Project-Oriented IT Consulting Firm Gains Timekeeping 'Advantage' with TimeControl

CRI Advantage

"I wanted to find a timekeeping software that was both flexible to our needs yet affordable to our budget, and TimeControl qualified in both those areas"

Lea Rainey, CRI's managed services team

When you're a rapidly-growing information technology (IT) consulting firm with more than 100 highly-skilled consultants spread across 30 to 40 active client projects each week, accurate and efficient timekeeping is more than an administrative exercise - it's key to your company's livelihood. That's why CRI Advantage Inc. of Boise, Idaho - the state's largest IT consulting firm - turned to HMS Software's TimeControl enterprise timekeeping system in the summer of 2000 when it needed an automated way to integrate employee timesheet information into its financial system for billing and payroll purposes.

"We rely heavily on time entry because that's how we bill clients," says CRI Contract Administrator Cyndi Baker. "The cleaner we can keep our data, the better we are at communicating to our clients exactly how much time is being spent on their particular project."

The company's team of IT professionals is made up of experts who deliver business-driven technology solutions. CRI's four core business areas are: Wireless & Mobile Computing, Data to Decisions (includes Business Intelligence, warehousing and data analytics), Legacy to Online (includes e-Commerce, application development and integration, ERP, CRM and web development) and Managed Services, in which consultants work off-site at a client location to provide IT services and service management on an outsourced basis. Projects range in size from small, one-person tasks that last one to two weeks, to larger-scale assignments that can involve as many as 10 consultants for a year or more.

With many employees spread across multiple projects as well as customer locations, CRI Advantage required two key features in an automated timekeeping solution: the ability to support remote employees via a Web-based front-end, and an easy way for consultants to enter time according to the company's sophisticated work breakdown structure (WBS). As CRI Internal Developer Teresa Bartlett explains, there are close to 200 charge codes consultants use to identify how their time was spent to ensure accurate billing.

Prior to purchasing TimeControl, CRI employees used a "homegrown" time entry system, which Bartlett describes as cumbersome and unattractive. Although the system did integrate well with Niku Revenue Manager -- the financial software application CRI uses for its billing and payroll -- it was extremely slow and limited in its functionality. "You had to go through several layers to enter one time transaction and it could take our consultants up to three hours each week just to enter their time," she says.

After investigating several enterprise timekeeping solutions, CRI set its sights on TimeControl. The appeal, says Bartlett, was TimeControl's slick user interface and the fact that it offered the same, if not more, functionality than competing packages at a much lower price. "TimeControl looks like a paper-based timesheet. It's very easy to read and we like the way you can see the entire week at a glance," says Bartlett.

Lea Rainey, who now works with CRI's managed services team, was the person originally responsible for the purchase of TimeControl.

I wanted to find a timekeeping software that was both flexible to our needs yet affordable to our budget, and TimeControl qualified in both those areas". "We were quickly able to adapt the parameters that were needed to make TimeControl successful in our environment".

Lea Rainey, CRI's managed services team

CRI Advantage purchased TimeControl in July, 2000, and, following a two-month implementation period, went live with 127 users in October. Bartlett estimates that the TimeControl installation paid for itself in just six to eight months, based on the time saved by consultants when entering their hours.

"If we assume a $90 to $100 hourly rate, if they were spending one to two hours on time entry and now they're spending 30 minutes or less, that frees up the remaining one-and-a-half hours for them to do other work and that's billable time," Bartlett explains.

The majority of CRI employees use the web version of TimeControl, while six in-house administrators use the Microsoft Windows version. Ease of use is the most immediate and obvious benefit, but Bartlett and Baker have identified other advantages as well.

"The way we have the charge codes set up in TimeControl, we can do reporting to see how much time was spent on a specific portion of a project (such as design) and exactly what people were doing," says Bartlett. Not only does this functionality assist in billing customers, since the detailed breakdown of time spent is reflected on the invoice, but it also gives CRI project managers a way to review past work when putting together new proposals for similar contracts. "We use it for estimating purposes," says Bartlett, "and if we do have an overrun on a project, we can go back and look at the notes in TimeControl to determine when a problem may have occurred and where."

In contract administration, office employees are also finding TimeControl extremely valuable in reducing the number of errors associated with time entry. By using filters provided in the software to ensure employees only have access to the charge codes related to specific projects they are working on, CRI has significantly reduced the number of times office administrators have to go back and make a correction when collecting electronic timesheets. "They don't have access to the charge codes they don't need," explains Baker. "It's almost impossible for consultants to miscode their time."

Finally, when CRI brings on a new client, there are several applications (e.g. invoicing, scheduling, accounting) that need to be updated with the new information, and TimeControl is now the simplest, adds Baker. "We start many new projects each week and it can be a very time consuming process to do the updates," she notes. "To set up in TimeControl is by far the shortest just because it's very clear as to where the information needs to be input."

Feedback from employees in the field has also been very positive. Among the benefits they cite are the system's ease of use, its week-at-a-glance feature - helping them to plan and review their time - and its historical reporting capability, allowing them to go back and check previous timesheets at any time.

New employees are also very quick to pick up on TimeControl, minimizing their training time, she adds. "That screams volumes about how easy the software is to use and reinforces how happy we are with our decision.

"TimeControl is helping us to streamline our internal processes," she says. "HMS provided the expertise to help us up front with our installation and now we're reaping the benefits."