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    In this blog we will share our thoughts on timekeeping, industry best practices and how technology can help improve the process.

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What is Time Capture? The Timekeeper’s Other Memory

By Todd Gerstein
CEO & Founder, Smart WebParts

Over the last few posts, we’ve been making the case for time capture as the timekeeping solution that is the most accurate and the least painful for your timekeepers.

Still, you may be asking yourself, “OK, but what exactly is time capture?” Well, that’s the question we’ll attempt to answer here.

Essentially, time capture is defined as a way to make sense of time-related data through timestamps generated by system software. This works because most software relies on internal clocks to generate timestamps, which tells us when something happened and how long it lasted.

The idea, briefly, is to assist the attorney’s memory, by sending them a journal of their day’s activities, in order to prepare complete and accurate timesheets.

A Brief History of Time Capture

The first stab at time capture technology is what I call “interrupt style.” (Though I could call it “whack-a-mole style,” for reasons that will become clear shortly.)

Essentially, it works by popping up a window after every email sent or document saved and asking who you want to bill it to. However, this method failed, because seeing a box pop up 60 plus times a day made people crazy.

Once it was clear that attorneys didn’t want to keep whacking at moles (either on their desktop or on their smartphone), the focus turned toward passive monitoring, which would be invisible to the timekeeper.

 The First Generation: Passive Desktop Monitoring

This is where passive monitoring started: Software installed on the desktop monitored every keystroke and activity in an open window. Good idea, but the design was flawed for a number of reasons:

  • Desktop systems return too much data, finding it hard to distinguish between real work and the clutter between key clicks and open window monitoring.
  • Phone calls, mobile calls and smartphone activity are totally ignored, which means missing data and missing time.
  • Desktop systems can’t account for work on more than one computer, which means more missing data.
  • Desktop concentric systems are the right and only answer for the sole practitioner or a very small firm. Medium to large firms don’t want to install, maintain and update an application on every desktop.

Maybe most importantly, monitoring key clicks and open windows just isn’t an accurate measure of work time.

When we were designing Smart Time, we completed time and motion studies to determine if this was the best way to monitor activity. What we found: While an attorney might only be on the keyboard for 6 minutes returning an email, the complete event might have taken 15 minutes between thinking time, referencing a document and checking the calendar to schedule an appointment. That’s definitely more than the 6 minutes the desktop monitoring system reports!

Even worse, after a while, users begin to depend on these systems that clock the desktop. They end up believing that the 6 minutes presented to them by the desktop monitoring system is the right amount, which often leads to the underreporting of time.

The Second Generation: Desktop Monitoring Plus Appliances

Essentially, this approach simply added appliances to monitor telecommunications–desk and smartphone calls–to the desktop monitoring software.

The major downside of deploying these appliances is that they usually run a customized operating system over specialized hardware, neither of which are likely to be compatible with the other systems previously deployed in the typical data center. Some appliances have been virtualized – but still are problematic.

This “solution” has all the problems of the prior generation, plus the drawbacks of appliances. One look at this and a CIO is going to say: Applications installed on every desktop and proprietary hardware and operating systems in my computer room? Yuck, no thanks!

The Third Generation: Enterprise Time Capture

What we do with Smart Time is the latest in the evolution of time capture. We refer to it as enterprise time capture, and since Smart Time is the only one of its kind on the market, the following comments refer to our product.

Enterprise time capture returns the most complete data set to the user. Instead of monitoring the desktop, it monitors the firm’s central system. What are some of the things it can track?

  • Emails sent and received
  • Appointments on the calendar
  • Document work (from the document management system log table)
  • Desk calls: internal, external and inbound
  • Mobile calls
  • Dictation
  • Web research

Enterprise time capture is best suited for medium to larger firm that have centralized exchange servers (for email and appointments), document management systems, records systems, dictation systems, phone switches, Blackberry enterprise servers, CRM systems and any other systems that have a SQL backend or log data to tables.

Another benefit is that it is easier to deploy and maintain for the IT department. It has a zero footprint on the desktop and there’s nothing proprietary–it’s all Microsoft based. As long as timekeepers are working on firm enterprise systems, it gathers data no matter where they are.

Judgment at the Forefront

Perhaps the best advantage of enterprise time capture is that it doesn’t attempt to supplant the timekeeper’s memory, but rather works in concert with it. Human judgment is still superior to a computer’s raw data. Enterprise time capture works to support a timekeeper’s judgment by jogging the memory at the moment the user prepares their timesheets.

In fact, this system only shows extended time when it is known to be accurate. For example, it is easy to measure the length of a phone call, but harder to measure how long a timekeeper worked on an email or document. In this case, it will timestamp when the event happened, but leave it up to the timekeeper’s discretion to properly book the time.

Wrap Up

So, what can time capture provide that isn’t currently being provided? In short, it can:

  • Automate the manual reconstruction process, saving time and pain
  • Provide the reconstructionist with a journal to help them prepare timesheets
  • Provide the contemporaneous timekeeper a safety net for their timesheets
  • Enhance the accuracy of the entry
  • Increase booked hours by closing time leaks