Architects choose Sage Coretime timesheet software.

Seven Architecture for Sage CoretimeSeven Architecture is a design led architectural practice which has quickly built a reputation for well-considered design work. They are proud to point out that they like to deal with projects which present an intellectual challenge and can be described as more complicated and sophisticated.

A key strength for the practice lies in the educational sector designing for sixth form colleges and the further education sector as well as for the so-called ‘blue light’ sector on behalf of the police and fire services.  Their experience of designing user-led buildings has meant that they have gone from strength to strength in this sector where the needs of the user community are of paramount importance in influencing design. There are also two other divisions of the business called Seven Renew and Zero-e which specialise in historic buildings and conservation projects and sustainable buildings respectively. Their balance of public and private sector work has undoubtedly helped them to weather the recession and emerge relatively unscathed.

Established in 2006 by 3 partners, they now employ 18 staff across 3 offices and handle between 100 and 120 different projects a year of varying sizes ranging from small works refurbishments to urban master plans as well as feasibility studies and on-site construction works.  It was in 2009 when the number of employees began to rapidly grow that the practice decided that a more robust method of recording and storing timesheet data was required.

The Problem

In 2009 the business was then 3 years old and so far a number of home-grown spreadsheets had been used to record time on their projects and track progress. This had meant that staff were emailing around spreadsheets and relying on formulas within spreadsheets to accurately calculate time spent on projects. There was a lot of duplication of effort and the collation process had become increasingly burdensome as employee numbers had increased.

Simon Parker, one of the founding partners explained, “We needed to capture time in a more sophisticated system. We wanted a more robust database and didn’t want to be dependent on Excel formulas.” There was a clear need for better control and a robust database where data could be securely stored and then easily analysed. The system would then automate calculations and remove the risk of error inherent in using spreadsheets. They also wanted a single system which would replace their job database and allow them to record project expenses and track non-billable time such as holidays and time spent on business generation. While much of their business was on a fixed fee basis, they needed better tracking of project progress to ensure that projects were completed within agreed timescales and that they were able to report back to clients with greater accuracy on work in progress.

The Solution

After researching a number of competitor systems which were felt to be either too expensive or too complex for their needs they chose Sage Coretime. The software was easy to use and allowed them to use as much or as little of the functionality as they chose. There were a number of other considerations which influenced their purchase at the time.

As an expanding architectural practice, Seven Architecture were constantly recruiting from 2009 onwards and they looked for highly creative, top quality architects who would strengthen their business offering. Simon explains how this influenced their decision to purchase Sage Coretime, “We wanted to change the perception of us as a business and Sage Coretime instantly helped us present a much slicker and more professional image. As we were expanding we were taking on new employees who often came from larger practices. They automatically expected to be logging project time using a professional designed system. They didn’t expect to be emailing spreadsheets around. Now that we have Coretime, time-entry is much quicker and easier and it has also removed a layer of administrative tasks collecting and collating timesheet data. Coretime gives us great visibility. We can quickly find out what has happened when things occasionally go wrong. Day to day it gives us great control.” 

It was not only their staff who expected a professionally designed timesheet system, Simon continues, “A lot of our work is on a fixed fee basis so we don’t bill by the hour. However we still need to track time in order to monitor project progress. As part of general good practice, clients expect to be kept updated so they can see how the project is progressing against their agreed budget.” Simon adds, “It is reassuring for us to know that we can go into Coretime and find out immediately what stage the project has reached and if clients do ring us up we can be confident that we are giving them accurate and up to date information.” 

Commenting on how easy Sage Coretime was to install and start using Simon adds, “New users adopt the system very quickly, it’s part of the induction process and it’s fairly straightforward. We can add new projects really quickly so there are never any delays before people can start recording time. We use Sage Coretime to record every project regardless of whether it earns or not and we record non-fee earning work on leads for example so we have a record of time spent on business generation. Projects can last from a few weeks to many months, so having a system where we can record all that information makes it much easier to manage.“ 

He continues, “We haven’t needed a lot of support. Whenever we have called Onesys with a problem, they respond very quickly. The team there keep us up to date with offers and they check in with us to see how things are going. We’re very happy with Coretime and the service we get from Onesys.” 

The future 

The Sage Coretime database allows project time to be analysed in a number of different ways. This helps larger businesses wanting to analyse project profitability across a wide spectrum of projects in order to direct business towards more profitable areas. However, in smaller businesses where it is rare to be able to afford to pick and choose what business to accept, efficient management of time spent on projects can also make a big difference to project profitability. 

Aware of Coretime’s reporting and analysis capabilities Simon elaborates on their plans for developing and extending usage of Sage Coretime within Seven Architecture, “We need to make people more aware that ‘time is money.’ We are very lucky as a business in that our staff are committed to delivering fantastic architecture. However the one drawback is that there is always the risk that staff don’t know where to draw the line and that in trying to deliver a perfect design the creative team spend longer than they should on certain projects. Ultimately this can erode profitability.” 

Simon continues, “Our future plans include using the Coretime reporting more extensively to feed back to the teams and help make staff more aware of how project time impacts on profitability. I am hoping it will help us manage hourly rates. It's crucial we continue to balance the delivery of top quality architectural designs with effective and profitable business management. ” 

Simon concludes, “Now Coretime is part of the business culture, we realise more and more what a valuable tool we have at our disposal. We now have a wealth of data in Coretime which not only provides us with valuable management information to help us with our day to day job but also gives us business intelligence which we can use for forward planning.”