MDS SCIEX Development Stays On Track with TimeControl
"TimeControl is a true enterprise timekeeping system that will grow with us as our needs evolve."
Mukesh Patel, Project Manager
Imagine the precision of an instrument designed to detect just a single drop of liquid released into the equivalent of 12 Olympic-sized swimming pools. It's not only an amazing feat, but one that is entirely possible using mass spectrometry equipment designed and manufactured by MDS SCIEX of Concord, Ont.
Since 1974, MDS SCIEX (for SCIentific EXport) has led the world in the research and development of mass spectrometry, the science of being able to detect and identify trace amounts of chemical elements found in larger substances. Behind the successful development of each one of these sophisticated spectrometry solutions is an extremely structured approach to project management that relies heavily on accurate timekeeping.
"Project management is definitely one of the key links in how we launch products," says Michel Stanier, Manager of MDS SCIEX' Project Management Group, adding employees use the most advanced project management technology available. At any given time, the company has 15 projects on the go, encompassing all aspects of product development from pure scientific research to design and feasibility studies, to manufacturing and marketing. Approximately 260 of the 420 people employed at MDS SCIEX are actively involved in projects, all of whom use enterprise timekeeping software to track their time for both payroll and project tracking purposes.
So when the company's timekeeping system was discontinued in 1999 and no longer supported by the vendor, MDS SCIEX was forced to return to the market in search of a new enterprise solution. At the top of its feature wish list was support for open database standards and data integrity, followed by flexibility, sophisticated integration and reporting, enhanced Web-based functionality and ease of use. It found all of these and more, in TimeControl from HMS Software of Montreal, says Stanier.
"The way we use our enterprise timekeeping system and the database within it is tightly integrated between Project Management, Finance and other departments in the organization," he explains.
"We were looking for the ability to manipulate data in and out of the system as required, a feature that was quite limited in our previous tool, but one that we saw immediately in TimeControl."
Michel Stanier, Manager of MDS SCIEX' Project Management Group
Following a formal evaluation process that involved Stanier's predecessor Gary Walker, Ken Delcol, Director of Product Development, Mukesh Patel, Project Manager and representation from the Finance and IT departments, three timekeeping solutions were shortlisted for a detailed comparison involving a test group of users. On the basis of the group's feedback and input, TimeControl was selected and later implemented during the Fall of 2000. Key features that set TimeControl apart from its competitors included its advanced Web capabilities, detailed reporting structure and overall ease of use.
The implementation, involving all 260 MDS SCIEX employees in project management, was completed in just three months, with technical assistance provided by HMS. "Our main objective was to make sure there was no interruption to business," notes Patel, who led the software deployment. "We treated the TimeControl implementation as a project, ensuring everything was scheduled and decided up front, including the collection of user requirements, establishment of a test group, running of trials and scheduling of company-wide training sessions."
More accurate reporting
Following a smooth transition to TimeControl, employee response has been extremely favourable. Whereas before employees were entering their time on a bi-weekly basis, they are now doing it weekly and in some cases daily, a change that enables MDS SCIEX to gain more accurate time reporting data, says Patel. Using the Web-based capabilities they can also enter time when working from home or while away from the office, rather than waiting until the next business day or their return.
"Since implementing TimeControl, the number of missing timesheets has decreased greatly and people are using the system more frequently and on a more timely basis," he says, adding he doesn't know how they ever did without the 'missing timesheet' e-mail notification that TimeControl provides. "E-mail notification is a very handy administrative tool. It has improved our releasing of timesheets on a timely basis because with one click of a button, we can remind them they're late."
More timely data collection means the quality of data is higher since people aren't relying on their recollection of events to fill in timesheets. It also helps to catch mistakes earlier on in the process so they can be corrected before they become a problem. For example, by generating a 'week-at-a-glance' report, administrators can quickly determine overhead costs, as well as who worked how long on any given project, and then use that information to see where time may have been charged to the wrong project or not charged at all.
"In the past, we faced the challenge of ensuring employees were charging their time to the appropriate project since there was no automated way to do this in our old system," adds Stanier. "With TimeControl, we can now block certain charge codes when we know they should be closed, and push people to automatically ask for the new charge codes when they begin a new project."
According to Patel, the ability to work closely with Primavera's P3 project scheduling software is another significant advantage offered by TimeControl. With help from HMS, MDS Sciex was able to integrate the two products in such a way that a filter allows only the lowest level work breakdown structures (WBSs) - or summary lines - to be visible to employees when they're entering their time, even though the information provided in P3 is much more detailed.
"The resource dialogue box may indicate all of the activities employees have been assigned to in the project schedule, " he explains, "but when they go to do the timesheet, the only thing they see is the actual time lines they can charge to."
Additional benefits include the ability to use TimeControl's Web-based interface to support traveling employees and business partners (including university-based researchers) who are located off-site but still need to enter their time, as well as the system's sophisticated reporting structures, which also provide an advantage at times of audit.
As an organization heavily involved in Research and Development (R&D), MDS SCIEX qualifies for R&D tax credits. Next time the auditor comes knocking, Stanier expects it will be much easier to produce the kind of information the auditor is interested in seeing. In addition to being able to quickly generate reports indicating who worked on what projects, it will also be possible to rapidly distinguish between those parts of a project that apply to the tax credit and those that don't, he explains.
"We wanted to have as broad a range of reporting options as possible," says Stanier. "The fact that TimeControl enables you to generate your own reporting structures is key."
The company's Finance department is another area accessing TimeControl data -- for payroll purposes, he explains. Using a "homegrown" interface in Excel which links to the HR database and TimeControl, the department extracts the data from the Oracle TimeControl database to produce final payroll reports.
According to both Patel and Stanier, the implementation of TimeControl has been so successful for MDS SCIEX that the software has essentially paid for itself within three months.
"TimeControl is a very impressive overall time recording system," stresses Patel. "Unlike competitive products that only address specific activity and scheduling functions, TimeControl is a true enterprise timekeeping system that will grow with us as our needs evolve."