We were promised good reliable service by Heart Internet and have not received it, nor have we received any offer of compensation for the times that our web-sites were unavailable and our e-mail out of action. We also began to notice a significant time lag between requesting access to our web-site and being presented with the web-page on screen. In fact it was so long that we got a brief message saying the web-site could not be accessed just before the index page came up. The speed had definitely slowed without any explanation from Heart Internet. Tickets raised when the web-site was unavailable resulted in the web-site being restored but with Heart Internet saying that they couldn't find anything wrong with it. Fix it first, then say everything is fine; they were were beginning to sound like dodgy car mechanics! But, it was working; even though it was slow and the unavailable error message came up each time.
We then asked about setting up new users for MySQL databases because the instructions to do so in their Help Database didn't work. We used Heart Internet's Chat service and were told that we couldn't do that...!? We asked why would you put instructions about setting up new users if it wasn't allowed? Taking a leaf out of the 'Politician's Handbook' they completely avoided answering the question.
For us, this unhelpful attitude and resulting poor service was enough to make us look for a new web-hosting provider. In the course of doing so, we found other blogs with damning reports about Heart Internet's service. The Register.co.uk is one and there are others.
We didn't plump for the first one we saw, some looked good, but when we asked questions they didn't actually answer them or attempt to clarify information available on their web-pages. One looked to be a reasonable price and service, but then charged an extra £10 per month (plus VAT) for the software to access the workings on the web-site.
We eventually settled on Smart Hosting. They offered SSD* drives (electronic hard-drives) rather than old HDD drives. All the stuff that we needed already to accomodate three web-sites and have lots of unlimited bits for £6.99** per month (plus VAT)...nice!
*NB - Like a memory stick, there are no moving parts to an SSD. Rather, information is stored in microchips. Conversely, a hard disk drive uses a mechanical arm with a read/write head to move around and read information from the right location on a storage platter. This difference is what makes SSD so much faster.
In the process of moving over, even though our plan with Heart Internet didn't run out for five months and everything paid and up to date, Heart Internet put a block on our account and prevented us, or anyone else, from accessing our web-sites. Several hours later, after raising tickets, Chats online and telephone calls, our account access was eventually restored but the time we had arranged with out new web-hosters to effect the migration had passed.
We managed to rearrange and to get everything transferred over. E-mail needed to be re-set up and database access changed but it didn't take long to sort out.
We now have a site that we are proud of - giving a service that we, and our customers expect to have - reliable and responsive. Smart Hosting have provided us with an excellent service and given us services that we didn't have before or were charged much more for. We recommend them to any business that wants a better service at a reasonable price - value for your money.
It follows our ethos, to offer quality time recording databases at reasonable prices - value for your money. It is also our ethos, to 'spread the word' about good service without seeking any reward. We hope that you will too!
**NB - We went for the Premium Unlimited Web-hosting - annual plan which, at the time of writing, gives you a Free Domain Name for the life of the plan, Free SSL's and Free migration.
We have been troubled by network administrators on a couple of occasions over the years; both times were due to the decision to delay, or avoid altogether, using the Microsoft Windows Update Facility.
When you get a new computer, we strongly advise using Windows Updates immediately before installing any other software. There are valid reasons for this.
In the case of our Time Recording software, it is important that Windows Updates are regularly carried out because it uses Microsoft Office programmes and runs on the Microsoft Windows Operating System. If these supporting programmes are not maintained regularly and properly, it is possible that Time Recording may be adversely affected.
No software is perfect and this includes the Windows Operating System. After releasing a software to the public, manufacturers often come across situations where they find bugs which often result in their software crashing or create compatibility issues. Our software is Microsoft-Based so if there are any such issues reported, microsoft software developers immediately go to work in order to fix these bugs. The fix is then released as a Windows Update.
A new computer will have a factory-installed Windows Operating System; there may have been many updates issued since that installation, so when your computer is first switched on, in needs updating to ensure that it has all the latest bug fixes.
We know that some of these bug fixes may actually result in creating problems in other software areas without Microsoft being aware at the time of the full impact the update has on another programme; however, Microsoft do maintain a good watch on what problems are occurring and do issue further bug fixes to correct any conflicts.
If an update causes problems today, then within a few days, an update is usually issued to fix it.
Many Network Administrators time the installation of updates via a programmed routine, usually at a time when their system is unlikely to be used - often in the middle of the night. They will put off the installation of Windows Updates on a new computer because they can, and do, set up the routine to run Windows Updates in the middle of the following night. So they take a chance - the chance that the Windows as installed on the computer is fairly-well up to date and proceed with installation of other software - including Time Recording. Then, when some software doesn't run properly, they call on that software provider with a demand that they fix the problem immediately!
A problem where software doesn't run correctly as it intended is not always a Windows Update problem, but we take great care to ensure that our software works on current systems. We test every bit of our software before it leaves our premises to ensure that it is working properly as intended.
Certainly, we would go so far as to state that if you already have our software installed on your network and it is running on every other computer on your system except the one you're working on, the problem is very unlikely to be with our software and is highly likely to be a problem with Windows Updates on that computer.
Network installation is not something we do, but if you ensure that your chosen network installer follows our procedures and runs Windows Update regularly, especially when setting up a new computer, then there should not be any problems with our software.
It is safe to allow windows update to get installed automatically, but if you are still not comfortable with installing windows update automatically, you can change the windows update settings to Notify before Installing. This will allow you to check the available updates before installing.
Practice safe computing by regularly using Windows Update.
Don't record your time...? If you're not recording your time at all, then you have two options; you can either invoice a similar fee to the previous one for the particular job or agree a fixed fee based upon fees charged for similar work done for other clients. The information will be there, because it is a part of your accounting system that you have to maintain properly to satisfy regulatory bodies; i.e. an outside influence is forcing you to do it! If your firm doesn't feel the need to record the work done by its employees, do you have some method of recording when they are in attendance at work?
Not many professional firms require their employees to 'clock in and out'; but some professional firms, that don't record work done or record when employees are in attendance, suffer because of it. Some employees, of professional firms, fall into patterns of becoming late, or provide the excuse 'I'm working from home today'.
How do you know how much time has been lost if you don't record it?
Certainly, it is relatively easy to quantify the time taken to capture and process time worked. The cost of someone on an hourly charge-out rate of say £50.00 spending 15 minutes every day inputting their time will be in the region of £3,000 per annum; multiply this up by 20 staff and that is £60,000 in lost time! But is it lost time…? Staff are naturally focussing on productivity when they are recording the time they have taken to do a task; which, in itself, has to be a good thing.
Moreover, so the argument goes, it is pointless to record work undertaken on a fixed fee basis because nothing else can be billed.
Management of firms that don't record their time may have a feeling that some jobs are paying better than others, but won't know for sure how well or how badly they are doing on individual jobs. If their company is in profit, they will believe that they are doing well. They could possibly do better, but they don't know where the improvements need to be made.
How can you analyse the work done in the past to see where improvements need to be made if you aren't recording the work you do?
If you are recording the work you do, the cheapest option must be to record it in your diary. This may be OK if you're a one-man band and have only a couple of clients, but getting hold of all the diaries from twenty or so staff on a Monday morning can be a little fraught with difficulty.
Recording manually on bespoke Time-Sheets seems a better option, but there is still the difficulty of obtaining them from all your staff on time, so that the process of collating the information can begin.
How are such Time-Sheets to be designed? Should they be designed so that information can easily be obtained for payroll purposes, i.e. one person, one Time-Sheet? Or should they be designed with the purpose of collating them for billing - perhaps one Time-Sheet per job per person? With the former, manual collation of Time-Sheets for billing purposes is fraught with difficulty. If Time-Sheets are designed so that there is one sheet per person per job, then you may have several Time-Sheets for each person for any particular week and certainly several Time-Sheets per job. How would you know if one was missing?
So on to the use of computers….Those who believe that having a computer-based system on a single administrative computer is a good value option have a point, but it is not as clear cut as it seems...
Let's paint a picture of a small, but growing firm whose staff record their work on Time-Sheets and pass them over to an administrator early the following week for entry into the computer. Staff record their time manually, regardless of the individual charge-out rate, and take, on average 15 minutes per day. The actual time is dependent upon the type of work done, with some staff recording one job for the whole day, while others record a couple of dozen jobs in one day! These time-sheets are then passed to the administrator each week, who enters the time into the administration computer.
If you are not recording your time, there is no measurement of staff performance or how the amount of work needed to be done for an individual client can vary from year to year. The result is that you could be over-charging or under-charging clients and having over-worked staff or under-utilised staff.
Only one person can use it at a time; data entry of twenty or more Time-Sheets, with all the attendant records, takes a considerable period of time. These computer entries are usually checked against the original time-sheets for accuracy; all of which is additional time over and above the original manual recording of the time on time-sheets. Some computerised systems will be better than others in this regard; but note that there is an assumption that has been made here, and that is that individual staff members have recorded their time correctly, in unambiguous terms and legible writing. There are some professionals out there whose handwriting is not always very clear; although, I believe this to be the exception rather than the rule. Nevertheless, mistakes are sometimes made and this is not always picked up straight away through comparison with the original data source, and sometimes the mistake isn't discovered at all! If the system is going to work properly, staff must have a responsibility for checking their own Time-Sheets.
If Time-Sheets are late in or not available, the whole Billing Process is delayed. Reports are then passed to management for billing, productivity assessment and performance analysis. It is important to note that, at this stage, you are a week behind with the information that you are going to use!
Another problem is that administrators count themselves lucky if they have the opportunity to receive training on the use of Time Recording programmes and often struggle to use the often complicated software. In such circumstances, adjusting incorrect postings can send stress levels through the roof! Not very good if that person is also the only member of staff who knows how to use the software!
Standalone computerised systems, can work well, if the Time-Sheets arrive on time, everything is clear and legible, and the correct checks are made to ensure that everything is posted as it was originally intended.
So Record Your Time On A Networked System? Although this is arguably the most expensive option in cash laid out up front, dependent upon the software, it can be a very cost effective option. Some software costs can be prohibitive in that there is the actual cost of buying and installing the software on every machine required, with price increasing with each users.
Another point to bear in mind is the cost of training each member of staff to use it, both in terms of paying an outside entity and the opportunity cost of the lost working time. If no training is given then, then the software needs to be very user-friendly with help screens readily available.
If a Time Recording programme is chosen for ease of use, so that staff can easily enter records, check their entries, and amend them if necessary. The time taken to learn how to do this, and how to print out the reports they need, should be, and is minimal. The real training should be for the administrator responsible for day-to-day maintenance of the Time Recording programme and perhaps for management who often need a greater range of reports and analysis of records.
A well designed Time Recording programme should assist the user in every regard. Help on any area should be available at the touch of a button. Help screens should be clear and concise. Some software providers do not feel they are providing value for money unless their manual is at least 300 pages long! How many of your staff want to search through such documents? Do you have the time?
Another point to consider - Is the Networked Time Recording System 'live'? That is, can you record work done in the morning and use the information for billing in the afternoon? Do you have to stop recording work at any stage so that the administrator can carry out specific procedures? Can you obtain correct reports as at any historic date?
If you have a system that can provide such flexibility of use, then there are distinct cash-flow advantages. You can also subtly change the culture from one of a more laissez faire - "it'll be OK next week" to a more urgent one - "let's get the job done and bill it!"
Does the Networked Time Recording System provide management with the opportunity to - analyse work done in detail? - Compare effective hourly rates for each job? - See where improvements can be made? Or is it simply a programme to store and retrieve records? Even if you have such a Networked Time Recording System, mistakes can still be made. If you choose to bill before taking a controlled check of the time entered, that is billing clients before printing off weekly Time Sheets and checking them for record accuracy, then you may subsequently find errors in data entry and may miss the opportunity for charging for all of the work done.
It seems important then, for some periodic checks to be done before the Billing Process takes place. Staff should be encouraged to check the entries they've made immediately after posting them.
In conclusion, if you don't record work that you do, then you don't have enough control over your business. If you do record the work you do, and have people checking the records, then your business has the control it needs to move forward in a competitive marketplace.
If a firm does record work done, then periodic checks should be made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the records. Manual collation of Time-Sheets is very time consuming; checking them even more so.
Computerised collation on a Standalone System can speed up the process, but it is still comparatively slow, Time-Sheets may not always be available, may be ambiguous and have unclear or illegible writing. The Billing Process may also be delayed. In addition, some Computerised Systems do not make it easy for an administrator to adjust entries made.
The cheapest option must be to record it in your diary. Recording on bespoke Time-Sheets seems a better option, but there is still the difficulty of obtaining them from all your staff on time, so that the process of collating the information can begin.
Standalone systems can help in collating all that information for you, but as your firm grows, you will find it easier to use a networked system with individual members of staff entering the time the work and checking their own entries on the system. A 'Live' system is better in that you can record time in the morning; have up to the minute information and bill the work in the afternoon.
Networked Time Recording Systems should be chosen for ease of use, having the ability for employees to easily enter records, check and amend entries made as necessary. Team Leaders can use Networked Time Recording Systems as a powerful management tool and can not only check Team Records, but can play a major part in the Billing Process and make it happen more quickly after a job has been completed. Senior Management can also analyse work done so as to obtain better information about the performance of the firm as a whole and be able to quote accurately for new work.
TimeExpense network version is a cost-effective software package for firms having up to twenty-five users at any single point in time. The price you pay for the network version having two users is exactly the same as the price you pay for the network version with twenty-five users; there are no additional charges for any extra users up to a single-time user limit of twenty-five. Yes...reading between the lines, that means that you can have more than twenty-five users in total BUT only twenty-five on the system at any single point in time.
For example, a standalone computer is used to record the time worked for fifteen members of staff. Staff firstly record their time manually on paper and pass these time-sheets for one member of the administration staff to enter on the computer (usually a week later). When all the time has been entered and checked back to the time sheets, then an overall work in progress report is printed out for the firm as a whole (usually an aged work in progress report).
This report is passed to the financial manager who will use this report to indicate which individual client work in progress reports are needed to for billing purposes. This then goes back to the administrator who prints out the required client-centred work in progress reports and passes them back to the financial manager. The financial manager then indicates on each report what should be billed and provides the wording required on each invoice. The administrator draws up the invoice and uses information from the work in progress report and the invoice to enter billing information and so reduce the level of work in progress by the amount billed.
This process involves much more than the software itself, but software can be designed to make the process easier and quicker.
In the case of our Time Recording software, we have designed both standalone and networked systems that are 'real-time', that is - no closing off for any particular period and all reports are available as at any specified date or date range. So you can see what the work in progress figure for a client was last week or last month and compare it with today. If you are operating a network version, your staff can enter their time each day as and when required so that the information presented in the work in progress reports is always up to date.
The data-entry screens are all very similar and are designed for speed of entry while providing useful information about entries already made. As soon as a job has been completed you can invoice your time without waiting until next Monday for all the time-sheets to be posted! When the end of the month arrives, your staff can continue posting their time without any problem and you can obtain reports for the relevant month-end a couple of weeks later!
Client-centred work in progress reports can be printed quickly and easily by selecting the particular clients from lists on screen and clicking on the 'print' button.
We, at T. Bookman Limited, know how the complete work in progress system works and we've designed our Time Recording software to make things easier for you and provide you with the information that you need to run your business - whenever you want it!