Introduction

Time tracking software enables workers to passively or manually track their time spent on projects, tasks, and other deliverables. In the simplest form, it represents a digital version of traditional paper timesheets.

While many companies still rely on manual processes and spreadsheets to track time, these practices can be inaccurate and hard to scale. In addition to decreased revenue in billable hours, failure to accurately track time can lead to bad data and the inability to make critical business decisions.

And, ironically, one of the biggest issues is that tracking your time takes time.

Time tracking systems automate the process, reduce human errors associated with monitoring labor and absences, and track productivity. In addition to enhanced performance management, below are a few ways time tracking tools benefit companies:

1. Optimizes client billing:

For consultants, agencies, and other businesses that bill by the hour, time tracking software offers an accurate way to capture and track all billable time.

2. Improves project costing:

When providing job or project estimates, time tracking provides a historical reference that can be used for better insights into time costs and projections. The improved ability to forecast time resources keeps projects on deadline and budget, which makes clients happy.

3. Manages employee time and attendance:

Tracking overtime, absences, and hours for more than a handful of employees is already difficult. But ensuring it all fits within compliance and labor regulations makes the process even more daunting. Digitally managing and importing labor data into corresponding systems can streamline payroll processes, which saves time and energy for you to spend on more important tasks.

Still unsure if time tracking tools are for you? You can benefit from this technology if your company:

  • Has hourly, mobile, or remote employees
  • Can no longer manage paper time cards
  • Can’t predict staffing needs or hours
  • Dispatches workers to multiple jobsites
  • Needs to verify employee location
  • Needs a real-time view of who is currently working
  • Needs a way to measure productivity
  • Struggles to accurately measure the cost of goods or projects
  • Wants to improve job-costing and forecasting
  • Can’t ensure payroll, overtime, PTO and vacations are calculated correctly

Comparing the Best Time Tracking Software

Inaccurate time tracking leads to unnecessary overtime, bad planning, inaccurate estimates, exceeded budgets, incorrect payroll, and cancelled projects. With time tracking software, you can ensure your company has reliable, accurate data to identify and eliminate problems early. Additionally, tracking hours won’t require more time than it’s worth.

A time tracking system can help your company increase productivity by seeing what processes or activities lead to wasted time. Many systems automatically tie hours to invoices and generate accurate bills based on a predetermined rate card.

At the core of every time tracking tool is a wide variety of ways to calculate and track time, including:

  • Duration: the length of time a task took is recorded, regardless of when it was worked on
  • Clock-in / Clock-out: arrival and departure to and from work is recorded
  • Chronological: employee records the actual start and end time for a task
  • Monitored: the active and idle time of an employee’s computer is recorded
  • Location-based: the system determines employee working status based on location
  • Exception-based: standard work hours are automatically recorded except for approved time off, leave of absence, etc.
  • Scheduled: by organizing resources in advance, employee schedules can be converted to timesheets

Additional time tracking system features include:

  • Integration with project management, accounting, CRM, and HR software
  • Data export types including: .pdf, Excel, and .csv
  • Data imports from other applications
  • Unlimited projects
  • Multi-currency invoicing
  • Custom billing increments
  • Expense tracking
  • Reports / Analytics
  • Tracking non-billable time
  • Native mobile applications or mobile-optimized web access
  • Job costing reports
  • Paid time off (PTO), Vacation, attendance management / absence management
  • Track offline time / idle timeout
  • Project time tracking
  • GPS or mobile device location tracking
  • Magnetic swipe cards
  • Biometrics and touch screens
  • Dashboards with real-time reporting
  • Automatic notifications (due dates, overtime, appointments, etc.)
  • Task categorization tools such as tagging or color coding
  • Desktop/mobile timer sync
  • Customer support
  • User or role-based security
  • Data backup

The best time tracking software provides an overview of the office or workforce. In an ideal system, you can view who is currently working, the total number of hours worked that week, and what the most recent employee activity was. Managers can be alerted to employee messages, PTO requests, time overages, and tasks that need immediate attention. Reports can be easily generated and shared with customers, management, or executives.

Though many project management software vendors offer time tracking as a system feature, you may find you need a more powerful standalone system that is customizable to your processes. Conversely, if you need more help with projects or workforce management than the features above provide, consider a project management platform with strong project time tracking capabilities.

Common Applications

Historically, time tracking systems were mostly used by large corporations that could afford the expensive costs, but the cloud has made these services much more affordable. Cloud deployment offers a scalable solution that grows or shrinks with the company. Most modern systems are available via a subscription-based, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, so organizations needn’t worry about additional hardware or infrastructure. Let’s look at some of the additional considerations you may need to make when comparing time tracking tools.

Time tracking for marketing, sales, or development Teams

Many businesses do not need a company-wide time tracking system. Your company may only wish to track employees that work with clients, or the time it takes for your programmers to debug a feature. Depending on your business or team needs, consider a solution that is tailored to your specific team.

Time tracking for project managers

If you work with several clients on a variety of projects, a system with project portfolio management is important. For project managers, the ability to accurately measure task time and use it to forecast future project estimates is critical. Since you work with multiple contractors and consultants, a system that tracks time in a myriad of ways is essential. Look for an end-to-end project management solution with strong time tracking capabilities or a standalone time tracking software that integrates with your existing PM systems.

Time tracking for HR / payroll

Many time tracking vendors offer workforce management packages that include time and attendance, scheduling, absence management, human resources, payroll, talent management, and labor analytics. SMBs should look for a  workforce-specific employee time tracking software that automatically transfers data to your payroll system, while larger companies should consider an end-to-end HR software suite that includes a time tracking module.

Time tracking for mobile services

For companies with a mobile workforce, knowing where your employees are provides accurate technician arrival time to clients, which increases customer satisfaction. A time tracking vendor that integrates with your field service management software and provides GPS location tracking for jobs is necessary.

Time tracking for freelancers, lawyers, or accountants

Time tracking software is commonly used by professionals that bill by the hour, as it provides “proof” to clients of work done. If you’re a freelancer or very small firm, look for a time tracking solution that automatically generates invoices and creates reports for clients. For lawyers or individuals that must meet strict legal regulations, consider a vendor that provides industry-specific time tracking software.

Time tracking for the enterprise

Time tracking software for large companies allows you to monitor employee productivity by recording computer and Internet usage. Many systems even allow you to block specific websites to increase productivity. Look for a system with a simple interface and that integrates with your company’s existing ERP software, as it can be used to complete timesheets and payroll.

Creating Executive Buy-In

Technology purchases must be driven by a business need, so gaining buy-in from leaders and stakeholders is a critical success factor for software approval and implementation. But creating executive buy-in is often one of the most challenging portions of software adoption.

In order to get your software purchase approved, you’ll need to include data in the decision-making process. Be sure to present industry research and relevant case studies, like the one below, when presenting your case. Leaders strive to make data-driven decisions, and in the case of time tracking software, the company’s lack of relevant information should be considered a red flag.

Consider tailoring your appeal to address the concerns of each member of the C-suite to show the benefits of time tracking software. Below are some talking points to get you started:

CFO

Your chief financial officer is highly invested in understanding the costs of your company’s products and services. Time tracking provides clear data that shows where resources are allocated and which projects or initiatives aren’t profitable. A time tracking tool can show you more than how much time was put into a project. It can provide transparency, so you know when people are working on the wrong things.

For example, imagine your developers are backlogged and keep falling behind on tasks. You assume they are overworked, so you plan to hire an additional programmer. However, a time tracking solution would show that your developers are getting roped into IT and customer support. They are spending a disproportionate amount of time on those tasks. Time tracking tools show you that important tasks are being done, but by the wrong person. So rather than hire another developer, you make a decision based on data to hire additional customer or tech support so that the programmers can spend their time on high-level work.

CIO

Your IT department is there to help the company scout and apply useful technology to improve existing processes. By consulting your CIO early in the process, they can help determine if time tracking software supports the company’s 3-5 year growth plan, and create a short list of viable vendors. Whether you’re replacing a manual or existing system, you’ll need to outline where the current process is failing  and how a replacement time tracking system can be used to help the company gain a competitive edge. It’s important to involve IT early, because in the end, they will implement the solution. Discussing the new software’s benefits, security, available integrations, cost, and necessary infrastructure upfront will save time later down the road. Plus, if you suggest a viable technology plan that’s already backed by the CIO, then you will have a stronger case to sell to other executives.

CEO

At a high level, your company leader is concerned about critical workforce factors that affect the organization’s success. Time tracking software provides the transparency, analytics, and dashboards that a CEO needs to instantly see availability, utilization, and overhead. In addition to streamlining processes and achieving greater efficiency, time tracking software can keep the company competitive by tracking and managing remote, global, and contract workers, as well as ensuring compliance with labor laws. Lastly, time tracking software helps the CEO identify critical skill gaps. Work data can be used to pinpoint where an employee needs help or doesn’t have the skills necessary to work at a productive pace, which opens opportunities for skill development and building a talented workforce.

Time Tracking Software Case Study

Company: Fujitsu1

Solution: Replicon

Fujitsu is a multinational information technology equipment and services company headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. With approximately 186,000 employees supporting customers in more than 70 countries, Fujitsu is the world’s third-largest IT services provider measured by revenue.

To keep track of billable hours, expenses, and project timelines, Fujitsu developed an internal time and expense tracking system. The application was a mix of spreadsheets, Excel, manual forms, and email. Two files were completed by each employee and archived by the personnel department. The forms contained working hours, holidays and sick time, and overtime for each day of the month, as well as a project log of activities during the month.

Users and administrators that didn’t have checks and balances in place for the form made errors or did not complete the form, creating inaccuracy when preparing effort estimates and comparing actual costs. This process was painful, time-consuming, and costly. Additionally, the internally-created time tracking solution wasn’t scalable, so it could not fulfill the company’s growing needs.

When Fujitsu saw the enormous backlog of forms that came from each of their offices, they realized it was time for a better solution. Fujitsu needed to provide clients with reports on estimated completion times, total project hours, and project costs. This required records to be accurate when preparing estimates on a project for a client, a time and expense tracking solution that would provide complete visibility into projects, and a system that was easy to use by tech savvy and novice users alike.

After a free trial, Fujitsu selected Replicon since they were easy-to-use, easy to administer, and fully supported. The fact that they were flexible was a bonus:

“Since Replicon is very user-friendly and consolidates time entry towards projects as well as holidays, sick time, etc., our people are happier to enter time. With this system, you can really measure the efficiency of our people, and we can also measure the accuracy we achieve in our effort estimates. By finely measuring the various activities for each project, we can adjust our estimates model, finally making estimates that make sense.” -Nicola Zarrilli, Fujitsu Services

The Results:
  • 90 percent reduction in bill cycle and time and expense approval process
  • Increased project profitability and client satisfaction: with a few clicks, clients can access immediate updates on project timelines and project costs
  • Historical project reports allow for accurate project costing and budgeting
  • Reports are now created using the simple reporting tool
  • Enhanced project management, due to better visibility into employee productivity
  • Estimates and activities are now completed accurately and on-time, due to Replicon’s ease-of-use

Other Market-Leading Solutions

Replicon is one of the top time tracking software on the market and can be used to bill clients, improve project forecasting, and manage employee time and attendance. It was the best software to meet the needs of Fujitsu, but another vendor may be best for your company’s unique needs.

Best-of-Breed Vendors:

Niche Vendors:

PM vendors with strong time tracking functionality:

Choosing the Best Time Tracking Software

At TechnologyAdvice, our goal is to help businesses connect with the technology that best meets their needs. We’ve compiled product information, reviews, case studies, feature lists, video walkthroughs, and research articles on hundreds of leading IT solutions — all to make the buying process more straightforward for decision makers like you.

If you’re curious about any of the time tracking products or features listed in this guide, we’d love to talk to you. Call one of our in-house specialists for a free consultation, or use the Product Selection Tool at the top of the page to get personalized recommendations.

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Sources
  1. “Fujitsu Gets Real-Time Views of Project Time, for Accurate Estimates.” Replicon. Accessed May 20, 2015. http://www.replicon.com/Fujitsu-Case-Study
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