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Less paper shuffling--more time for management

Software Tools to Manage
Your Practice

By Amy Diller Haas

Today's powerful personal computers have enabled CPA firms to automate time-consuming manual tasks conveniently and inexpensively. The firms have invested substantial resources in computer equipment and training and are eager to maximize their computer usage. Relatively inexpensive software products are available that enable firms to automate without expending additional resources hiring computer programmers. Generally, the most difficult part of automating is the time spent setting-up data defaults.

After an installation a firm can expect a learning period in which it might seem easier to continue performing tasks manually. After acclimating to the software, however, substantial time savings accrue.

The seven programs reviewed represent only some of those available that enable firms to focus on managing their practices and human resources rather than paper shuffling. For example, Timeslips focuses on evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of performing engagements. Reports are instantly available, facilitating immediate corrective action. Employee Manual Maker enables compilation of an employee manual in a fraction of the time it would take to prepare one from scratch. Schedule It facilitates scheduling of staff, conference rooms, and other resources. Employee File helps to formally document employee data files, maintain performance logs, and print up-to-date status reports.

The three employee appraisal programs, Employee Appraiser, Performance Now, and Review Writer provide convenient methods of maintaining employee performance logs throughout the year and greatly speed up the appraisal writing process. Employee review software provides a very valuable function for firms that must manage their human resources effectively, often without a separate human resource manager or department. A larger company with a human resource manager can also benefit from the time saving templates and expert advice offered by the programs. Formal, documented and regular employee appraisals provide support for salary increases and promotions or their absence. Regular appraisals may prevent discrimination or wrongful termination suits.

Timeslips Deluxe (Version 7)

Timeslips is designed to automate the time and billing functions of professionals. It enables a practitioner to tap the power of personal computers without spending numerous hours customizing a general database program. Typical tasks, as well as the specific terminology, abbreviations, activities, custom fields, and reports common to the accounting profession are already defined. A firm can easily customize the pro forma database to meet specific needs. Entering names, addresses, rates and billing arrangements, professional staff, and other chargeable activities creates the database. Businesses already using a computerized billing program, can import data directly from ASCII files. Once set up, professionals enter time spent performing tasks for clients onto on-screen timesheets by selecting from pull-down lists. Timeslips automatically tallies charges, summarizes bills, and prints out neatly prepared client statements.

Getting Started. The process begins by entering default data for clients including--address, terms, required detail level, client messages, and salutations. Up to six different billing arrangements can be set up. Billing rates are entered for professional staff and expense activities, such as travel expenses, telephone calls, postage, and photocopy fees. The program provides an extensive list of activities, expenses, and billing options typical to the accounting professional. By assigning rates to activities, a firm can get automated quickly. An operational feature copies common data to multiple clients without rekeying. Actual time required to complete this process is a function of the number of clients and staff.

Using Timeslips. Users travel through the program by utilizing pull-down menus and keyboard shortcuts or by pointing and clicking icons arranged as a flow chart by task, called the Navigator. A tutorial database helps new users learn the program quickly. Advanced users may set up customized macros that can speed up data entry and reduce the learning curve for new users.

The user selects the new button, and data screens necessary to set up a new client appear. After creating a client record, professionals record their time directly to on-screen slips that closely resemble manual time-sheets, choosing clients, activities, and expenses from drop down lists. A stop watch feature can track time spent on a task. The user records client payments or adjustments by selecting the transaction icon and entering the amount and type of payment. The program automatically tallies the client's bill including compilation of charges, application of payments, and computation of balance due, based on set-up defaults.

At the end of a billing cycle, the billing manager can review all work performed and make any necessary modifications by selecting the bill cycle icon. The default setting can be overridden if necessary when slips are first prepared or during the final proofing stage before printing. A multilevel password system limits unauthorized access and changes. Limited access to sensitive data such as professional and client billing rates maintains privacy. After finalization, bills are printed and mailed.

Accounts Receivable. Timeslips provides a complete accounts receivable function, including aging of balances, computation of interest on overdue balances, detailed payment tracking, and billing histories. Set-up defaults control the level of detail on bills including subtotaling and printing of client messages. Each client can have several different billing arrangements varied by engagement or activity. Adding graphics, or adjusting layouts, fonts, headers, footers, or margins can add distinction to bills. Firms may print bills onto custom laser, continuous-feed, or plain paper forms.

Reports. Timeslips provides a multitude of pro forma reports for summarizing and viewing data. An instant pie chart and bar graph feature provide graphic viewing of productivity reports. The Report Wizard provides users with quick access to predefined reports without having to learn complex skills. Experienced users can experiment with customization options by editing ready-made templates. The user can quickly specify and modify data order, subtotaling, detail level, and time period. One convenient feature is the ability to easily print address labels and Rolodex-style cards.

The program prepares productivity and profitability reports by client, engagement, or staff member. The optional budgeting function uses variance analysis to calculate efficiency and effectiveness. These reports provide ongoing instantaneous results of client activity, professional billing hours, dollars, and expense activity, enabling the practitioner to focus on managing billing time rather than bills.

Add-Ons & Technical Support. There are a number of add-on programs that integrate seamlessly with Timeslips including a spell checker and Telemagic, contract-manager software. TAL, Timeslips' accounting link, enables accounting software programs to work seamlessly with Timeslips. Another add-on, TS Remote, allows users to independently create time and expense slips on a remote computer and transfer them to a central billing computer via floppy disk, modem, serial link, or network connection. Support options include a deluxe plan with unlimited toll-free telephone support, on-demand support, 24-hour fax service, bulletin board, and online support via CompuServe, America Online, or the Internet. Timeslips consultants can provide support locally.

The program is simple and intuitive in design. Because of its great diversity it may take some time to learn all the functions. Timeslips is a terrific tool for automating the client billing process. It can turn the dreaded task of completing manual timesheets and compiling bills for clients into a valuable management aide.

Employee Manual Maker (3.0a)

Developing a formal written employee manual is a necessity in today's complex employment environment. Employee Manual Maker provides a series of clearly written, typed, and formatted computer templates that facilitate the process. Appearance and wording of each template can be tailored to suit specific requirements. After completion, the printed policy templates create a distinctive employee manual.

The written reference manual accompanying the software is divided into two sections. The first section coordinates with the templates provided on disk. More than 150 policies on employment, compensation, salary, and benefits are available. The second section is an employer's survival guide that includes over 100 pages of guidance, tips, and articles of interest. These encompass topics, such as wrongful discharge, the Americans with Disabilities Act, mandatory drug testing, sexual harassment, safety, interviewing techniques, and questions not to ask job applicants. It also contains over 23 forms and memos such as employment applications, performance evaluations, termination letters and severance agreement, as well as a sexual harassment questionnaire and discussion guide. Using Employee Manual Maker enables a firm to compile a customized manual in a fraction of the time of starting from scratch.

Using Employee Manual Maker. No additional learning is required to complete the templates because a firm uses their own word processing program. Ideally, building a comprehensive employee manual should be a team effort. The reference guide clearly explains the process. A firm can easily identify the policies they wish to document by examining the illustrations in the written manual. Next, they enter their data into selected policy templates and print a first draft for management feedback and
consensus. After making necessary changes, it's recommended that the revised draft be submitted to the firm's attorney to determine compliance with Federal, state, and local laws and to a labor relations specialist. A company may then have its final copy professionally printed or duplicated internally. Pages can be bound or placed into a loose-leaf binder for easier updating. The manual can be enhanced by printing the pages in color, by adding clip art and logos, or by importing original drawings from other programs.

Policy templates are divided into chapters beginning with an introduction. This includes a welcome letter, disclaimer statements, and an employee's statement of receipt and acknowledgment. A table of contents is numbered by the firm to coordinate with the printed manual. The company overview section contains a narrative on company history, mission, and background; an
organizational chart; and a list of
employee and employer expectations and responsibilities.

The next chapter contains general employment policy templates. Policies include employment classification, job descriptions, conformity with equal employment opportunities' laws, bonding requirements, confidentiality, health examinations, salesperson agreements, and proof of citizenship. A segment on standards of conduct explains disciplinary actions and dismissal policies.

The compensation and performance chapter encompass policies on wages and salary. Templates cover subjects such as overtime pay, pay periods, mandatory paycheck deductions, termination, and severance pay. Performance and compensation review templates describe procedures for assessing employee's work performance and performing a wage review. Also included are work policies covering schedules, attendance, lunches, breaks, and early closings.

A board discussion covering benefit eligibility and paid leaves of absence, including holidays, vacations, jury duty, and funeral leave, is contained in the benefits chapter. Templates on unpaid leaves cover family, medical, disability, educational, military, and personal leaves. Insurance templates encompass group, disability, health, dental, and life insurance. Policies covering Social Security, workers' compensation, and unemployment are available. Profit sharing, retirement, and other miscellaneous benefits, such as credit unions, educational training, and blood-bank programs are also covered.

The fourth section contains a myriad of subjects such as bonuses, company meetings, computer software copying, community service, dress code, grievances, layoffs, personal phone calls, safety rules, transfers, visitors, service awards, and smoking policies. Finally, topics not covered by the templates that an employer may wish to include in their manual are listed.

Employee Manual Maker helps a company systematically define and document personnel policies. Because the process requires a great deal of planning, effort, and teamwork, this program can turn a necessary chore into a motivational experience.

Schedule It

Schedule It is a program for scheduling engagements, appointments, and resources. Users navigate the program by clicking on buttons and icons, selecting from pull-down menus, or using keyboard shortcuts. Context sensitive help is available. Schedules may be viewed and printed in daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, pocket-sized trifold, Franklin Day Planner, or Day Runner format. It also provides a full-featured address book and a to-do list function. Schedule It provides instant notification of scheduling conflicts so they may be immediately resolved. Additionally, an alarm feature alerts employees of upcoming events, meetings, or appointments. The program is network-ready and allows for transfer of scheduling information by e-mail. Comma-delimited text files, a common file format, are used to import and export data. Users can easily export data into other applications to create custom reports. A password system limits unauthorized access and helps maintain confidentiality.

Using Schedule It. The process begins by entering staff data into an online address book. After staff and other resources are input, they are conveniently accessed as quick lists. Staff members are selected from drop-down lists and their assignments entered. When multiple staff are required on a particular engagement, their schedules can be planned simultaneously. Assignments requiring multiple days can be planned without retyping by selecting a repeat option. Scheduling of repetitive events such as daily, weekly, or monthly appointments and meetings can be completed for multiple employees or resources simultaneously. Schedule It automatically calculates total hours scheduled for each staff member and signals conflict. When scheduling staff, the user may also include agenda lists, items to be brought to appointments and other important details. The program automatically calculates total hours scheduled for each employee. Additionally, to schedule important resources like conference rooms or equipment the users only need to point and click. Individual or master schedules may be printed or sent to employees by electronic mail.

Dragging a to-do list icon to a specific date quickly creates a to-do list. Items may be prioritized; they are automatically rolled-over to the next day if left undone. Furthermore, to-do lists may be copied to multiple schedules in one step. Dragging and dropping the events' icon to a specific date allows event or job scheduling for multiple employees in one step. Schedule transfers can be made via e-mail using MS-MSPI version 1.0 compatible e-mail. The software features an alphanumeric pager that notifies employees of events or appointments.

Schedule It offers a solution for the difficult task of scheduling and coordinating appointments for staff and is easy to learn.

Employee File

Employee File is a specialized database program that enables employers to maintain employee records on line. It eliminates the need for paper files that may contain quickly jotted or unreadable haphazard notes. Furthermore, it forces standardization of employee records and encourages documentation of data that may become a valuable resource in the event of a lawsuit. Since an online employee database provides multipurpose accessibility, it eliminates maintaining duplicate paper file systems. Formally documented records are generally more organized, consistent, and complete. Moreover, Employee File provides a timely and comprehensive resource for writing employee reviews. Workwise Evaluations, an add-on program that integrates with Employee File, will perform full employee analysis functions such as peer-to-peer, and task oriented reviews.

The program reads numerous popular file formats including comma delimited text, dBase, Paradox, FoxPro, Btrieve and MS Access. In addition, Employee File enables creation of a customized template that provides seamless data transfer to and from other programs.

Navigation. Users navigate the program by clicking on button bars and icons and using pull down-menus and keyboard shortcuts. Users can switch among three views by clicking tabs on either the employee folder, the corporate folder, or the corporate policy folder. A fully editable sample database enables users to acclimate themselves to the program very quickly.

Getting Started. The first step in using Employee File is to set up the Corporate Policy Folder by defining the policies to be tracked. These policies create the drop-down lists for entering individual employee data. The program provides predefined codes for tracking employee activities, benefits, and job categories. A firm may modify these codes to meet their specific needs.

The process begins by defining general company information including phone and fax numbers, as well as, the organization chart. Next, the firm establishes their job descriptions, salary, and payment information. The program provides a list of job categories based upon the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) standards facilitating the preparation of EEO reports. In addition, the program automatically tracks and calculates the accrual of time-off benefits. Businesses may also define Employee Note codes enabling a wide variety of issues, such as attendance, tardiness, or job injury, to be graphically tracked.

After setting up the Corporate Policy Folder, employee data is entered. All of the benefit options, job categories, descriptions, and note codes previously established are assessable as drop-down lists. Users need only point and click the items on these lists to assign health, pension, vacation, and time-off benefits when setting up the employee's data file. A Timesheets function tracks employee activity including projects worked on and time spent completing assignments. Employee performance can be recorded to provide documentation for job appraisals and reviews. Employee File also maintains job and salary history, certifications, and education data. The Employee Memo feature creates, sends, and stores memos sent to employees.

Corporate Views quickly prints, views, and exports predefined or custom reports. Predefined reports present statistical information regarding the status of benefits such as a list of employees eligible or enrolled for a benefit. Custom Views allow the user to create custom reports by specifying fields, data selection criteria, and data sorting order.

Add-Ons & Technical Support. Workwise provides 30 days of free technical support after installation. For a flat annual fee, unlimited technical support, free annual software updates, newsletters, and special promotional pricing on additional products are available. A number of add-on programs including Work Wise Evaluation, an employee evaluation tool, are available. Crystal Reports is a package that works seamlessly with Employee File to expand the reporting function. The Imagelink Imaging module scans and permanently stores documents such as birth certificates, resumes,
licenses, and diplomas in the database. These online documents may be conveniently copied or faxed right from
the screen.

This program's intuitive design is easy to learn and use. Although it provides a more comprehensive repository for employee data than the other employee review software, it does not include the review-writing function. When integrated with Workwise Evaluations, however, it will most likely provide equal or even greater service.

Employee Appraiser 3.0

Employee Appraiser creates, maintains and tracks employee performance and facilitates the appraisal-writing process. The Employee Log stores employee performance and activity data throughout the year. Spreadsheets and graphics can be inserted directly into an appraisal form by using OLE (object linking and embedding) technology. Furthermore, appraisals can be quickly circulated via e-mail using MAPI (Microsoft Mail) or VIM (cc:Mail).

Getting Started. A brief tutorial covers basic procedures for creating an employee appraisal document that acclimates new users. However, to really learn all the features, a user should explore on their own by using the on-screen advice and context sensitive help. Additionally, the clearly written manual provides excellent guidance in learning the program. Users navigate the program by selecting from pull-down menus, clicking on button bars and icons, or using keyboard shortcuts.

Writing Appraisals. To prepare an appraisal, the reviewer completes a fully editable template. If desired, a firm may create a custom template by importing their own standard appraisal form. Reviewers select the employee to be evaluated and a writing style (second or third person). The program automatically places the employee's name and correct gender specific language into the form.

The Writing Assistant tool facilitates the appraisal writing process by supplying sample text. The appraiser begins by selecting the performance factor they wish to evaluate from an extensive drop-down list, for example, technical, computer, or communication skills. An employee's performance is rated as either improve, meets, or exceeds. As each factor is rated, a drop-down list of summary statements appears, that may be fine-tuned up, to be more positive, or down to be more direct. For example, if the appraiser rates the employee's communication skills exceeds, the text excellent verbal communicator will appear. If desired, the reviewer may edit the comments further after pasting them into the review. To write independently, the appraiser may toggle the Writing Assistant off and on at any time.

Another useful tool is the Coaching Advisor, a function that provides on-screen suggestions for improving performance and motivating employees. The coach provides advice for both the employee and his or her manager. Suggestions can be pasted directly into the appraisal or other documents such as an employee handbook or a separate memo.

Typical word processing tools include editing, copying, and pasting text; formatting, finding and replacing text; inserting tables; and applying borders or shading. A firm can personalize their appraisals by inserting graphics, company logos, pictures, or OLE objects. Once the document is complete it is automatically spell-checked and scanned by the Language Scan glossary. The Language Scan glossary is a utility that identifies words or phrases that should be avoided and contains suggestions for more appropriate language

The Employee Folder function serves as a repository for employee data. It tracks employee personal information, notes, and activities that serve as a resource for appraisal writing. Keeping the employee's folder up-to-date can facilitate preparation of the annual review. Additionally, pasting items from the employee folder directly into appraisals, will corroborate or support performance.

Add-Ons & Technical Support. Employee Appraiser is also available in the Best Manager edition that includes additional appraisal factors, memos, and document templates that can improve communication and motivate employees. These enable a firm to quickly prepare job profiles, performance objectives, employee recognition memos, development plans, and corrective action memos using a process similar to the preparation of employee appraisals. Toll-free technical support is provided to registered owners.

The program is easy to learn and intuitive in design. Both the written manual and the tutorial are easy to follow. The program contains an extensive list of fully editable appraisal topics. Not every template in Employee Appraiser includes a quantifiable rating for performance factors. If a quantitative rating in every review is important, a user would have to modify or create a custom template. Both the written manual and on-screen help provide directions to create or modify a template.

Performance Now

Performance Now provides tools for preparing performance reviews. An employee log saves notes on an employee's activities and performance during the year covered by the review.

Using Performance Now. An excellent tutorial provides an introduction to the program. Users navigate through the program by selecting from pull-down menus, clicking on button bars and icons, or using keyboard shortcuts. Context-sensitive help and human resource advice are available throughout the program. There are five predesigned review forms, which may be customized, or a firm may easily design their own. Each review form is divided into sections that can be modified. The reviewer moves between sections by clicking on tab buttons.

Clicking on Start New Review begins the process. The reviewer selects an employee to be evaluated or enters data for a new employee. The program automatically places the employee's personal data into the review form. The reviewer may select from a list of 32 performance elements to evaluate an employee. Each performance element is rated using a five-point scale. The program assigns a narrative rating ranging from unsatisfactory to outstanding based on the reviewer's quantitative ratings. As the reviewer rates each factor, text appropriate to the rating appears on screen. The text is pasted directly into the review form and may be edited further if necessary. After performance elements are rated, the program calculates an overall rating and prompts the reviewer to write a narrative summary.

After performance elements are rated, the reviewer may also rate the employee's success in achieving goals using a five-point scale. Additionally, the reviewer may adjust the weight of each goal to consider its relative importance. When planning future goals, a measurement basis and a due date for completion are set. The manual recommends that a Plans for Improvement section be completed only after the reviewer and employee meet. As a starting point for discussion, the reviewer may view and paste improvement ideas for each performance factor directly into the document. Data from the Employee Log provides input and support for the appraisal and, if updated regularly, should result in more relevant and effective reviews. Additionally Performance Now will automatically scan the review for incorrect spelling or inappropriate language. For example, the program would warn the reviewer of possible discriminatory or excessively subjective language if the reviewer refers to employee age or appearance in the appraisal. Finally, the program automatically includes sections for the employee's and reviewer's
comments and for the employee's
acknowledgment, signature, and date.

Add-Ons & Technical Support. The program provides common word-processing tools, such as editing, copy and paste, formatting, find and replace, and a thesaurus. The program uses both RTF (rich text format) or ASCII for importing and exporting text. Multilevel password protection is available to prevent unwanted access to confidential information. Registered owners get free technical support.

The well-organized manual is easy to follow. After running the tutorial, it is possible to immediately write a review without having to constantly consult the manual. On-screen help and advice are available at all times. Although a reviewer may easily edit the contents and formatting of a review form to modify performance factors, use of the Intelli-Text Designer provides even greater flexibility. Intelli-Text Designer is an add-on module that allows the performance elements, factors, and supporting text to be built or modified to exactly match a firm's needs.

Review Writer (3.0)

Review Writer and AMS/3 are software programs that facilitate the employee appraisal writing process. Review Writer targets individual managers while AMS/3 targets human resource
departments for organizationwide
implementation. Both products
coordinate seamlessly with ManagePro (another Avantos windows' product),
a goal setting, and planning program
that includes calendars, to-do lists,
and reports.

Using Review Writer. Writing an effective performance review is often a multistep time consuming process. Review Writer facilitates the process by breaking it into concise steps. The Quick Build function walks new users through the process. More experienced users may work independently by using the Document Editor, which provides a complete word processing function. On screen, content-sensitive advice based on the book To Do a Superior Performance Appraisal by Dr. William Swan is available at the touch of a button. A manager can collect and maintain employee performance data in the Employee Log and paste it directly into the annual appraisal.

The appraiser selects a predesigned form or may personalize a form using the designer utility. The first section contains general employee information such as name, job, title, and review period. During this stage, the reviewer must establish evaluation goals and performance factors. Defining specific, measurable evaluation goals are an important part of the review process. Performance factors are skills necessary for a job such as accounting knowledge and communication, technical, or computer skills. The final step is defining a quantitative rating scale to evaluate each performance factor. The program provides a variety of rating scale. After the content and design of the form are decided, the evaluation process begins.

The reviewer rates the employee on each performance factor and on their success in achieving goals. As each goal is rated, the user is prompted to write an evaluation message. The program suggests sample text that corresponds to the rating for each performance factor. This fully editable text is placed into the review. In addition, text from an employee's performance log can be pasted directly into the review. Maintaining the performance log throughout the year provides a resource of both relevant and timely data. The last phase in rating the employee is writing a performance summary. The program provides a list of improvement ideas for incorporation into the document. The final section covers future goals, employee's comments, and signature.

Finally the software automatically checks the appraisal for quality, completeness, correct spelling, and appropriate language. A form designer utility can modify the form's appearance or be used to insert pictures. A firm can either modify a pro forma template or create their own custom appraisal forms if desired.

The program is very easy to learn. It offers less automatic sample text for writing reviews, requiring the reviewer to write more independently. Quick Build provides a basic review function that can be quickly mastered. Using Review Writer enables the writing of higher quality, relevant, and professional reviews in less time. *

Amy Diller Haas, CPA, is an assistant professor of business at the Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York.

The seven programs

enable firms
to focus on managing their practices and
human resources rather than paper shuffling.

These reports provide ongoing

instantaneous results enabling the practitioner to focus on managing billing time rather than bills.

The fourth section contains a

myriad of subjects such as bonuses, company meetings, computer software copying, community service, dress code, grievances, layoffs, personal phone calls, safety rules, transfers, visitors, service awards, and smoking policies.

The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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