The contract process, and software's role in it

Contract management and negotiation might be boring, but it's a critical piece of the enterprise world

The contract process, and software's role in it
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As a freelancer who has worked for a large range of big companies over the years, I'm all too aware of how important contracts are to an enterprise's working.

I've long been amazed that coming to a decision about a body of work tends to be a relatively quick process, but actually negotiating and formalizing the contract becomes an incredibly drawn out process. I've often laughed when I've been sent a 40-page contract by a vendor for a tiny piece of work. I have neither the legal skills nor the legal budget to pore through the document. I tend to just let things slide—at the end of the day, I'm just keen to get the job happening.

Given how important contracts are within large enterprises, and the fact that a bad process around contracts can be a real impediment to getting things done, contract management software becomes a key enabler of efficiency.

ContractWorks' contract management solution

One vendor that is intimately aware of the space is ContractWorks. ContractWorks offers a contract management solution (CMS) that lets enterprises move away from managing contracts manually, tracking details on Excel or struggling with an existing contract management process that's too complicated or too expensive.

Given that I don't work within a procurement department but only get to feel the pain of their convoluted process, I was interested to hear from ContractWorks on just what a CMS can offer to make the contract process better.

According to ContractWorks, the solution to contract woes is all about efficiency and streamlining—staying on top of contracts and not missing expiration dates—and impacting the company's bottom line because they don’t worry about duplicating services (not missing renewals). ContractWorks suggests anyone who has 100 contracts or more needs a CMS.

What does a CMS offer in terms of functionality? An ideal solution would cover the complete lifecycle of the contract process—capture, authorization, negotiation, approval, execution, analysis, renewals, audit and amendment.

According to ContractWorks, despite the first five of those tasks (capture through execution) getting the lion's share of the attention, the majority of the risk around contracts falls into the obligations management phase of the contracting process (management is post-signature, managing dates, deliverables, ensuring compliance, etc). Additionally, renewals provide for a valuable opportunity to renegotiate for more valuable contract terms and impact the company's bottom line.

ContractWorks' actually offers only the post-signing functionality, as opposed to other vendors that cover the entire contract lifecycle. The company's justification is that separating out functionality to pre-signature and post-signature offerings is preferable because it is simpler and easier to use and implement. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some more complete solutions get purchased but are never implemented. Other vendors involved in the CMS space include Ariba, Cobblestone Systems, Apptus, Selectica and Novatus.

ContractWorks admits that if customers are looking at a feature-by-feature comparison between its offering and the more complete solutions, it "doesn't stand a chance," but rather reiterates that if customers look at overall usability, implementation times and value, ContractWorks has a claim to stake.

I hear what they're saying, and it does, to an extent make sense. For companies that don't have a solution in place—that simply need to get something up and running as soon as possible and are happy to solve a part of their contract management problem—ContractWorks is worth a look.

If a vendor wants, for whatever reason, a solution that ticks all the contract management boxes, it'd probably be best to look elsewhere.

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