Many of us have to provide accountings of the time we spend working on various projects and tasks. And most of the time, we don’t have accurate reports because we are too busy actually doing the work to actually keep track of how long it’s taking. Fortunately, BOnTime is a tool that should make ‘guesstimates’ a things of the past. It will help you not only keep track of time but also quickly be able to provide reports later. Whether you are a project manager to needs to ensure that you remain within your timelines, a consultant who needs to track billing hours or just curious to know where all the hours in a day go, BOnTime 3.0 is a tool designed to make tracking time as painless as possible.
You will need an ARM-based PocketPC (like the Intel XScale processors, the Samsung processors running many iPAQs or the TI OMAP family of processors) with the .Net compact framework installed. The .Net framework is a free download from Microsoft if you need to install it.
BOnTime’s installation procedure is not the most intuitive out there. So, make sure you read the instructions before you start. In a nutshell, you begin by unzipping the file. The executable must then be copied over to your PDA and run there. Installation is then completed with a soft reset. A simpler installation process would be nice.
As I reviewing BOnTime, an update was released. Installing it required the same steps as the original installation but there were no issues.
Before you can start tracking time, you will need to do some settting up. BOnTime uses a hierarchical system that starts with clients (an organization, a department, an individual, etc). Under each client, you have projects which are made up of tasks and jobs (sub-tasks essentially). Figure 1 shows a typical hierarchy. Time tracking takes place either at a task or job level. Tasks and jobs can be categorized as chargeable, non-chargeable, operational and pre-sales. Unfortunately, you don’t have the option of adding or modifying these categories. All this information can be edited at any time. Bring up the properties of the item you want to change and make your changes.In Figure 2, I am making changes to the client set up screen. You can also add, copy and delete items at any level of the hierarchy.
|Figure 1: Main screen||Figure 2: Setting up a new client|
The hierarchical architecture has some limitations though. It imposes a structure that might not necessarily work for everyone. For example, I would have to set up a new client simply to track a one-off task. Reversing the hierarchy might be a better solution. You could create a task and then assign it to a project if you wanted. Projects themselves could then be rolled up to clients again if needed.
BOnTime allows you to work with multiple files if you prefer to keep clients separate.
Keeping track of time
Once you have set up your clients and projects, you are ready to start tracking of time. As indicated earlier, time is tracked at the level of jobs and tasks. There are two ways to track time usage.
The first, Full Timer, acts as a stopwatch. You start it when you begin work and stop it when you’re done. Timing can be paused (for coffee breaks for example). A very useful feature of the Pause button (as if a coffee breaks isn’t one) is that you can start other jobs while others are paused (up to a limit). To help you find all running jobs, you can use Edit -> Find -> Running Jobs. Once you stop the timer, the time elapsed will automatically be calculated. You will not be able to edit the time values (An annoying dialog box saying “up” that appeared when you tried was fixed in build 20050315). Another useful feature is that once started, the timer will continue even if you close the application.
The second mode is called Durations. Here you simply pick the date and manually enter the task or job duration. Different entry formats are supported (eg, 3:30, 3.5 or 210 all correspond to 3.5 hours). Make sure that you have selected the task or for which you are entering the time; if you selected a job, it will be overwritten with the new information (I learned that the hard way).
Switching between the two modes is straightforward (Tools -> Entry Mode).
|Figure 3: Summary screen|
BOnTime comes with a feature where you can budget time for projects. With an assigned budget, you can then track your project progress using the Summary Tab. And at the end you can see how accurate your budget was.
The main screen also has two other tabs: Summary and Info. The Summary tab (Figure 3), provides a quick overview either by Targets (completed vs open tasks) and Categories. You can select data from today, yesterday as well as the current week or a week ago. The Summary Tab also provides options to the Agenda view and the Reports (more on these a bit later). The Agenda view is a list of all the jobs you have on a particular day. You can also edit jobs from this view.
Finally, the Info tab contains background information such as the build date and some debugging information that might be required if you need support from BSystems.
BOnTime provides a suite of tools that make it easy to analyze where your time was spent. There is a total of 7 available reports:
- Hours per day
- Hours per day by type
- Hours per day per client
- Hours per day by project
- % Chargeable
- % Utilized
- Timesheet report
The reports can be exported to either text or HTML. Exported files can be sent to main memory, to the iPAQ file store (if you have an iPAQ) or to a storage card. The process is straightforward: Pick your report and parameters and the report is immediately generated. Unfortunately, when you export a report, you will get the data tables but not the graphics.
|Figure 4: Report screen|
There are a few things I did not like about the reporting tools. First, I did not like the line-graph reports. I found that the bar graphs are more effective because the data being graphed is discrete. Second, I would have liked to see a report tracking time against the project budget (For example, as a pie chart with a second pie chart graphing actuals over the budget). Finally, I could not get the report, Hours per day, to export; I kept getting a ‘No Data’ error. All the other reports work without issue.
A few more things
No documentation is available except the online help file. As I started my review, I was dismayed when the first time I went to use the help file, I found that none of the index entries worked. Fortunately, this problem was resolved with an updated BOnTime 3.0 version. As far as online documentation goes, it is well written and provides all the information that you will need to make use of all of the software’s features.
As well, BSystems is working on a desktop version of BOnTime as I write this review. No other information is currently available on Bsystems’ website at this time. I suspect though that it will offer similar functionality on your PC and provide integration between the two versions.
What I liked
- The two timing systems, Durations and Full Timer, make time recording really easy
- The ability to track multiple durations simultaneously
- Reports are easy to use and the export makes it easy to integrate data with other applications (like Excel)
What I did not like
- I wish I could set up my own categories
- A less than intuitive installation process
- A ‘Hours per day’ report that does not work
I still have to to track the time I spend on different projects but with BOnTime, I found the process to be a lot less painful. Overall, BOnTime 3.0 is a well thought out application and I suspect that the few annoyances that I found will get fixed in future maintenance releases.
Update:Two days after I posted my review, BSystems updated BOnTime to Build 20050402 which adds a desktop installer and fixes a number of bugs.