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Old 02-13-2004, 06:00 PM
Don Tolson
Thoughts Media Review Team
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 749
Default A Consultant's Best Friend? Two Peak's BillRate 1.2 Reviewed

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.

Getting Started
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.

Entering 'Entries' (Time, Mileage, and Expenses)
BillRate's focus is on billing of time, mileage and expenses to a project, so only the two levels of hierarchy are provided. From a billing perspective, this makes sense, but to truly make this a timesheet recorder, there would need to be additional task-level layer.

Tapping the appropriate icon at the bottom of the screen (for Time, Mileage, or Expenses) brings up screens for these entries. Each of them must be associated with a defined Project.

Figure 6: BillRate�s Time entry screen.

Time is recorded in hours and minutes and while there's no stopwatch function to automatically record your time on a particular job, you can input the start and end times and have BillRate calculate the duration, using the triple-dot button to the right of the duration field. The Time entry screen also provides space to put in a description of the work, and assign the entry to a Category.

Figure 7: Categories screen.

Categories are the place where you can define the type of work being done for the client and assign hourly rates to each Category. However, Categories are global for all clients, so this assumes you will be charging the same rate to every client for the same type of work. When you create a Category, it's a good idea to assign a code, since this is the method by which categories are displayed in the drop-down selection box on the Project's screen. If you don't create a code, then the category entry will show up as a blank in the selection box, and the entry won't show up properly on the billing screens.

Figure 8: Expenses screen.

Expenses are similar to time, except that there is the addition of a fairly extensive 'Type' list provided to describe the type of expense. To record an expense, values for both Project and Type must be selected from the list. Unfortunately, I didn't see any way to add or remove items from the Type list. I also didn't see any options for dealing with different currencies. The amount of the expense is recorded on the Billing tab.

Figure 9: Mileage screen.

Mileage recording uses the differences in odometer readings, but you can work around this by just putting 0 in for the starting point and the mileage you want to charge at the ending point. For tax purposes though, it's always better to put in the true odometer readings, especially if you're charging the mileage back to a home-based business.

BillRate provides three user-definable custom fields which can be attached to each entry, regardless of type. The names of the custom fields are global to the entire database (all clients, all projects) and is accessible from the Tools menu. For each of the entry types, you can also record the amount to be billed, and whether the amount has been billed to the client, and/or payment received. In my line of business, we leave that to the Accounts Receivable system, which is fed from my timesheets.

Figure 10: BillRate�s Billing�s screen.

Reporting in BillRate consists of a Quick Summary report or an exported Excel spreadsheet or XML file. The Quick Summary provides totals of all entries for all clients. There is no sub-totalling on individual clients or projects.

Figure 11: A quick summary of all entries for the week.

Exports to Excel and XML are available from the Desktop version of BillRate only. When exporting to Excel, you are given the option to select which fields to export and to change the formatting options for non-text fields (date, $$, numbers, etc.).

Figure 12: Selecting fields to export to MS Excel spreadsheet.

Figure 13: Excel Export Advanced Settings.

When I did a test export to Excel, I noticed that where I had billed two and a half hours duration to a project, the spreadsheet still showed the start and end time as 12:00 AM (the default). Where I had explicitly provided the start and end times, these and the correct duration were provided. For consistency's sake, it would be better to have the database (or the export) translate the duration into equivalent start and end times.

Overall settings for BillRate are accessed through the Options selection on the Tools menu.

Figure 14: BillRate�s Options screen.

BillRate's default is that the first day of the week is assumed to be Monday, so entries added for Sunday are assumed to be part of the previous week. This got me a bit confused when I first used it, since I thougt I'd lost an entry I had just added. This was quickly rectified though, when I realized what was happening and changed the default.

The Options screen is also where you define the mileage rate. They've cleverly avoided the currency and kilometer vs. mile conversions by simply making the selection a generic one and leaving any necessary conversion between the systems to the user. Again, only one rate for mileage is supported and it applies to all projects. However, you can change the amount billed for each entry separately via the Billing screen. There are also options for altering the look and feel of the user interface and this is where you can change the names of the Custom fields.

BillRate allows you to add information on either the desktop or Pocket PC versions. To keep things consistent between the two, it also provides a function to allow synchronization of the data on the Desktop with the Pocket PC. Synchronization is initiated from the desktop version.

Figure 15: Initiating Synchronization from the Desktop.

The first time this is done, a selection message pops up asking which device should be taken to have the 'correct' version of data. Read this screen carefully! As is warned in the message, selection of which device (Desktop or Pocket PC) is taken as 'correct' is a one-time only option. You have to decide right up front which version of the data is going to have the final say, since it doesn't do the same negotiation review that ActiveSync does. And I couldn't find any way to tell BillRate to change this option once it was set. Thus, if you say the Desktop is the correct version, any entries added on the Pocket PC would be lost at the next synchronization.

When you do a synchronization, only the entries (Time, Mileage, and Expenses) and their associated Clients and Projects are transferred. Your preferences, such as Start of the Week, Mileage rate, etc. will need to be set separately on the Pocket PC.

The nice thing about BillRate is that the interface is simple and straightforward, and everything operates pretty much as you'd expect it to. The only real 'gotcha' I encountered was the one-time Synchronization option. I would have preferred that synchronization worked more like what we are used to in ActiveSync, where there is a rationalization of desktop vs. Pocket PC data, with the option for the user to choose which one when there is a conflict. Even an ability to change who is right on each synchronization would be helpful. Maybe this could be added as a feature in BillRate 2.0.

Other than that, I (of course) have a few suggestions for possible future versions of BillRate:
  • Allow for addition of Tasks to Projects;
  • Enhance Synchronization to allow transfer of preferences (Start of Week, Mileage Rate, etc.) as well;
  • Allow for different charge rates (mileage and time) for different clients and/or different projects;
  • Add project-specific contacts and account numbers;
  • Provide a way to edit the list of Expense Types.
Where to Buy
BillRate is available from Handango for $59.95 USD. [Affiliate] Right now, there is a promotion which will take $20 USD off the price for both modules. A trial version which will work for 14 days is also available there. For the present, TwoPeaks is providing free upgrades for life on BillRate, so you don't have to worry about keeping up with the latest bug fixes and features.

According to the TwoPeaks Web site, the Pocket PC version of BillRate is compatible with all devices running Pocket PC 2002 or Windows Mobile 2003. This would include all HP iPAQs, Dell Axims, Toshiba E-series, as well as most devices manufactured since early 2002. It is NOT compatible with Pocket PC 2000 or non-ARM processor devices. Once installed, the Pocket PC software requires 266K of memory. I installed BillRate to my SD card and everything seemed to work just fine.

On the desktop side, BillRate will work with Windows 2000/XP and Office 2000/XP. Installed, BillRate takes up 2.2M of disk space.

In the space of completing this review (from January 15th to the beginning of February) two new versions of BillRate have been released. Obviously, the team at TwoPeaks is listening to its users and working hard to provide a solution which meets the needs of professional consultants. For me, I'd really like to see something which is a combination of BOnTime and BillRate. I like BOnTime's capability to deal with a three-level hierarchy (Clients, Projects, and Tasks), internal checking to ensure there are no duplications, and reporting capabilities from the Pocket PC version. BillRate covers the other end of the business equally well, providing a great interface for dealing with billing of time, expenses and mileage. And, BillRate has a desktop version which is fully integrated and synchronizable. If we could arrange a marriage, I think we'd have a perfect solution for me.
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Old 02-13-2004, 07:28 PM
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 717

This many seem like a lot of money, and it is, so this might not be for everyone. But from my own experience I will just tell you this. All you need to do is miss one hour of your time as you go from client to client and this software will pay for itself right there and then. I am usually pretty good about keeping track of my hours or so I thought. Right on the third day of using BillRate I caught my first missing hour and thus the software paid for itself. That's my two cents worth.
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Old 02-13-2004, 08:26 PM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 481

I've used a few very good time tracking software packages but I find that BillRate does it's thing the way I do mine. I always found something annoying (but not a show stopper) with others but so far I haven't found anything with BillRate that I didn't like. And after using it for almost a month if anything did pop up it probably wouldn't be a big deal if I didn't see it until now. I guess it's the simplicity of entering information that has made me a dedicated user. Before finding BillRate I wouldn't always be so careful in entering data but would run up a couple of days on a gig and then enter it. Now I do it at the end of each day or gig.

While Don mentions some things that I didn't realize I needed something that was easier to use instead of getting lost in too heavy an interface. I will have to read the review more carefully when I have some more time since it is very complete.

Jeff -
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Old 02-13-2004, 09:51 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 65

What's the deal with not being able to enter a task for the project? Most of my projects have multiple tasks associated with them. Is this not the case with this app? I haven't had a chance to download the trial, yet, but I'm looking for a product like this.


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Old 02-13-2004, 10:06 PM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 430

Originally Posted by rtrueman
What's the deal with not being able to enter a task for the project? Most of my projects have multiple tasks associated with them. Is this not the case with this app? I haven't had a chance to download the trial, yet, but I'm looking for a product like this.
(Need to say up front that I'm completely biased......)

Very few of these apps allow for all three levels. BOnTime (which has come a long way since Don's review) does cater for this...
Darryl BurlingReporting from the inside :-)blog:
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Old 02-13-2004, 11:36 PM
5000+ Posts? I Should OWN This Site!
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Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 5,616

It's now up to version 1.31! I pclove: when software is in a rapid development cycle like this.
iPhone 4! ☠☠☠ Mid-2010 15" MacBook Pro! ☠☠☠ Gateway LT2102h! ☠☠☠ Dell XPS M1210!
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Old 02-14-2004, 02:48 AM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 65

Originally Posted by darrylb
Originally Posted by rtrueman
What's the deal with not being able to enter a task for the project? Most of my projects have multiple tasks associated with them. Is this not the case with this app? I haven't had a chance to download the trial, yet, but I'm looking for a product like this.
(Need to say up front that I'm completely biased......)

Very few of these apps allow for all three levels. BOnTime (which has come a long way since Don's review) does cater for this...
That's interesting as I've noticed this same issue with the programs I've tried in the past. Years ago, when I was the proud user of a Palm III, I purchased an application called TEAK. It had a companion program for the desktop like many current apps have. Although I've tried others for the Pocket PC and although I haven't used a Palm since my Ipaq 3600, I still use the desktop version of TEAK. It does three levels!!!

Did I mention I own a consulting company?

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Old 02-15-2004, 03:45 AM
Join Date: Aug 2002
Posts: 54
Default TimeBiller

I find Time Biller by Herbert Fann much better. TimeBiller has the ability to drill down to details on one screen. You can assign multiple rates to the same or differemt clients. I find this very useful as I charge a ldifferent rate for research vs. coding.
I do however like to built in expense tracking in "Billrate". If TimeBiller had the expense tracking then there would be no contest IMHO.

- Derek
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Old 02-15-2004, 09:16 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 11

I use BillRate on a daily basis (OK, technically on an hourly basis after all it is a billing program) and it is just awesome! I have used other Billing programs and they just don't quite match up to BillRate. Sure, it has room for improvement but don't forget it is a brand new program where most of the other ones have been around a while!

And the folks at Two Peaks are working day and day out making this the only Billing Program you will ever need. You can tell a lot about an application by where it came from and where it will go by the people who created it. Consequently, based on my experiences with the people at Two Peaks, this program will go far!

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Old 02-16-2004, 09:31 AM
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 54
Default synch options

Can you check your assessment of the the synch situation? My experience is that it will synch properly between two devices with different data... It's only the first synch and troubleshooting where one computer will replce the other. Has anyone else played with this?
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