It’s 4:45 on a Friday afternoon at Accounting Firm, USA. Fee earners are itching to start their weekends, but one final task remains. Before the happy hour beer taps can flow, before elated dogs (and disinterested cats) can greet their returning owners home, before the family can pile into the minivan and head out to Johnny’s high school football game, a strange and ancient ritual must take place.
Let’s pause our narrative here for a moment and do a little exercise. Try to remember what you were doing three days ago at 11:14 a.m.
If you can answer accurately without checking your calendar or digging through your emails, you’re either: a) Will Hunting, or b) a sentient machine sent back in time to assassinate John Connor, ensure the success of the robot uprising, and then become governor of California for some reason.
And yet, as ridiculous as it sounds on its surface, this exercise is pretty much what the poor fee earners from our story will be asked to do before they can end their workweeks.
Now, these employees will have the benefit of using their calendars, emails, and notes as points of reference, but let’s be real—few accounting and consulting professionals can reconstruct exactly what they were working on every hour of every week.
But a new generation of AI-powered technology is breathing life back into the timesheet, absconding manual entry in favor of digital assistants that capture activity in real-time, dig through various network resources to estimate how time was spent, make smart predictions about future project scale, and even generate automatically-prepared timesheets.
We reached out to an industry expert and did some research of our own to determine why embracing these new timesheet processes is important and how those changes can benefit firms. Here are four reasons the accounting firm timesheet must evolve in 2019:
1. Smarter pricing
Let’s say there’s a particular accounting or consulting process that your firm has been performing relatively the same way for years. We’ll call it Process Alpha, because that kind of sounds like the title of a James Bond film, and we all know accountants are basically the same thing as swashbuckling British super spies.
You charge your clients $50,000 for Process Alpha. Why $50,000? Because that’s what you’ve always charged, and that’s close to what your competitors charge.
But how many man-hours does it truly take to complete Process Alpha? You have a general idea, but because you’re relying on manual timesheet data that may contain inaccuracies, you can’t be sure.
With intelligent, automated timesheet software, the picture becomes clearer. Now that you know the exact amount of labor required to complete Process Alpha, you may learn that it has a low profit margin or is even a money loser, and you need to either adjust your price or quit offering it altogether.
Conversely, you could discover that Process Alpha is a cash cow. You could then lower the price to become more competitive, or just instruct your sales team to start pushing it harder.
“Timesheet software that uses AI and activity capture makes it easier for fee earners to report their time more accurately,” Mike Marubio, vice president of business development at Intapp, said. “The resulting data is wildly valuable for management. The things you can do with it are astounding. You can start pricing your engagements correctly, and that’s just the beginning.”
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2. More efficient project management
In a scene from Return of the Jedi, Rebel Alliance Chancellor Mon Mothma outlines a two-pronged plan to destroy the Empire’s second Death Star. First, a ground assault team, led by Han “probably still has frostbite” Solo, will infiltrate the forest moon of Endor to deactivate the shield generator.
After sufficient time has passed for Han’s unit to complete this objective, a squadron of starfighters—led by Lando “sorry about that whole betrayal thing” Calrissian—will fly into the Death Star and blast its reactor core with a proton torpedo, causing an explosive chain reaction that will take out the entire station.
We don’t know how long Han is given to complete the ground mission, but for the sake of whatever, let’s call it 36 hours. What we do know is that, thanks in part to the interference of an indigenous race of merchandise-friendly teddy bears, Han fails to complete the mission on time. When Lando begins his assault, the Death Star’s shield is still up, forcing the Rebel fleet to hold off the attack and causing the deaths of countless pilots and crew.
Of course Han does eventually get the shield down, allowing the Rebels to successfully blow up the Death Star (again). But that’s beside the point. The real takeaway here is—Mon Mothma’s project management skills need some serious improvement. This was a project that required very precise timing, and Ms. Mothma dropped the ball big time.
Maybe it wasn’t entirely Ms. Mothma’s fault, though. What if she was relying on data from manual timesheets, and saw that Han (and other handsome, roguish space captains like him) always completed shield generator detonations within 36 hours?
If she’d had intelligent, automated time management software, she might have seen that the process actually takes an average of 42 hours, and would have thus planned out the project more effectively. Think how much the Rebels could’ve saved in X-Wing repair costs (and, y’know, lives)!
OK, so that was about the nerdiest illustration possible of proper timesheet data improving project management, but the principle still holds true in accounting and consulting. If you know exactly how long it takes your team to complete certain tasks, you can create smarter project plans that maximize productivity, putting the right resources in the right places at the right times. And that can lead to big financial returns for your firm.
“We deployed our timesheet software for a large global accounting firm in the U.K, and the results have been astonishing,” Marubio said. “They’ve accrued tens of millions of pounds in additional fees since partnering with us.”
Wicket the Ewok, who reportedly uses Intapp timesheet software for his Etsy rope snare trap business, could not be reached for comment.
3. Informed personnel decisions
Here’s one aspect of automated timesheet software that’s a bit “icky,” but it’s still very valuable for firms.
Let’s be clear: We’re not suggesting that automation software should be used as some kind of Big Brother (the symbol of an always-watching totalitarian government from 1984, not the CBS reality TV show, come on guys) that monitors everything employees do and punishes them for every minute not spent working. If you use it that way, morale at your firm will suffer, and the net effect of the upgrade will be negative.
What we are saying is that the software can lead to smarter personnel decisions, so you can elevate your rockstars and provide help to those who need it. For instance, if you see one worker is completing a task in two hours that takes most people four, that guy or gal might deserve a raise—or should maybe be moved to more prestigious accounts. If a worker is taking six hours to do that task, it’s probably smart to invest in some additional training to help that person be more efficient and productive.
“Every firm has questions about personnel and how they’re performing. But if you have hundreds or thousands of employees and you’re not sure their timesheet data is exactly accurate, those questions are hard to answer. Products like Intapp Time make it so you can finally ask those questions—and trust the answers you get,” Marubio said.
Having an accurate record of employee time can also help you put together smarter, more effective teams for larger projects. You can see which employees complete these types of projects fastest and most effectively, then team them all up to create a supergroup that’ll put Christina Aguilera and the rest of the “Lady Marmalade” singers to shame.
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4. Defensible overage charges
No client likes receiving a bill for an overage. As you well know, sometimes they will ask for a detailed account of the work that was done and what led to the overage, occasionally to absurd degrees (“Can you tell us precisely what work this accountant performed from 3:04 to 3:06 p.m. on Jan. 12?”). If they don’t like the answers they get, the consequences may be severe.
With accurate data from automated timesheet software, it’s much easier to make a solid case for an overage. You actually can see what that accountant was doing from 3:04 to 3:06 p.m., or what anyone else on your team was doing at any given time.
“Automated timesheets give you a strong defense for overages. You can say, ‘Here’s everything that was done, here was the problem area where we couldn’t reconcile your books, this is why we need to add some overtime,’” Marubio said.
The result is a lot less client heartburn due to overages, and ultimately better client/firm relationships. Plus, because you’ll now be pricing your engagements more accurately, you’ll probably have fewer overages in the first place.
Evolve now with automated accounting timesheets
Hopefully by now you have a better understanding of why the accounting timesheet must evolve in 2019—and how automated timesheet solutions like Intapp Time can make that evolution possible.
Intapp Time is the only enterprise-grade time capture and analysis product specifically designed for large accounting firms. It’s easy and intuitive enough for your front-line professionals, yet powerful enough to provide actionable insights to business managers and CFOs.
And now we know what that means for your firm—smarter pricing, efficient project management, informed personnel decisions, defensible overages, and so much more.
For accounting timesheet evolution, the time is now. Working with partners like Intapp makes the change easier and maximizes your results. See how Intapp can help your accounting firm meet the challenges of 2019 and beyond now.
Access free white papers from Intapp on accelerating acceptance and continuance with automation and turning global independence into a growth opportunity.