Friday, February 13, 2004
A Consultant's Best Friend? Two Peak's BillRate 1.2 Reviewed
Posted by Don Tolson in "SOFTWARE" @ 10:00 AM
It's nice to see software developers coming up with tools for the Pocket PC to assist mobile consultants, which are designed around what consultants really do and need to keep track of. Hot on the heels of BOnTime, Two Peaks Software has just released their own time and expense billing/tracking program called BillRate.
As I mentioned in my review of BOnTime, trying to come up with a tracking/billing program that works for all consulting situations is a difficult task, since many companies have different ways of recording time for different types of workers within their own organization! Whereas BOnTime focused on the time tracking and the client/project/task hierarchy, BillRate focuses on the billing aspects of time, expenses and mileage associated with working for a client.
The executable you download to your desktop PC consists of two modules - the desktop version of BillRate and the Pocket PC version. When you run the application, you can select either a Complete install of BillRate (both desktop and PPC) or Custom install. With Custom, you get to select where the software is to be located on the desktop, and whether you want to install the Desktop version, the Pocket PC Version, or both. Depending upon the option chosen, the software installs the desktop version first, then launches the normal ActiveSync installer to put in the Pocket PC version. The installation proceeds pretty quickly, taking less than a minute on my laptop and iPAQ2215. On the desktop, BillRate needs about 2.2M of disk space. On the Pocket PC, it takes about 266K of memory.
For most of this review, I'll focus mainly on the Pocket PC version (after all, this is Pocket PC Thoughts, no? :)), but many of the functions and the interface are identical on the Desktop version of BillRate.
As seems to be the wont of time tracking applications on the Pocket PC, the first screen when you start it up has a lot of blank, white space.
Figure 1: Start up screen for BillRate.
(Actually, this is the default view of all entries which have been recorded for the current week. You can change this via selections in the View menu at the bottom of the screen. Here's what it looks like when you've got some entries already recorded.)
Figure 2: BillRate main screen, showing details of weekly entries.
Now is probably a good time to add your clients and projects. One of the neat features of BillRate is that you don't have to tie them together in order to record time, mileage or expenses. As long as you have a project entered, you're set to go! (But more on this later).
Adding Clients is as easy as selecting Client from the New menu. For those with built in or attached keyboards, it appears that TwoPeaks has added keyboard shortcuts for most of the frequently used features, judging from the underscored characters. I wasn't able to test this though.
Figure 3: New Client screen.
Clients are identified by name, address, account number, and contact. BillRate also provides a page of notes which can be used to store miscellaneous other information. I was able to put in clients with duplicate information (same client name, account number and contact), so you'll have to be careful to ensure you don't get them confused.
New Projects are created in the same way, by selecting Project from the New menu at the bottom of the screen.
Figure 4: New Project screen.
When you create a project, the only thing you have to provide is a name. BillRate gives you the option of assigning it to a client (or not!) which provides a great deal of flexibility, especially for those little 'one ofs' which always seem to come up. However, it would be nice to have the client defaulted to the last one used, or if you have a client highlighted when you select Project from the New menu. Also, there's no place to put project-specific account numbers or contacts, but you could use the Notes area for this.
Editing of information about a client or a project is accomplished by going to a separate Manage Client and Projects option from the Tools menu.
Figure 5: Manage existing clients and projects screen.