Launch of actiTIME driven by the need for accurate and consistent time-tracking
In the past, InterTalk relied on traditional timesheets that each employee had to fill out each week. “It was very difficult and laborious, and not rigidly enforced by management,” Matthew MacDonald, Chief Engineer at InterTalk, recalls. As a result, timesheets weren’t done in a timely, consistent or reliable manner.
When the InterTalk project and management team learnt about the R&D tax incentive program offered by the Canadian government, they thought that was an opportunity not to be missed, as the company’s developers and engineers were doing a lot of research in the field of telecommunications and information technologies. At the same time, they realized that lack of consistent time records was going to be a hindrance.
This became the main driver in introducing online timesheets at InterTalk. The company vetted a number of options and eventually found actiTIME to be the best fit in terms of cost and value.
The main driver to implement actiTIME was the SR&ED tax-incentive program. It has since grown to include other uses within the company with regard to financial projections.
Using timesheets to apply for the R&D tax incentive program
“One of the challenges we face as a technology company is that you’re never done. In order to survive you have to keep building new things. We have several large development and innovation teams, and they do a lot of software and hardware development and technology research,” Matthew shares.
Companies in Canada that invest in R&D activities can take part in a tax incentive program "Scientific Research & Experimental Development" (SR&ED). This program incentivizes companies to push the boundaries of technology. The company size or industry doesn’t matter - it’s only the activities that count.
“Anything involving researching new technologies, doing experiments, building proof of concept models or prototypes, doing any field beta testing – anything that involves experimental design or development of new technology can essentially count as part of this incentive program. Once the technology goes live in a commercial environment, then it’s no longer considered experimental,” Matthew explains.
In order to take advantage of that incentive, InterTalk needs to provide supporting documentation to indicate how much time is being spent on research and development. That means detailed tracking of spent hours with appropriate notes and summaries of the activities.
All this goes straight into our tax form. We have summaries that we have to write, we have to provide the developers’ notes if asked for, we have to provide resumes and biographies – there’s quite a lot of information you provide for it.
The team uses JIRA to log all information about the experiments. All the research and development time is tracked in actiTIME, with a breakdown per task, per project and per employee. To keep all important information together, engineers add comments in actiTIME, linking hours to the JIRA ticket which describes the specifics of what they do. “That is one of the main uses of time-tracking at InterTalk,” Matthew sums up.
Project teams leverage actiTIME to improve project planning and estimation
In accordance with the Agile principles, the engineering and development team at InterTalk never stops improving the work process. An essential part of any project is proper planning and estimation. This is where actiTIME also proved to be helpful.
“One of the biggest challenges with any software company is understanding how long something’s going to take and how that fits up with project budgeting, timelines or costs. When we’re trying to budget our new project, we can go back to actiTIME and look at historical data - how much time we spent on design or development or quality assurance or project management on some of our previous projects. Then we try to predict how much we need to budget for the project in the future. actiTIME has been really useful for us in that,” says Matthew.
InterTalk uses actiTIME’s estimates vs actuals report to analyze the historical data and also predict the future workload on its design and development projects.
Jennifer says actiTIME has greatly helped them to improve the estimation accuracy: “When the time is being estimated now, you can see patterns from the different departments now, so it’s much more reliable to say that one team is going to need 1500 hours and another team might need 400 for their job. We are able to see those patterns and apply that to our fees going out the door.”
Looking at historical data also helps the team manage staffing needs for the future.
“actiTIME usually has been helpful in that because we’re able to look at the time we spent on past projects and use that to predict how much time we’ll need for future projects and whether we’re going to need extra help down the road or extra staffing,” Matthew says.
Overall impression from actiTIME
actiTIME usage at InterTalk has gone a long way from purely using timesheets as a part of supporting documentation for the R&D tax incentive program to becoming an essential tool for workload planning and project staffing.
“It's online and easy to use, making it more difficult to not-use, leading to consistent, detailed results,” says Matthew.