As an independent engineering company, Unison Engineering & Consultants GmbH has been offering engineering services with a focus on plant design for over 20 years. The product range of Unison's business units "Engineering New Plants", "Re-planning Old Plants" and "Engineering Services" extends from concept studies to as-built documentation and consulting to basic and detailed engineering. The company, based in Berlin, works for companies from various sectors such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, the food industry and mechanical engineering. Its customers include well-known companies such as Bayer, MAN, Bilfinger and Sandoz. Unison has been using the cloud-based solution ZEP - Time Recording for Projects since 2012 for time recording and accounting of project working hours as well as project controlling.
Rena Knauer is a commercial employee responsible for all commercial matters at Unison, including project accounting. Ms Knauer started working for Unison in 2012, at about the same time the company decided to look for a special solution for time recording, accounting and project controlling. The decision was triggered by the realisation that the previous way of working, which involved manually recording project times in Excel lists, was no longer up to date. Ms Knauer remembers:
"Before the introduction of ZEP, a staff member was almost alone in requesting the recording of project times on lists, reconciling them with the agreed project times and finally invoicing them."
Moreover, this approach lacked precision and traceability, and errors in time recording were commonplace.
Unison received the first hint about ZEP from a project partner. "The company we know operates in a similar environment, was already using ZEP and was very satisfied with it." Based on this good experience, Unison decided to follow suit and also rely on ZEP as a software solution for time recording and accounting. "The advantage for us was not only that we were spared lengthy and time-consuming research and evaluation of the numerous solutions available on the market. We benefited from the other company's experience in using ZEP right from the start," Ms Knauer explains the approach.
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.
In addition to pure ZEP time recording, Unison uses the holiday and absence management module, which can also be used to set up and manage overtime accounts, as well as the billing module for invoicing. This has also made it possible to replace the usual invoicing via Microsoft Word in this area.
Unison employees record the working hours for the individual planning projects directly at their workstations via the intuitive ZEP web interface. In doing so, they assign these working times to the corresponding project for which these times were created.
Ms Knauer can get an overview of all recorded working hours at any time via ZEP. She explains:
"Our employees work flexible hours and flexitime. This requires a corresponding relationship of trust that all work done is also documented and that all documented work has also been done. With ZEP, I am able to recognise when working hours have not (yet) been recorded and I can inform the employees accordingly.
For the management, ZEP also offers the possibility to get an up-to-date overview of the project progress at the click of a mouse and to take appropriate measures if necessary. This is necessary, for example, if the recorded project times deviate from the project times agreed with the customer.
Speaking of the customer: "In some cases, we have agreed on weekly reporting on the progress of the project with our customers," reports Ms Knauer. Instead of painstakingly gathering the necessary data for this, with ZEP she can simply export the data in the form of a corresponding report, e.g. as a PDF file, and forward it to the customer by e-mail. She adds: "One advantage with ZEP is that the reports are not only available in PDF format, but can also be exported as a Word file, for example. This means that I am still able to adapt the reports to our company layout first, e.g. insert our logo, before I send the report to the customer."
Holiday planning, as well as the administration of overtime and absenteeism are quickly done for Ms Knauer thanks to the corresponding additional modules of ZEP.
However, ZEP's invoicing module is particularly important for Ms Knauer's daily work. It allows her to automatically transfer the data entered in ZEP into the module and create the corresponding invoice directly from it. The manual transfer of project times recorded in Excel lists into an invoice form, which was previously necessary, is now a thing of the past, as is the associated susceptibility to errors.
ZEP can be operated both in-house and as a cloud service. In cloud computing operation, ZEP is operated in a certified (ISO 27001, IT basic protection) high-performance data centre on a fully redundant, highly available server cluster in Germany. The internet connection to the ZEP servers is provided at 1000 Mbit/s via redundant fibre optic lines. The usage contract concluded between ZEP customers and provantis naturally also includes the contract for order processing that has been mandatory since the EU Data Protection Regulation (DSGVO) came into force.
Unison has opted for the cloud computing model. Ms Knauer explains:
"In-house operation would require internal IT capacities that we do not have here in the company. In addition, with cloud use we have a transparent cost structure per month and user, which also includes all costs for operation and maintenance of the solution - including regular software updates."
In conclusion, Ms Knauer draws a very positive conclusion from the use of ZEP over several years so far:
"I work with ZEP every day. The solution is intuitive and very user-friendly and, with its numerous functions and additional modules, contributes significantly to simplifying and facilitating my daily work."