In the last post, we presented Web Suite Mobile for capturing time and expenses anywhere, anytime on your iPhone, Blackberry or Palm Treo smart phone. Part 2 also emphasized the importance of “time” as the foundation of business and project management information, billing and payroll. It is critical for hours worked to be accurate, timely and complete. In Part 3, common timekeeping, report generating and business exceptions are optimized to eliminate overheads with Set-It-and-Forget-It functions.
The Situation: It’s All About Time
Culture built up over a number of years plays a role in high overheads and risky management information. Some company cultures center around ‘payroll’. Timesheets are ‘requested’ right before payroll is run. Getting them on time is a challenge. With a number of salaried managers and staff, timekeeping becomes lackadaisical because payroll is mostly automatic.
Correspondingly, information to manage projects and the company is neither timely nor complete. A quick look at the checkbook might be the extent of management review. Annual or semi-annual review of company profitability might be norm. And project profitability is a subjective viewpoint completely dependent on project manager and executive experience – if project profitability is even considered.
In a strong economic climate such a culture is overshadowed by flush coffers. It allows management to accept managers and staff who proclaim they work for you to do a job, not be a clock puncher. With the downturn in economy, this culture increases the risk of survival. In addition to delayed or non-existent management information, lack of timely, accurate and complete hours worked can result in incomplete or delayed billing. That slows cash flow and increases your work-in-progress inventory (and the risk it may never become cash in your hand). And when the upturn comes, companies that accept the lack of quality, timely management information (even with strong management experience) are less competitive.
Companies today experience heavy time pressures. That will continue after the economic upturn. You need to leverage every minute, maximizing billable and productive hours. Managing time cards to ensure timely management information and billing takes time, especially with inefficient and ineffective timekeeping policies and procedures. Management and billing decisions could be based on incomplete and misleading information.
Even with timely, complete information, companies often overlook the hours managers and staff spend every week running the same reports over and over. It takes only a few minutes to run a report, except . . . it’s usually not just one report and the flow of work is interrupted, extending the actual time expended. Also, it is not easy when you’re busy to remember to run reports and review them. Manager and staff focus on client satisfaction while things move fast in your office. Even with reports, key exceptions might be missed.
Workflow Automation helps to maximize your billable and productive hours.
Automatic Time Card Monitoring
Agent is an add-on module for BillQuick and Web Suite. It can be run from a desktop or as a service on a network server.
One of Agent’s three workflow automation capabilities is automatic monitoring of time cards. Essentially, Agent shifts non-billable administrative time spent by managers and admin staff chasing down timesheets to billable and productive time while ensuring timely and complete information.
Agent monitors time cards to ensure timely entry, submission and review of billable hours. The process is simple:
- For each employee, indicate the minimum number of hours he or she should work each day.
- Indicate how often you want to check time cards. When building new habits among managers and staff, Daily checking is best.
- Indicate how often to check your company database for new time entries.
- Send an email when a timekeeper is tardy.
- Optionally, send an email to the concerned manager.
With automatic emails to tardy timekeepers, admin or managers spend less than 5 minutes a week checking for ‘exceptions’. A quick scan of the Notification List tells them which tardy timekeepers ignored email reminders.
The second workflow automation capability in Agent is Reports Scheduler. You can schedule reports for automatic generation and delivery (print or email).
In most companies, project managers, executives and staff need to view specific information on a regular basic. A project manager might review Budget Comparison reports every Monday morning. (Or he might want to receive them on Saturday or Sunday at home to get a jump on Monday morning.) Similarly, project managers and executives may review Contract Spent reports for fast-moving projects daily. With spending time in a meeting, everyone knows the current situation.
Similarly, executives might review various reports daily or weekly, such as Accounts Receivables, Cash Receipts, and Client Investment (AR + Work in Progress). On a biweekly or monthly basis, executives might review staff productivity and performance, client and project profitability, and unbilled work in progress inventory.
For staff, their Vacation, Holiday and Sick Report showing accumulated, used and remaining time might be run and emailed to each employee monthly, bimonthly or quarterly. Staff might also receive weekly or biweekly time and expense reports and analysis reports as part of their company’s strategy to foster more self-management.
With scheduled report, you do not need to remember to run a report or take time from admin to do it. All staff and managers can focus on productive and billable hours, leveraging Agent’s workflow automation for repetitive tasks. When the PDF report arrives in your email (for example), it is also a reminder to take time out and review the information rather than let everyday events delay you. BillQuick customers report 5, 15 and more hours saved company-wide each month.
The third major tool in Agent is Business Alerts. Essentially, you choose the exception situation you want to monitor, set the threshold, and have Agent automatically inform you. For example, a very common alert is the Project Amount Spent. Many executives follow-up with project managers after a certain portion of the budget has been burned. They meet to gauge progress and provide guidance and assistance. The logic for the alert is easy: Set the threshold above which you want to trigger an alert. After setting the alert threshold, you refine the alert with filters.
Finally, you tell Agent how to alert you. Alerts can appear on-screen or be emailed to you and others. In the example above, the alert goes to both the executive’s assistant and to the project manager. They will work out a meeting day and time and the executive will see it on his calendar.
Do you use Agent?
What workflow automation tools help you the most?
Don’t use Agent?
Which tools do you think would save you time and effort?