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Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor

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Christy Rivers - Editorial Executive

INTERview






HMS Software is providing Task-based, Multifunction Timesheets that allow Payroll, Billing and Project Tracking with their TimeControl® and TimeControl Industrial products


Chris Vandersluis

President


HMS Software

www.hms.ca


Contact:

Chris Vandersluis

514-695-8122

chris.vandersluis@hms.ca


Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor

CEOCFO Magazine


Published – July 27, 2020


CEOCFO: Mr. Vandersluis, it has been about a year and a half since we last spoke with you and the world is definitely a different place today. What is the focus at HMS Software right now?

Mr. Vandersluis: The first thing to know is that much of our focus has not changed, making sure that we are taking care of our clients. With the shutdown, the Coronavirus and so on, we have had clients who have ended up in one of several places. Some clients; thankfully for us very few, have had big problems, because their particular market was greatly affected. If your market was, let us say, involved in the tourism business or hospitality, then you are probably greatly affected. Fortunately for us, we don’t have much exposure in those industries. Most of our clients were fine. That left us with people in one of two other places. One was, “We are all going to start working from home and we know how to do that because that is part of our culture and that is all easy,” and the other was, “We are going to start working from home and we have no clue how to do that, we are trying to adjust everything on the fly.” We have tried to take care of all of our clients as best we can through the last few months, and client focus has been key for us.


From a business perspective, one of the things that we have seen and that has somewhat become our focus in terms of sales and everything else we are doing, is our hosted solution. Our main product, TimeControl, was available both for purchase as an on-premise solution and online as a subscription solution. We have seen huge movement of our clients towards Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), starting even before COVID became an issue, and is now heavily accelerated, from people who say, “We really need this to be hosted in the Cloud.” We are focusing along on that and making sure that our online solution is robust and available. We have had to expand the capacity and that is keeping us all pretty busy.     


CEOCFO: Before we talk about TimeControl, what does taking care of your customer mean to you? How is your customer service and interaction over and above what one might expect?  

Mr. Vandersluis: We built the company around making sure that every client would be a reference. It is built right into our interview process, our hiring process, and even our employee handbook. HMS is organized around the commitment that everyone who buys from us will be a referenceable client.


Everybody says they want happy clients, but for us, in practical terms, if a client ever calls and says, “I am having a very unhappy day with your service or your product,” that pretty much brings us to a stop as we involve management right away to get the issue solved. We get on the phone; we find out what went wrong and we fix it. On our website we have testimonial letter after testimonial letter of clients saying, “We like the product, but we really found the service was exceptional,” and we take great pride in that, so it is an important thing for us!  


CEOCFO: Did you recognize that from day one? Was that always the concept?

Mr. Vandersluis: It was. We started as a two-person business back in the mid-1980s and when you have only got two people and you have your very first client, it was obvious to us that if we do not do well with this client no one else might ever hire us! We were consultants getting the business started and we were working with a much larger client.


CEOCFO: Last month you introduced TimeControl 8.1. What is new, better and different?

Mr. Vandersluis: There is much that is new and better and different! We have worked in the last couple of releases to improve the interface and to improve data for big performance. When clients have five users and their needs are very simple, many different products might do. However, when their needs get more complex, that is where we put in a lot of changes. We have links in version 8 to Jira for example. We have a slew of new reports and updates to the way our mobile app works. TimeControl includes both a web-based interface and a free mobile app that goes with it.


We made improvements across the board for the interface to make it faster, easier and to be able to deal with things that in a much more performant way, particularly, when you look at the output of TimeControl. Whether people access the data through one of reports, through our API, through the mobile interface, we have tried to make it so that clients can extract decision making from their timesheet data. So we have been looking at reports to say, what decisions people might need to make that we should make available in the mobile, what decisions might people need to make which we can make available in a report or a scheduled report that can be emailed. That is where much of our focus has been and that is where the big improvements were in 8 and 8.1.    


CEOCFO: What are some of the newer decisions that people make with your data?   

Mr. Vandersluis: One of the challenges we have seem, particularly in the last few months, has been a renewed interest in, task-based accounting or task-based tracking. It is not enough anymore to say, “Did you come to work,” because many people are not physically arriving at work. We have many people working from home or working at non co-located locations. It is no longer enough just to know how much time employees are at work. It has become critical to know what employees have accomplished with their time. TimeControl can help deliver that.


We see much more tracking now, where people want to know, “What did you get accomplished this week,” not just how many hours got spent. That brings us down to task completion and percent complete on different elements, as well as where we are spending time that is nonproductive. It is more important than ever to know where the time is going and whether we have the right people on the right tasks.   


CEOCFO: Are employees or contractors accepting that today? Is that feeling of “Big Brother” gone?

Mr. Vandersluis: That is never really gone completely, but it is probably harder to be upset with Big Brother when he is not in the room, right? I think that increased tracking is being accepted naturally as it comes with your working from home. You have much more flexibility and with that privilege comes a certain responsibility.


CEOCFO: Would you tell us the differences between TimeControl and TimeControl Industrial?

Mr. Vandersluis: When we originally published TimeControl we had clients who said, “We really like the functionality, but we are trying to collect our data in the field.” Field data collection is a whole category of challenges. It addressed resources who will not have access to the product but who are still trying to track their time. We might have a client, for example, who does ship building and ship maintenance. The people who are doing welding and assembly inside of a ship, these are welders and carpenters and electricians and specialists of different kinds; they are not walking around with a tablet to record their time. They are walking around with tools.


So, how do we record that time? We made a version of TimeControl in which we included two main new modules; a crew entry timesheet where a foreman or a supervisor or a team leader would do the entry for others and another module with the ability to add, not just time, but also non labor entries. That includes material consumption, equipment usage, and even production accomplished.


In industrial circles there is often a term called LEMs which stands for “Labor Equipment Materials”. A LEM allows collection of data in the field, and TimeControl Industrial was created for that. It includes everything that TimeControl has, but and adds these other modules and additional functionalities as well, to be able to do field data collection for many people at once. That functionality extends also in our TimeControl Mobile app. In version 8.1, we added additional TimeControl Industrial functionality to enable team leaders to walk around with a tablet on the job site whether that’s a building site, a shipyard, a mine or in an industrial complex and update the amount of time that is being spent on each task and what kind of materials and equipment is being used.    


CEOCFO: What is the competitive landscape? Are there many companies that focus on timesheet management?  

Mr. Vandersluis: There are and the competitive landscape, of course, is shifting in the current world. We are quite grateful for the amount of time we have been in business. We have been around since the 1980’s and TimeControl has been around since the mid-1990’s, so we have many clients and much of our revenue is recurring. For companies who are newer, not all of them are doing well or have even survived. There are many people who think getting into the timesheet business is easy because of how easy the main timesheet screen looks from the front. Creating a grid on a screen, you can say, “look I have made a timesheet,” seems like it might only be a few days’ work. It is only once the data gets into that screen that the client starts saying, “Can you track authorizations, can you validate the data and can you do certain kinds of reporting and can you have security and filters and so on,” and things get more complicated.


In our business there are really two kinds of competitors. The ones that we see most often are the timesheet competitors where the timesheet gets included in another product. Large ERP systems like SAP or Oracle are good examples. I am sure they have a timesheet and it is specifically designed for the modules of the finance system that they have deployed which is, most often, a payroll type of timesheet. In project management terms, an example, would be Microsoft whose project management system has a timesheet that is associated to updating the Microsoft Project tasks. There are very few of competitors in our industry who make multifunction timesheets because it is a niche market. A client might say, “I want a timesheet that will take care of project needs, but also those other financial needs, so I need something for payroll and billing and project tracking.” There are only a handful of vendors in that category. And even in that category we have found a way to niche our own business to industries where we do not compete head to head that often. We know each other, but we do not tend to compete that often against each other.


CEOCFO: Do you need to interact with other systems a company might have in place?

Mr. Vandersluis: Yes, that is a universal demand! When we deploy TimeControl, we take it as a given that it will be interacting with those internal corporate systems. On the project management side, we have more links to project management tools than, I think, anyone in our industry. We have taken pains to make sure TimeControl integrates out of the box with every version of Microsoft Project, including Project Desktop, Project Server, Project Online and the new Project for the Web. On the Oracle side, we integrate with Primavera Professional and Primavera EPPM. We also integrate with JIRA, PRISM, Hard Dollar and even SharePoint. Those links are included with every TimeControl.


Then on the other side we are interacting with finance systems like payroll, billing, the ERP and so on. That is pretty common for us. There are many different modules and tools in TimeControl to be able to affect those links, both for data coming in and for data going out including scheduled imports and exports of data as well as a bidirectional API.  


CEOCFO: What surprised you as TimeControl has evolved to where you are today?  

Mr. Vandersluis: What surprised me most that it took us over! In 1994, when we released TimeControl as a commercial product, it was supposed to be our first foray in the industry and we expected we would release many, many products after that. TimeControl would just have been our first introduction. To our surprise, TimeControl really took the business over. It turned out that many people wanted a multi-function timesheet. Many people had that challenge then and now looking over twenty-five years later, we see that those demands are still there!  


CEOCFO: What types of companies are turning to you today? Do you need to do much outreach or do people know by now?  

Mr. Vandersluis: Yes, you always have to do outreach. The problem in marketing for people like us is overcoming the amount of churn; the amount of background noise. If I just do a search for timesheets, there are hundreds of thousands of hits. So we do have to do outreach. We try to focus our marketing activities in making materials available to the public that they will be interested in consuming. We do a lot of webcasts and white papers and interviews like this, talking with people in the industry to say what we are doing and how these people find us. The need to reach out has become important. We are not doing as much traditional search engine webvertising as we once did.


As for what kinds of companies reach out to us, we have interest across many different industries. We have a high profile in anything technology related, but we have also got a lot of industrial companies, because of TimeControl Industrial. We have companies who are healthcare related, who are insurance related, who are IT related; so yes, we are in everything from tractor supplies to computer creations.


CEOCFO: What is your geographic reach today? Has that changed much over time?

Mr. Vandersluis: It has not changed much; we are all over. We like to say that TimeControl is in every continent but Antarctica. The bulk of our business is in the USA, and that makes up for a bit over fifty percent of our business. Since HMS is located in Canada, we have a high profile there and we also do extensive work all over Europe, the UK, Asia and Australia. We think of ourselves as a global supplier.  


CEOCFO: What does the next year look like for you?

Mr. Vandersluis: I wish I could tell you what the next week looks like for us, because things have changed so fast lately and so much! At the moment we are all pretty happy that we are where we are. On the technical side we are looking to expand TimeControl’s threads of functionality. In the next few months you will be seeing us talk about that to say, “Aside from going deeper into the timesheet functionality, let us go wider and reaching more people with functionality that they need that are associated with the timesheet. Let us get that into the product.”


In terms of client base, things are continuing to expand the way that I would want. We grow organically, so we are happy about that. From that perspective, I see us growing at a normal pace healthy pace. We are not seeking to make a rapid expansion and we do not see any rapid contraction. So, for us, that is pretty healthy.   


CEOCFO: What might a prospective client miss when they first look at TimeControl and HMS Software?

Mr. Vandersluis: That is a very good question. Many people arrive at a timesheet search because they have a particular need for whatever part of the company they are in. We are well known in project management, so it might be a project manager. However, it might also be someone in Finance or someone in IT. They arrive to us with one particular perspective. They might say, “Well, could you handle my project management needs.” We say, “Certainly. But we could also make sure that you do not have to deploy two timesheets or three timesheets in your organization if you go with this kind of multi-function approach.”


For some prospective clients, we have seen often they arrive to us and say, “Now that we see that  you can tackle more than one of our organization’s timesheet needs, which something we really need to do, we are going to have to go back and talk to more people.” That may make things a little bit slower and that happens sometimes for us. When someone just comes with a single perspective and has not thought that maybe there are other people in the organization who will be able to benefit at the same time. If I had to pick one thing that people might miss when they call, that would probably be the most common.


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“It has become critical to know what employees have accomplished with their time. TimeControl can help deliver that.” Chris Vandersluis

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