5 May 2017

Five reasons why Microsoft Excel is not always the best choice for time tracking

Microsoft Excel has established itself as a solution for recording project times, especially among small and young service companies. This is certainly due on the one hand to the wide availability of the software as a standard component of the common Microsoft Office packages, and on the other hand to the familiarity of most employees with the basic functions of the spreadsheet.

Moreover, especially for start-up companies, there are more important questions in the early days than the question of choosing a suitable time recording solution. The use of standard software, which is also used for other areas in the company, then obviously makes sense.

Despite these indisputable advantages of Microsoft Excel, in practice we find that many of these companies quickly "reach their limits" and then have to look for an alternative relatively quickly. Why this is the case will be briefly discussed below.

Reason 1: The company is growing, and so is the complexity of time recording with Excel.

Many service companies achieve continuous growth shortly after their foundation with more and more projects and more and more employees. But with this growth, the complexity of using Excel as a time recording tool also increases. The more diverse the projects and the more diverse the associated accounting modalities become, the more difficult it becomes to map them in Microsoft Excel. That doesn't mean it can't be done, it's just that usually no one in the company has the detailed Excel knowledge to implement it. And the numerous templates available on the internet for time recording with Excel are not sufficient either, because they usually only cover standard cases.

Reason 2: The company is growing, and so is the effort required for time recording with Excel.

The second reason that speaks against the use of Microsoft Excel as a time recording tool at some point is also connected to the growth of the company: the higher effort. In the beginning, it is relatively easy to record project times in Excel for a small number of projects and employees. As a rule, even the boss does this himself. However, if the number of employees and projects increases, it becomes more and more time-consuming to record time via the office solution. As a result, the precision and timeliness of the recording and accounting suffer when you have to wait until all project times have been collected.

Reason 3: Manual transfer to settlement

Speaking of accounting: As mentioned at the beginning, Microsoft Excel enjoys great popularity and is used in the most diverse areas. Accounting for project times is not usually one of them; instead, most companies use invoicing or financial accounting systems. There, the project data recorded in Excel must first be entered until they can be calculated or posted. For example, the project controlling trend study conducted in 2016 came to the conclusion that 62 percent of the survey participants still manually transfer the recorded project times to the accounting system. On the one hand, this leads to additional effort and, on the other hand, has a negative impact on accuracy if project times are transferred incorrectly, for example.

Reason 4: Project controlling becomes difficult

Another reason against using Microsoft Excel as a tool for time recording is the question of project controlling. The working hours can be entered, but it is difficult or impossible to gain relevant key figures and insights for project controlling. There may be Excel tinkerers somewhere in the world who can do this, but standard Excel users are unlikely to succeed. Furthermore, it cannot be the task of a service company to delve into the deepest depths of Excel in order to create the technical basis for finding out who worked on which project and when, which project times were billed and for which projects the budget agreed with the client is almost exhausted.

Reason 5: Time recording 2.0 overtaxes Excel

Information at the push of a button is the motto. This applies not only to project controlling by the business or project management, but also to time recording by the project employee. In many service companies, the rule is: it's best when the offices are empty. Because then the employees are on site with the customer and ensure billable project hours. But it is precisely these "mobile workers" who need a solution for quick, convenient and precise time recording that can be used just as easily and intuitively on a mobile device as on a desktop computer. Microsoft Excel was simply not designed for this use in a mobile environment.

Companies are looking for alternatives: Migration to ZEP

And so it is little wonder that companies such as for example Next Level Integration or Infocient Consulting also started with Microsoft Excel as a tool for time recording, but then looked around for an alternative. Jochen Weintz, Managing Director of Infocient Consulting, confirms: "In the early days, Microsoft Excel was sufficient to create the corresponding activity reports on the project work done, and standard invoicing software was used to write the invoice. However, with the further expansion of the company in the following years, this approach reached its limits. The previous largely manual workflow for time recording and invoicing proved to be no longer feasible against the background of an ever-increasing project volume and an ever-increasing number of employees. Soon it 'felt' like it was taking us a whole day just to gather the documents needed for the payroll."

And Dr Stefan Klose, Managing Director of Next Level Integration, adds: "From five employees onwards, time recording with Microsoft Excel means a disproportionate amount of work; moreover, keeping track of the project work done is very time-consuming."

Both companies ultimately decided to use ZEP. ZEP stands for Time Recording for Projects. The web-based solution has been on the market since 2000 and offers project-oriented companies a complete solution for time recording and verification, travel expenses, project management and controlling as well as invoicing.

Next Level Integration and Infocient Consulting are just two of the more than 640 companies that now use ZEP for time recording and accounting. Many of them also started with Microsoft Excel, but eventually reached their limits.