In this fourth blog post covering aspects of best of breed (BoB) system architecture, we look at the advantages (and disadvantages) of buying a timesheet system.
Probably one of the earliest computer systems developed for companies to use internally were timesheet systems. They have certainly been around on mainframe platforms for 50 years and as cloud solutions since the beginning of the internet.
If you sell staff time (in whatever form) you need one of these (unless you really really love spreadsheets). So they are high on the purchase list for a best of breed architecture. Stand-alone timesheet systems are also quite cheap. So why is this such a bad idea?
Of course, like all software, one description covers a range of choices. The first filter to understand is the difference between time and attendance and project-based timesheet systems.
Really, for the commercial market (as opposed to internal market) project timesheets are the option to choose. Then if you are going to bill based on the records, you’ll either have a pile of manual work at month-end or you need to buy a timesheet and billing system which will do the rate multiplication for you.
That’s all simple and probably not too expensive. So what are the downsides?
- Context Mapping: the time bookings made this way are generally out of context of the contract, with the exception of specific project work. This means that working out the support cost vs revenue by customer is nigh-on impossible and that’s a key missing metric you should be measuring
- Fixed-price Profitability: if you do fixed price work, tying the timesheet bookings to earned value work-in-progress accounting is at best very difficult, practically speaking, it’s probably impossible
- Order Management: processing orders (and change orders) and ensuring that the timesheet system budgets are up to date will inevitably be a manual activity. So, while it can be done, in busy periods it is likely to slip and so budgets that lose order state are hard to identify and even harder to catch-up on in an organisation with any scale
- Duplicate Data Maintenance: customers, contacts, rate structures, budgets will all require duplicate data entry/maintenance. Again all possible, but fragile as a process and so liable to error
- Multiple Invoice Processes: a timesheet and billing solution can rarely actually do the billing because invoice number sequencing is important and most organisations bill other items as well as time. So, this means that billing items need to be merged in some way before invoicing via an accounting package. Sounds simple, actually quite tricky
- CoGs Integration: if all you sell is time, this may not be an issue. But if you run projects that combine time with purchased items (or even just expenses), keeping the financial score will once again be a manual process, probably out of step with your monthly cost recognition processes and so injecting noise in month-end metrics.
And all that is before we consider multi-currency…
So, even the best timesheet system, on its own, will struggle to deliver customer, project and employee contribution without a significant manual effort in data cleaning and analysis.
So, why do so many people choose this awful compromise?
Well, in a similar way to service desk:
- It is simple to get going and can save time even though the results are partial, patchy and inaccurate; and
- There is perceived to be no viable alternative - this stuff is always just a mess wherever you are, right?
Well, no longer. All these problems can simply go away with the right integrated solution, probably at less cost.
Timesheet and billing management doesn’t need to be an expensive mess, so don’t put up with it.