite, but many companies use it as a standalone app.

Practice CS does a number of things and it does all of them well. It uses customizable dashboards to give you information at a glance about your company, clients, and time and billing. The user interface has a clean look and feel that provides a lot of information without feeling cluttered. You are not limited to a few security levels. You can set up an effectively unlimited number of security access types that let you grant specific access at the project, client, or task level. Practice CS also supports audit trails and review processes so your company can use this to establish DCAA-compliant timekeeping and invoicing.

One of the exceptional things about Practice CS is its reporting features. Not only does it have over 150 reports, the built-in report generator lets you design custom reports. Furthermore, you can access custom reports through the user forums, so you can take advantage of report design and customization done by other people for other companies.

This product offers extensive time and billing features that compare well to any of the products in this review. Although its price may put it outside the budget for solo practitioners with limited time and billing needs, it's safe to say that you are unlikely to find anything in time and billing that Practice CS can't do.

ProSystem fx Practice
Riverwoods, Ill.
(800) 739-9998
Price: starts at $230 per year.

ProSystem fx Practice Management
ProSystem fx Practice Management, a complete practice management solution from CCH, is available as a standalone or networked solution, or with cloud-based data hosting. It integrates with the entire range of ProSystem fx products, giving you tax, accounting, legal, and other functions depending on which modules you are running.

The software handles all the features you're likely to want in basic practice management: time and expenses, project management and tracking, contact management and emailing, invoicing and billing, and client AR. Time/data entry screens and project management screens are customizable. There are also additional features such as web-based time entry and additional analysis tools. The product uses dashboards for easy data access and the product's look and feel is uncluttered.

The application has traditionally run locally on a PC or client/server configuration, but you can now host your data with CCH, providing online access as well as backup and data security. You can publish documents to a client portal and view and edit client information through your phone or mobile device with the new ProSystem fx Mobile.

ProSystem fx Practice Management is a good solution as a standalone product and is strongly desirable for any company already using other ProSystem fx software. Although it may be expensive compared to some other solutions, it is a durable, full-featured product that has much to recommend it.

John Hedtke

John Hedtke is the award-winning author of 26 books. He has more than 30 years in the software business and technical writing, and seven years in technical publications management. John has developed and written documentation and books for many leading software products, and has received 26 writing awards to date. (A complete list of books, articles and projects can be found online at his web site, John owns a company that offers writing, business, and disaster preparedness consulting services for private, public, and governmental clients. He became a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication in 2003. When not otherwise occupied, John writes magazine articles and sleeps late as much as possible.

Last modified on Monday, 28 October 2013
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