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Online Services Offer Ways of Tracking Time

May 24, 2000|LAWRENCE J. MAGID | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There are plenty of software programs that small businesses can use for invoices, billing and other business reporting functions. You can also get these services free on the Web.

OpenAir.com is part of a growing number of application service providers, companies that provide software applications over the Web instead of via software running on the PC. One difference between OpenAir and other ASPs is that the company does not charge businesses that have fewer than five users. After the first five users, you pay $3.95 a month per module (or $6.95 for all three modules) per user.

The three modules are Time Bills, Expense Reports and Time Sheets.

The time-bills section of the site allows you to capture billable events by filling out an online project sheet. You begin by setting up a free account with the service. Then you enter the contact information for one or more clients. That process is pretty straightforward. You enter name, address, e-mail and other data. You can then create a time bill for each job you do by entering a few details on-screen. You select the client from a pull-down menu (they must first be entered in your client list) followed by the date of the service, the number of hours and minutes and your hourly rate. You can either enter the amount of time that was spent or, if it's a task that you're doing while online, you can use the Web site to time the event for you. You can also enter a flat rate (such as an individual untimed project) or an expense item for reimbursement.

Once you have one or more time bills you can create an invoice. Just select the time bills you want to include and the Web site generates the invoice. You can print it out, e-mail it, or for $1.65 per invoice have OpenAir.com print it out, stuff it in an envelope and mail it for you.

The service also generates a variety of business reports including accounts receivable, project budgets, income received and more.

The time sheets part of the service allows you to maintain attendance records for your business. Data can be flowed into the time-bills section for billing purposes or used with the company's payroll service, which it operates in conjunction with PowerPay.com. That service can cut checks or arrange for direct deposit of employee paychecks.

Invoices and other documents can be tracked by client, activity or project. Expense reports, which are integrated with other OpenAir modules, can be accessed while you're on the road, so long as you have access to the Web. In fact, all the modules from OpenAir can be accessed from any Web-enabled device, which allows you to manage your own invoices and expense reports or those of the entire company from anywhere in the world.

If you or one of your employees, for example, is doing a remote project in Chicago, either of you can log in from a hotel or client's office to record expenses, time or other details. The person managing a project for the entire company can also log in from the road or the home office to find out how things are going.

Another advantage of this service is that you don't have to download or install any software to make it work. That adds to the ease of use.

A few things concerned me, though. For one, the site is a bit too modular for my tastes. If you're in an invoice or a time-billing area and wish to add a new client, you have to leave to go to the new client area. That's extra mouse clicks and extra time.

Speaking of time, that's my biggest concern. I accessed the site from my high-speed DSL line, yet I still found myself having to wait a few seconds every time I started to perform any new task. That's a result of the program running over the Internet. Even a relatively fast Internet connection is slow compared to how long it takes to enter data and move from screen to screen on a PC-based program. This issue is not unique to OpenAir.com; it's an issue with virtually any Web-based application program.

Another issue is security. Of course, the developers of the site build in encryption and all sorts of other security procedures to foil hacker intrusions. But as we've seen lately, even the biggest sites on the Web can be vulnerable to hackers.

Only you can determine whether a service like this is right for your business. But the good news is that you can try it for free and, because it's easy to learn, it won't cost you very much time to try it out.

*

Lawrence J. Magid can be reached at larry.magid@latimes.com. His Web site is at http://www.larrysworld.com.

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