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Phil Jones Associates (PJA) is a transport planning and urban design consultancy with both private and public sector clients. Its 25 staff work from offices in Birmingham, London and Reading and they serve clients across the UK on projects ranging from £1,000 to £250,000. It will be helping to deliver the recently announced ‘Quietways’ cycling scheme for London. Boris Johnson, Major of London calls it, “A series of secret cycling passages through London … designed for people who want to cycle slowly, in their ordinary clothes, away from most of the traffic.” Rather than an engineering focus, the company is design led. It is a transport planning company but with a softer ‘place-making’ element to its work.
In common with all companies whose primary products are knowledge, and the time spent sharing it, PJA needs to keep a close eye on how project time is spent and invoiced. A simple mistake, like forgetting to pass on a charge for a third party service – a traffic count company, for example – can be the difference between profit and loss for a smaller project.
Nigel Millington is a director and shareholder of the company and, being a Yorkshireman, he’s very keen to keep on top of the financial side of things. Each of the company’s staff can be involved in up to twelve projects at a time. In the company’s early years staff entered project time in spreadsheets that were then analysed and combined, somewhat arduously, with other project data by a part-time administration assistant. Information such as previous billings to a client, hourly project rates and so on were held in different locations making her job increasingly difficult. An office move led to consideration of a more automated process.
Nigel had worked with a large ERP system in a previous company. He knew this was inappropriate for PJA. Ideally, he wanted a specific set of management information but without the high cost of implementation and complexity of a full blown ERP system. He also wanted an application that would scale easily as the company grew. At this time, three or four years ago, it had just eight employees.
After a fair amount of searching, Timesheet appeared to answer his data capture and project management needs and, because of its potential to integrate with other systems, it promised to meet his wider management information needs as well. A member of the DSA team did an online demonstration and its familiar and intuitive feel convinced Nigel that he’d found the right system. Timesheet’s spreadsheet-style approach to data capture meant that the staff could switch easily from the old system to the new. And Timesheet’s flexibility, together with DSA’s general helpfulness, meant that he’s ended up with a system that integrates information from Sage 50 Accounts and the project control database to deliver reports precisely tailored to his needs.
The integration of Timesheet with Sage 50 means that he keeps on top of all key areas of PJA’s consulting operations:
He says, “It helps us keep track of where we are, the percentage of time on chargeable jobs, the cost of projects and even keep track of people’s leave.” Variations often reveal resource allocation issues – something that can be highlighted to the person’s manager for resolution. The system provides the hard data needed to inform the discussion.
The Web interface means that anyone logged into the company’s network can work on their own data wherever they are. Consultants complete their timesheets weekly and on time, so that the monthly invoicing cycle is always as complete as possible. The company sends out about eighty invoices a month and, when you consider that 25 people can be submitting information on up to 12 projects each, this is an exercise that can only be achieved through Timesheet-style automation.
Nigel, for he is the director most interested in and suited to management accounting, is able to interrogate project information by any combination of job, client, project manager, project director and, now, office. He can also get a complete breakdown project by project. And he can easily generate this information for his fellow directors. He says, “It’s just a couple of button clicks to get this information all in one place, no matter how large we grow.” He added, “It’s readily-digestible, ERP-style output, but without the iceberg underneath.” He also guessed that it’s probably cost him a tenth of an ERP system.
The Timesheet system is at the heart of the company’s intelligence. It points to project problems as they arise and provides the detailed information needed to deal with them. It also helps maximise the efficiency of the billing system. But, as a caveat to those who might follow, Nigel suggests, “For the best results, the implementation needs to be led by senior management who should take ownership of the data.”
Phil Jones, Managing Director and founder of the firm, added “Timesheet and the associated Project Reporting element are now fundamental to our project management systems.”