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by Eileen O'Loughlin,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: October 19, 2016

An important aspect of managing the costs of a project is tracking employee time and external expenses separate from other projects or operational costs. Although young companies are usually able to get away with using Excel spreadsheets and standard bookkeeping software to track all this information, as professional service businesses grow and start changing how projects get assigned, they often find these tools to be insufficient for their needs.

The solution is software that’s specifically designed to track the time and expenses associated with each project. But with so many time management systems on the market, picking the right one can be a challenge. With that in mind, we’ve written this buyer’s guide to help you as you start to narrow down your choices from the hundreds available.

Here's what we'll cover:

What Is Time and Expense Tracking Software?
Common Features of Time and Expense Software
What Type of Buyer Are You?

What Is Time and Expense Software?

Time and expense report software gives professional services organizations the ability to monitor and control the labor and costs associated with every project. This, in turn, helps streamline their invoicing, improve bid accuracy and reduce unnecessary costs.

Time tracking software is often used as part of a comprehensive professional services automation (PSA) suite, which would also include features that support project management, help desk, resource management and customer relationship management, among others.

This type of software can be deployed in the cloud, or on premise. In the case of the former, the software is hosted online and accessed via Web browser. On-premise deployment, on the other hand, means the software is installed manually on a user's local servers and run directly on the user's machine. An online time tracking system may be preferable if you need remote access or prefer a lower up-front cost (since pricing for web-based systems is usually by annual or monthly subscription, rather than purchasing a license in full up front).

Common Features of Time and Expense Software

Features and functionality of time and expense reporting software include:

Punch-clock and manual time entry The most basic functionality, which free and high-end products alike will provide: the ability to electronically clock in and out and to manually enter or change clocking times as necessary. The more advanced the product is, the more likely it is to offer PINs, magnetic card reader hardware, automated start/stop capability (e.g., clocking out when your computer goes to sleep) or other features.
Expense tracking Monitor costs of materials, tools etc., with the ability to tie them to individual projects or to general expenses.
Project-based accounting If you’ve got 15 employees each working on five different projects, accurate time reporting requires knowing which projects they were working on when. So this feature is there to help you track revenues and expenses by client and project and then export in a way that your accounting software can understand.
Workload management Some time and expense tracking software can help you monitor the bandwidth of each employee, providing clear reports that show you which ones are working on which projects, how much time they’re dedicating to each one, where they’re heading and when and when they complete a certain project. This helps streamline employee assignments, and becomes especially useful as company sizes grow into the hundreds of employees.
Resource planning An advanced feature, this uses historical data and analytics to improve your ability to estimate any given project. This impacts the accuracy of your bids and optimizes your budgets, so you never end up taking a loss on a project again.
Mobile integration Since many consulting companies travel extensively, the ability to integrate this software with your mobile device is often essential.

What Type of Buyer Are You?

  • Specialty buyers. Although time and expense reporting is generally considered a feature of PSA software, it could also be considered a function human resources or accounting, and similar features can be found in any number of other specialty suites, including construction software, manufacturing software or others. If you fit into one of these categories, take a look at those buyers guide to see if other solutions might be more appropriate for your needs.
  • Large professional services firms. Large consulting operations likely won’t be happy with a basic time and expense tracking program. With the right resources, a more comprehensive PSA solution like Clarizen or AtTask would be a much better fit.
  • Medium or rapidly growing professional services firms. We usually find that this is the sweet spot for the best-of-breed time and expense tracking programs. These will be focused on optimizing the features described above, and are designed to take medium-sized businesses to the next phase of their growth cycle. Example products include Deltek Maconomy, Replicon Web TimeSheet and Sage Timeslips.
  • Small businesses and solopreneurs. There are a number of free solutions, both for computers and for smartphones, which perform the basic functions listed above. Even with cross-user compatibility, these subscription-based solutions are very affordable for companies on even the tightest budget. Products to consider include 1DayLater and Harvest.

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