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Wednesday30 July 2014

Where did all the time go?

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Accessibility and flexibility are at the heart of the best timesheet software

We may like to think that architectural endeavour is measured in flair and creativity, but the mundane truth is that the business of architecture is measured in time. Time is either the measure of expenditure of resource, if on a fixed fee; or conversely the measure of income if executing hourly rate work. Either way, recording of time is essential to knowing where you are now and predicting where you might be in the future.

Spreadsheets are still instrumental to the collection of timesheet information in many practices. Habit and a perceived individuality of requirements and analysis methods are often cited as the reasons why this system persisted despite often resulting in a clunky user interface and manual re-entry into timesheet, analysis, resource programming and accountancy systems.

A good proportion of timesheet systems use a web-based interface either as remotely hosted software as service model or configured locally on your own server. A web interface should in my view have the overwhelming merit of accessibility to the system both locally and remotely using a variety of devices, workstations, laptops and mobile devices. If you are trying to encourage prompt and timely completion of time-sheet systems then ease of access is sur-ely the primary driver. Unfortunately it is possible for a web solution to use technologies that are specific to a particular browser – in one fell swoop Apple and most mobile devices could be cut out of the loop.

The other aspect of getting people to actually fill in their timesheet is how flexible and well designed the user interface is. Some are quite demanding, for example, forcing users to think in decimals of hours, while others provide innovative solutions such converting Outlook diary events into timesheet entries.

Where solutions are hosted remotely, security of access and archiving of data will be a key concern of the litigation-aware architectural industry. The software company should be able to provide a good account of how safely your data is stored on multiple servers in highly secure data centres, etc.

Beyond the gathering of data the different systems offer varying degrees of data manipulation and analysis. The timesheet software may have the ability to output raw data in a suitable format for the practice to use a generic tool such as Excel to define its own analysis, or it may be designed to interface with other software programs such as accountancy packages and resource programming packages.

The other approach is to build in invoice, analysis, reporting and resource programming features, which offer potential advantages of simplicity and analysis and reporting information that is always based upon the most up to date information. In choosing a system, you need to consider the software skills of those who will want to access this information.

To my mind, there appears to be no clear contender for the best timesheet software, but the considerations mentioned may help you find the best fit for your practice.

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