PRODUCT REVIEW
Chrometa

Reviewed by Jared D. Correia

Since the beginning of time, man has lived only to die. In that sense, humanity has never known an effective time-capturing system. Despite this significant handicap, Chrometa does fairly well. Chrometa ( www.chrometa.com) is a new entry in the timekeeping software arena; version 1.0 was released in March 2009, and a more robust version 2.0 has recently replaced it. Seventy percent of Chrometa’s users are attorneys.

How It Works

Chrometa is like a GPS tracking system for the movements you make on your computer, recording your PC-based time (or “Active Time”). Every time you become active on your computer—by opening an application, clicking on a screen, typing, etc.—Chrometa is there, too, recording your stay until you move on. Chrometa runs in the background, logging the discrete blocks of time you spend within specific applications. When you are away from your computer for an extended period (or, as Chrometa more accurately reads it: when you haven’t made a movement within an application for a space of time), Chrometa will start an “Away Timer.” When you return to an active engagement of your computer, Chrometa will stop the Away Timer. Upon your reengagement with the system, you’ll either be prompted to, or have the option to, record non-PC time (“Away Time”). The ability to track Away Time is a significant upgrade to Chrometa version 2.0.

Beyond the simple tracking of time at applications, Chrometa offers an organizing principle for time recorded that is not unlike the folder and subfolder creation available in Microsoft Outlook. Users can create categories for allocation of recorded events. Attorneys would most likely associate client names with categories. Automatic archiving is not available, however; categories must be manually populated via a drag-and-drop system. Chrometa’s main screen defaults to a view showing total time in each application used; a drop-down option provides a view showing time spent in each window accessed. The Timestamps feature offers a chronological listing of every movement made throughout the day, from log-in to log-off; conveniently, categorizations can be made directly out of the Timestamps view.

Chrometa’s calendar widget appears at the top left corner of the screen and allows users to select specific dates or larger blocks of time for the expansion or reduction of sets of recorded time. New to Chrometa version 2.0 is a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) export-to-Excel feature. The resulting Excel spreadsheet is based on the time range selected by the user via the program calendar and defaults to a three-page document providing tracking lists for Active Time, Away Time, and the Timestamps view.

Why I Love Chrometa

Chrometa passes the scratch-and-sniff test. It’s easy to use, right out of the box, with a really intuitive interface. Separate panels for Active Time and Away Time, a calendar widget, options tabs, and category folders all look very familiar and operate as you expect they would.

Lawyers don’t like to keep time. Nobody likes to keep time. It’s a painful way to work. This is because traditional timekeeping is based on an active model requiring proactive input activity that makes you less efficient and less smooth within your operation. Chrometa uses a different model; it is a passive “set-it-and-forget-it” system. Turn it on, and it doesn’t turn off again until you tell it to. It sets and resets your timer for you and can even prompt you to define your Away Time when you have not been active at your PC. Chrometa in its present incarnation does not eliminate the traditional need for manually allocating time to appropriate parties to be billed. In order, then, to avoid backlog, users are encouraged to make prompt reconciliation of time by way of categorizations made on short schedules (daily or weekly). In this way, Chrometa promotes timely billing. It is easier to operate and its screens look clearer when users do their billing seasonably. For attorneys who frequently lag in their billings and therefore miss opportunities to be paid in a timely manner, this could help.

Other nifty features of Chrometa include the ability to block applications for time recording (e.g., if you listen to Pandora on Firefox while you do your real work using Explorer, your fun stuff can be segregated automatically from your billable time); the ability to track time only at certain intervals (e.g., only record time spent in applications longer than six minutes); and the ability to access some nice privacy features, including password protection, local data storage, and an option to clear private data.

Chrometa also has developed a tremendous customer service platform. The developer’s website provides access to a knowledge base that will seem like Shangri-la for the tech-knowledge hungry. The product purchase includes free phone and e-mail support; a series of FAQs, training videos, and live webinars; a quick-start guide; an e-mail tips subscription option; and access to a user community that includes the product’s founders. At a $99 one-time cost for a single license (volume discounts are available), that’s a pretty nice support array. Law students and professors receive free access. And there’s a free 30-day trial for anybody who wants to kick the tires.

Why Chrometa and I Are Really Just Friends

Despite the set of nifty features and options cataloged above, there are some drawbacks to the Chrometa program, the worst of which is that Chrometa does not directly sync, or integrate, with any other programs (save Excel, for exporting). Given that more and more attorneys use practice management programs, the integration issues can be vexing. Chrometa does track your activity within specific client files for both software-based and SaaS (over-the-Internet) models, thereby indicating implicitly the client file in which you are working; however, this does not eliminate the need to tag work completed in other applications. There is no way to directly capture client information when working on a client’s document in Microsoft Word, for example. And even the information that is captured and tagged through accessing discrete client-based tabs in your practice manager system, is, nonetheless, not automatically archived to a client’s Chrometa category. That work must still be performed manually.

Furthermore, Chrometa cannot properly be viewed as time-and-billing software. While Chrometa does capture your time, the only functionality the software has with respect to billing is the generation of an Excel file for importation into your existing billing software. Chrometa serves as a springboard for generating information that you can use to create bills and invoices, but it does not have direct billing or invoicing capability. Nor can you create macros to export to. What you see is really what you get: a simple Excel export.

The Chrometa team, however, does assure me that they, too, have these issues in mind, and that future versions of the product will likely feature integration with accounting programs (like QuickBooks) and practice management software programs (starting with SaaS models), as well as some automatic filing options for certain applications and time records (think Microsoft Outlook e-mail rules, for modeling purposes). Resolution of these issues, then, may only be an exercise in patience.

I also encountered two other, minor shortcomings: Away Time may be split into only two segments for categorizing, and the Options menu is limited to the tagging and blocking of applications in whole—there is no ability to drill down farther for a more precise allocation of captured time.

Time Is on Your Side

Despite such drawbacks—which generally fall under the heading “not sufficiently robust”—Chrometa is fully featured as a time-capture device. At $99, with an impressive array of free support options, Chrometa is relatively painless to set up and painless to use, whether you bill hourly (to get paid directly) or apply an alternative billing strategy (to target value). To paraphrase the old saying, the secret of life may be in the enjoyment of the passage of time. Chrometa can help you capture that time and make it work for you.
  • Jared D. Correia, Esq., is a law practice management advisor for the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program; he may be reached at jared@masslomap.org.
Copyright 2010

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