Looking at my work in progress report the other day, I had one of those "there must be a better way" moments.
Across the nation - or even the world? - accountants in practice are probably doing exactly the same: looking at values on a WIP report and trying to work out if they represent something for which we can invoice a client.
Part of the reason for this is that software companies since the year dot have been selling software that records hours worked per staff member, by client, but fail entirely to capture the nature of what was done, let alone report on it. What I need to know is what my team have been doing, what stage the work has reached and what has been delivered - or could be delivered - to the client.
We work on a fairly strict event billing system - nothing should leave the office without the related bill. In addition, if we have done a measurable part of a large job with an agreed total fee, we will bill this in stages as the work progresses. None of that information is readily ascertainable from a traditional time recording system!
If anyone knows of a work recording system that records workflow rather than time I would be interested to know. Or if you work on fixed fees rather than timesheets, how do you know who to bill and when? If you have a new, small firm, and start everyone on fixed fees paid by monthly direct debit, you have probably the ideal system - but unfortunately, for an established firm with 100's of clients that's almost impossible to achieve.
Of course, one solution we are exploring is delegated fee budgets and responsibility for bills - if the person working on a job is tasked with delivering it and the bill, it might happen quicker. After all, in a shop, you use the cheapest labour to take the money from customers - but for some reason in a professional firm it's the most expensive people who do the billing! Surely everyone in the office should know how much to charge for a job - in fact, why use professional staff at all? Couldn't a secretary or admin person do the billing? Answer: yes, they could, but in a traditional firm no-one except the engagement partner knows what the fee is going to be (no, not even the client!) - a situation perpetuated by software companies that continue to pander to this antiquated billing system.
So it looks like we're probably stuck with a combination of managed delegation, workflow records on a variety of Excel spreadsheets, and the WIP reports as a backstop to make sure we haven't missed anything! I still think it's daft, but I'm not sure what else to do.