Category Archives

Technology

  • Nov 29,2018

The internet of things (IoT) is reshaping the way we work and live, but it’s also bound to impact how project managers manage projects.

Simply put, the IoT is a network of devices that use the internet to exchange information. Consider Amazon’s Dash Buttons as a small-scale example. Push your Tide Dash Button, a small device that connects to Wi-Fi, to re-order a new bottle of detergent. More broadly, the IoT is being applied to cities—collecting data to better infrastructure, monitor traffic, and improve waste management—and many other facets of life from cars to homes.

The IoT certainly has a “cool factor” going for it right now. But the IoT also offers practical benefits, as we as new demands, for project managers. What’s in store for you?

Increase Collaboration

If you think collaboration in an IoT world means messaging staffers on Slack, think again.

Interconnectivity is at the heart of the IoT, explains author Maciej Kranz in a Harvard Business Review article. He’s right: nearly 31 billion devices expected to be connected to the internet by 2020. But “interconnectivity” is not just about devices, Kranz says. It’s also about “the connections between customers, partners, and suppliers.”

The “IoT is driving a shift in business structures from a one-company-does-it-all model to a let’s-work-together approach,” Kranz points out. Put another way, the IoT enables you to easily work with people across companies and industries.

Consider this example: “With data analytics provided by Microsoft Azure and an informational infrastructure developed collaboratively by Industrial Scientific and Cisco,” Kranz writes, “operators now have a dashboard to remotely monitor the people, equipment, and air quality in the mine in real time.”

Approach project management with the same mentality: an interconnective one that goes beyond your company walls.

Build New Skills

Don’t get too comfortable with your current skills. The influx of IoT breathes new life to the buzzword “lifelong learner.”

The “IoT requires new technical skills, ranging from data science and systems architecture to cybersecurity,” argues Kranz, as well as the “people” skills needed for collaborative work. Understanding technical topics can help you better use and understand the tools and data at your disposal. At the same time, you may find yourself partnering more with people who already have a technical background, such as data analysts, who can help as you navigate your projects.

Increase Productivity

Get the data you want when you want it. That’s one benefit of the IoT. You’ll have access to more real-time and historical data, more easily. That’s useful when you’re trying to spot trends and plan for future projects.

But, of course, there’s a flip slide: dealing with a deluge of data. You’ll need to become efficient at filtering information: knowing what data you’re after and stopping once you get it. Just because an endless amount of data is accessible, doesn’t mean you need to sort through it all.

The IoT has already brought exciting changes, and project management isn’t exempt. Don’t fear the IoT, but rather embrace how it will enhance the way your work.

  • May 01,2018

Have a BigTime expert show you how to access and use BigTime features when it’s convenient for you. If it sounds too good to be true, think again. We’ve put together short knowledge base (KB) video tutorials and recorded webinars to help you get up and running with BigTime faster.

Video Tutorials

Our video tutorials cover a range of topics, from creating an expense entry to posting invoices to QuickBooks, and they’re only a few minutes long.

Below are a few videos to get you started:

For more videos, go to the KB and type “video tutorial” in the search box and a list will populate.

time billing software knowledgebase

Webinars

Maybe you’re new to BigTime or need a refresher on how to use a feature. Either way, it’s also worth checking out our recorded webinars, where a BigTime expert gives detailed explanations on important software features.

Here’s what you’ll learn about in our three recorded webinars:

  • Project management: find out about BigTime’s workflow, so you can manage your staff’s workload.
  • Invoicing: discover how to use each of our invoicing calculators: manual, time and materials, and fixed fee. You’ll also learn how to set up bill rates, print or email invoices to clients, and post invoices to QuickBooks, among other topics.
  • Reporting: put your data to good use by using our pre-built and custom reports.

We also post “how-to” videos on YouTube, so you’re bound to find what you need!

  • Feb 22,2018

Image credit: Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will have a transformative impact on the future of work. By 2030, McKinsey estimates between 400 and 800 million people could be “displaced by automation.” We commonly hear that people with manufacturing and transportation jobs are at risk. But professional, knowledge-based workers—like consultants—should also take note.

AI can learn fast, analyze mounds of data, and find patterns, which can be problematic for data-driven occupations, like consulting. It’s an argument that Harvard Business Review (HBR) takes up in a recent article. “The processing power of four smart consultants with excel spreadsheets is miniscule in comparison to a single smart computer using AI running for an hour, based on continuous, non-stop machine learning.”

AI undoubtedly has certain advantages over humans. However, there are limitations. A computer beats a human at a game of Go because it’s “analyzing data for patterns,” a recent MIT article points out. But the computer doesn’t know whether it’s playing Go or golf, the article adds, and it wouldn’t know what to do “if more than half of a Go board was pushed beyond the edge of a table.” So it makes sense that humans pick up where computers fall short.

As it relates to consulting, humans can use the data AI generates to create customized, innovative solutions for clients. Put another way, AI doesn’t mean the end of human consultants. But their role is being redefined as some consulting companies use AI as a tool to help them in their work.

Accenture, a Boston-based business management consultancy, uses AI to help their clients in multiple ways. It’s helping pharmaceutical companies “automate drug safety analysis” by using natural language processing and machine learning and rules. It’s also using AI to detect fraud in large sets of data; then humans investigate. Kortical offers a different twist. Their consultation service helps businesses determine what sectors can benefit from AI.

The human-machine partnership is already proving fruitful in other industries. Watson is making a name for itself in the medical field, including its ability to assist medical professionals with diagnosing cancer. In fact, in 2016 Watson made a leukemia diagnosis that doctors had missed several months prior.

AI is opening up new, and arguably more interesting, opportunities. And that’s why consultants should think of AI as a tool, not a threat. Indeed, the human-machine partnership is a reciprocal relationship: algorithms can’t do much without human help, but a growing number of industries, including consulting, are relying on them to improve the way business is done. We’re only at the tip of what’s possible when humans and AI work together. Let AI help with the data part of the job. Then, use this information to present relevant, detailed solutions to clients.

  • Jun 27,2017

At a recent American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) meeting, the talk at our table was about the value gap. Clients and municipalities are cost-conscious, and rightly so. They are mandated to get the best possible price for a project.

Engineering firms, on the other hand, must provide competitive pricing in order to compete in the marketplace. But the lowest price doesn’t accommodate the cost of value. That’s the value gap.

The Cost Value Gap

As described at the ACEC lunch, the cost of value is the work that a firm does to ensure that a project is successful. Work that is often invisible to the client and frequently unbilled.

For example, firms manage vast amounts of project data. They carry the cost of hosting the data, keeping it secure, and tagging it so it’s easily retrieved. Project data management is a valuable service. Yet firms rarely bill for it because clients don’t associate the cost of this service with the value it provides.

Another Example of the Cost Value Gap

Firms end up owning relationships with entities hired by the client. Think public utilities or construction companies.

The firm takes on the responsibility of collaborating with the entities they had no hand in hiring. To ensure that the project succeeds, the firm keeps the client informed about, well, everything: work order changes, potential cost overruns, delays and so on. This level of collaboration and communication consumes firm resources but clients don’t equate the cost of this service with the value they receive.

As the conversation died down, firm owners and project managers shrugged their shoulders, agreeing that they just couldn’t be competitive if they included the cost of value in a Request for Information (RFI). They’d be out of the running. And that’s bad for business.

Close the Cost Value Gap With Information

In his seminal book “Managing the Professional Service Firm,” David H. Maister devotes an entire chapter to How Clients Choose [a firm]. It’s entirely relevant to closing the cost-value gap.

Maister writes, “From the buyer’s perspective, the two stages [of selecting a firm] are experienced as qualification and selection.” Master goes on to say that qualification is a rational, logical process based on the evaluation of a firm’s competency.

Firm selection, on the other hand, is much more personal and intuitive. It is largely based on the firm’s ability to be helpful to the client. As Maister puts it, “Give me some new information.” Information that I [the client] will find useful, that will help solve my problems. And it has to be the kind of information that I can believe in, that’s documented and demonstrable.

How to Get the Data That Demonstrates Value

Consider running your firm in the cloud. If you’re trying to manage people, projects, and billing with spreadsheets and disconnected applications, it’s a time-consuming hassle to collect accurate data. This applies equally to your firm management and your ability to document costs and demonstrate value to your client.

In their paper, “The Industry Software Revolution,” authors Brian Feinstein and Trevor Oelschig write, “The value of running your firm in the cloud is its ability to connect people on a job site or anywhere in the world with shared data in a collaborative environment.”

Think about connecting your project delivery workflow with an online app. In order to sell your value to a client, you have to know what it costs you to deliver services. An online time and billing application can capture data at every point in your project workflow, as shown in this diagram.

Get Clients Table 2

Many service professionals, regardless of industry, are experts in their particular field but they don’t start out as experts in managing a firm. An online time and billing application is kind of like an MBA in a box. Except there’s no box because it’s in the cloud. Regardless, this type of application provides real-time visibility into what’s going on with a client’s project. Exactly the kind of data that you need to communicate your firm’s value.

7 Ways You Can Use Data to Communicate Value

Calling upon Maister one last time, here are 7 ways you can use your command of data to help you communicate your firm’s value.

  1. Tell the client something they don’t know.

Give your client context. Without disclosing proprietary information, draw parallels between similar kinds of projects. Let your client know how their project compares to another in terms of budget vs actual, staffing allocation usage, even project data file size. Tell the client something they don’t know.

2. Tell the client something they need to know.

Give your client a heads up. If a project budget is at risk for an overrun that’s something your client needs to know. But when you alert the client before there’s a budget overrun and you have ideas about how to prevent it, that’s more than something they need to know. That’s valuable.

3.  Bring useful information to meetings.

Use your command of data to inform and advise during meetings, even those that come up at the last minute. You can open up a dashboard to confirm a project budget Not-to-Exceed (NTE) amount. Or show your client that the hours actually worked on a project task are getting close to the hours allocated. Then deliver even more value and help your client arrive at a solution.

4.  Show what you’re doing and why it matters to the client.

Set up a regular cadence of communication with your client. It doesn’t matter how easily you can access project information if you don’t form the habit of communicating it to your client. It’s important to share project status updates and discuss options to avert potential problems like a cost overrun. It’s just as important to listen to your client. Be there. Fully present. And listen. That’s invaluable.

5.  Involve the client in major project milestones.

Give your client something to celebrate. Create a shared sense of accomplishment. Review the project information with your client—things like project stages, due dates, staffer assignments, budgets, and percent complete. Nothing communicates value like success.

6. Inform the client about consequences of a change in scope.

Be constant, steady, and reliable in your client’s changing landscape. Use the data you’ve captured across many client projects to accurately forecast the cost of a change in scope. You’ll be of value to your client and you’ll be confident that your firm can afford to take on the work if offered.

  1. Be helpful beyond the specifics of the project scope.

This excerpt from“Manage Your Manager,” a training by Dr. Todd Dewett says everything that needs to be said on the subject. “Being a helpful person is not only the right thing to do in a professional context, but it’s one of the best ways to ensure that long term, the people you’re helping will be willing to help you.”

Learn more about using data to communicate your value. We’re here to help. Because if you succeed, we do too.

Let's Talk Value

 

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BigTime Software delivers real-time, metrics-driven time tracking, billing and project management for more than 2,000 professional firms, tracking over $2 billion (USD) worth of billable time each year.

 

  • Jun 22,2017

As a time and billing software company, we’re always on the lookout for articles about time management. You see, we help thousands of service firms run more successful businesses with online time tracking, project management, and reporting. And all of those things are related to time: tracking it, connecting it with firm workflows, and capturing the data associated with it.

We really like quick tips on how to make the most of the time we have at work. We enjoyed reading “10 Tips on Time Management Within the Workplace” so we’re sharing it with you. The approximate reading time is 5 minutes.

Forming Good Time Management Habits

Habits, at least the good ones, help us streamline our routines in positive and productive ways. We don’t have to think about flossing. It’s just something we do. (We’re all flossing, right?)

Counter-Intuitive Time Management Habits

But good time management habits sometimes go against the norm. For icon_work_2instance, free software trials are an industry standard. We’re delighted when someone wants to independently explore our product. But the truth is, most people don’t have the time to find their way around a new software application. That’s why we think free software trials are a waste of time for most people.

Why Free Trials Aren’t Good Time Management Hand_Clock_Icon

We have hundreds of free trial sign-ups every month. These folks have the best of intentions. But a lot of the time people don’t use the free trial because software evaluation isn’t their job. It sounds like a good idea. But it’s not a good use of their time.

A Time Management Tip

Here’s our time management tip. Skip the free trial. Focus on running your Jamdsjale_Iconbusiness. And outsource your software evaluation to the people who do that for a living.

Our sales team has educated thousands of service firms about our product. But it’s not about us. It’s about you. And how you can run a smarter and more profitable firm with our time billing software.

If you’re looking for a better way to manage both your time and your firm, Skip the free trial. Let’s talk.

Let's Talk!

Subscribe to our blog for firm management advice, tech trends, and our industry research.

BigTime Software delivers real-time, metrics-driven time tracking, billing and project management for more than 2,000 professional firms, tracking over $2 billion (USD) worth of billable time each year.

  • Jun 01,2017

A recent article from the Wall Street Journal revealed that U.S. companies increased spending on consulting by 7.1 percent in 2016 as more businesses sought advice on cybersecurity, according to a report by Source Global Research.

Spending on management-consulting reached $58.7 billion last year. The pace of hiring outside advice rose fastest in the pharmaceutical industry, though financial services companies maintained their dominance over the market, with cybersecurity advice as the fastest-growing segment. According to new research from American Express and Dun & Bradstreet, business services are the fastest growing segment in the middle market.

Companies Push for a Return on Investment from Consulting Work

Fiona Czerniawska, director of Source Global Research said about the demand for cybersecurity advice, “I can’t see how it stops.” She also cautioned that consulting firms are often seen as able at optimizing back-office tasks, but are not seen as the people you need to grow your business.

Time Billing Software to Position Your Firm as a Strategic Advisor

img-feature-title-mobile
BigTime iPhone and Android app for time tracking and expense reporting.

 

We can see the raised eyebrows. But look at it this way. A strategic advisor is a value-add role. Your expertise is the price of admission. Your breakout ideas will get attention. But your value is associated with your insight. And your insight is based on data – the data you’ve captured with time billing software, starting with online timesheets and expense reporting.

The Value of a Connected Project Management workflow

The time and data you enter are associated with a client project. More than that, time and data are associated with, well, even more data: the project budget, tasks, even sub-tasks and its budgets, billing and invoicing, and finally, real-time reporting.

The Value Added Advisor

img-qb-integration-3-small

Suddenly you’re the go-to person for valued insight based on real-time data that’s easy to access. When your clients ask, “How’re we doing?” you can do more than answer the question. You can tell your clients how they can grow their business.

Read the WSJ article

 

To keep up with BigTime’s firm management tips, tech trends, and time and billing research studies, subscribe to our blog

BigTime Software delivers real-time, metrics-driven time and billing software for more than 2,000 professional firms, tracking over $2 billion (USD) worth of billable time each year.

  • Apr 19,2017

 Product Update – April 2017

Android users: you deserve a better smarter mobile timesheet app that simplifies your on-the-go work life. And that’s exactly what this product update delivers. Let’s take a closer look.

Timesheets, Timers, and Expenses

Now Android phones recognize the required fields feature. Mobile Timesheet with Required Field

A required field is exactly what it sounds like in that the user is required to complete a particular value. For example, if the Admin has made timesheet notes a required field then the staffer must complete the details field for each time entry before they can submit their timesheet.

If a required field is left blank, an error message pops up. This eliminates the possibility of user error by omission. You’re using a smartphone for work. Now, your Android mobile timesheet app helps you work smarter by recognizing required fields. 

One more thing about notes. A recent BigTime research study based on the analysis of 12 million timesheets revealed that the presence of timesheet notes improved billing realization (the comparison of time billed with time entered) by almost 5 percent). That’s right. A timesheet note about the length of a Tweet can significantly increase your billing realization rate. Something to think about.

Little Things Add Up to a Great Mobile Mobile Timesheet for AndroidExperience

A delightful user experience allows you to focus the task at hand. So when you whip out your Android to track time or expenses you’re going to have a friction-free experience.

Here’s a quick look at other changes we’ve made—all of which add up to a big difference in your Android’s performance.

Fixes

SaaS software is all about continuous improvement. Here are a few things that will work better for your now:

  • The Staff List member information now includes home phone numbers.Mobile Time and Expense Tracking Client Information With your mobile timesheet app, you can be anywhere and access the home phone of an employee or a colleague.
  • Full names now display properly for our IQ Enterprise users.
  • The Expense Entry screen is no longer visible for our IQ Express users, in order to eliminate confusion. Email [email protected] for more info on how you can add Expense tracking to your time tracking app.
  • To eliminate confusion for our IQ Express users, the Expense Entry screen is no longer visible. Email [email protected] for more info on how you can add expense tracking to your time tracking app.
  • We resolved a few issues with your Projects that were impeding the ability to load Billing and Primary contacts.
    • We fixed some minor label issues. They now display properly in the Expense Entry screens.
    • We updated the menu option for our Knowledgebase. It now points to the current version.
    • We resolved a few offline entry issues Mobile Expense Trackingthat occurred when trying to load class information.
    • We corrected an issue so that expenses will properly exit out of the unsubmitted expense area.

Go to the app store and see all of the Android app goodness

To keep up with product updates, industry-relevant trends, and our time billing research studies, subscribe to our blog.

BigTime Software delivers real-time, metrics-driven time tracking, billing and project management for more than 2,000 professional firms, tracking over $2 billion (USD) worth of billable time each year.

  • Apr 19,2017

Our talented Q&A development specialist Monica shared an article from the Harvard Business Review, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. It got her attention because the principles outlined in the article sounded a lot like the way our development team plans features for our time and billing app. Of the article’s three main points, it was the second that resonated most with our dev team. Ask “What is essential?”

Our dev team repeatedly asks themselves this question. Then, they plan the feature that will tackle a root issue in our time and billing software. That’s how they arrived at their own 3 rules of less for successful time and billing feature design.

Rule #1. Know the primary function and keep it simple

Time billing software with mobile time and expense tracking appHere’s an example. Our online timesheets, including the mobile app, look super simple. The absence of distracting features make it functional—and yes, beautiful. Sometimes it’s what you don’t see in our time billing software that makes it so functional.

The primary function of the timesheet is to make it easy for employees to use. Since time is money at a service firm, employees can get in and out of the timesheet quickly with minimal disruption to their billable work.

Timesheet detail field notes

By the way, timesheet notes the length of a tweet (yes, 140 characters) can increase your firm’s billing realization rate by almost 5 percent. We’re talking about the percentage of recorded billable time that gets billed to clients. To learn more, read the BigTime research study based on the analysis of 12 million timesheets.

Rule #2. Offer more when more is necessary

Time billing software with customizable timesheets

Continuing with our online timesheet as an example, we offer more choices to the site administrators who are responsible for customizing the timesheet. The purpose of “more” in this instance is to provide options so the admin can set up the timesheet to capture information relevant to running the business.

We give our customers the choice to deliberately limit access to projects within the timesheet. Why? Because employees only need to track time against the projects they’re working on. This optional feature eliminates the need for employees to scroll through an exhaustive list of all projects. Anything other than the projects they’re logging time against is non-essential information and a potential distraction. But we leave that decision up to the firm owner.

As BigTime’s CEO Brian Saunders often says to customers, “The whole point of tracking time is to collect data and then use that data to make better business decisions.” With that in mind, admins can customize our online timesheets, adding or removing columns (with the exception of Projects), renaming or reordering columns and fields, even making certain fields or columns required.

We design our software on the “need to know” principle. In other words, what exactly do our users need to know in order to perform a specific action or associated actions? Our design thinking is informed by what the customer needs to do and what they need to know in order to do it.

Rule #3. Strip away the extraneous

Albert Einstein is credited with the memorable paraphrase of the aphorism, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” And that’s what our dev team does. Let’s use project management as an example.

Time billing with project management Firm owners can get the big picture on any given project from a single dashboard, seeing at a glance who’s working on what and for how long. Project managers can drill down to get detailed information on tasks, due dates, budgets, staff availability, and more.

There’s a lot of intelligence under the BigTime hood. But we practice the disciplined pursuit of less until our customers need more. In a previous post,  3 Must-Have Time Management Skills for Professional Service Firm Owners, experts reminded us that there will never be enough time for everything. There is only enough time for what truly matters, for the essential. And that’s what we focus on when designing software to help our customers succeed.

If you’re looking for the right software to manage your firm, we can save you a lot of search time. Reach out today!

BigTime Software delivers real-time time billing, project management and reporting for more than 2,000 professional firms, tracking over $2 billion (USD) worth of billable time each year. To keep up with product updates, industry-relevant trends, and our time billing research studies, subscribe to our blog.

  • Mar 20,2017
android_mobile_time

When mobile expense tracking apps are so widely available, why do so many professional service firms stick with manual processes?

According to Robert Neveu in CPA Practice Advisor, many smaller organizations can manage a manual process just fine due to lower reporting volume and reimbursement requirements.

The Problems with Manual Expense Tracking

But there are problems with manual processes even then. Neveu’s firm, Certify,  conducted a recent survey of more than 600 CFOs and accounting professionals. They found that the top pain point for 52 percent of study participants is that employees lose paper receipts.  The runner-up pain point, experienced by 51% of respondents, is their employee’s failure to submit expense reports on time.

The Bigger Issue About Mobile Expense Tracking

Mobile apps capture images of paper receipts, which can then be attached to digital expense reports. This process does away with paper receipts altogether. It also makes it easy for employees to submit expenses on time.  Online expense tracking is also scalable. It can grow with your business without disrupting the way you do business.

There’s one thing more.  We work with professional service firms all over the world. Some of them make a lot of money. Others not so much.

What makes the successful ones successful? Leverage. They’re good at leveraging data. Successful firms use the data they track (expenses and timesheets, for example) to get better at estimating. They use online timesheet data to flag customers and engagements that need attention. They use expense data to do a better job building project budgets. If a project does fail, they use that data as an audit log to help them look back and see what went wrong.

No matter why a company decides to embrace mobile expense tracking, those who do are pleasantly surprised with the outcome. Read the article.

BigTime Software delivers real-time, metrics-driven time tracking, billing and project management for more than 2,000 professional firms, tracking over $2 billion (USD) worth of billable time each year.

  • Mar 05,2017

On Tuesday, February 28th Amazon Web Services (AWS), the storage and hosting platform used by a large number of companies (including BigTime) experienced intermittent outages.

The impact was far-reaching across many popular websites and services, including one of BigTime’s favorite productivity apps and integration partner, Slack. Though the outage was widely reported by national news outlets, some of the fallout was felt closer to home. In Chicago, BigTime’s hometown, local train commuters were unable to display their tickets to conductors using their mobile app.  Electronic service updates from Metra, a Chicago commuter rail system, were also unavailable.  So, if you were waiting on the platform and your train was late, your smartphone couldn’t tell you why.

The Achilles Heel of Cloud Computing?

With so many companies now relying on mega-service providers like AWS, Microsoft and Google for their infrastructure, are we seeing the Achilles heel of cloud computing through these big outages?

David Linthicum, senior vice president at Cloud Technology Partners, a Boston-based company that helps enterprises migrate their data to cloud storage providers like AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud said he doesn’t think Tuesday’s outage will keep people from using cloud storage.

BigTime Software CEO Brian Saunders agrees. “BigTime is hosted on AWS and while we and our customers did feel the effects of the outage, the impact to our clients was minimal.  For most small  -to mid-sized businesses, the uptime, reliability, security and cost of large cloud services is much better than the alternative of buying and running internal servers.”

99.92% Uptime in February for Users of BigTime’s Time Tracking Software

The AWS outage impacted our customers’ ability to synchronize data from their Lacerte Tax systems into BigTime. On Tuesday, February 28th between approximately 12:15 PM and 3:55 PM CST, the synchronization server that handles these requests was unavailable. None of our customer data was lost and all pending synchronizations have been processed successfully.