Contract management software is designed to make life easier for legal, contract managers, and business users. And it does – once it is implemented. An experienced software vendor can help make your implementation a success, but your organization is a crucial partner in that work. Here are four tips for ensuring that your contract management software implementation is a success.
Watch Your Scope
A serious contract management system implementation will touch several departments, many personnel, and hundreds of contracts. Setting priorities is essential to success. Without a clear plan and timetable, implementation teams try to accomplish too much too soon. They either become ensnared in endless planning with no live system, or implement broadly and unevenly, with no time left to evaluate the system and train their users.
For a successful implementation, follow these steps:
- Identify business problems. Contract management solutions are meant to improve business by saving time, improving efficiency, and reducing risk. Where in your current business are contract management improvements most needed? In Sales or Procurement? Before or after signature? In requesting contracts or in negotiation? Listing goals for improvement will create useful guardrails as you implement your new system.
- Plan what to automate first. Implementing contract management automation is where the rubber meets the road – where the technical capabilities of the software are matched to your processes. The smooth-running automation of a single contract type requires attention to detail by your team – both system administrators and users. Identify the contract types and the parts of their lifecycle to transform from manual processes to electronic workflows. Instead of a goal of automating all buy-side contracts from request to expiration, focus on a practical subset (e.g., procurement of goods from contract request to signature). One well executed workflow will allow the next round of automation to proceed more quickly, with fewer do-overs.
- Stick to the schedule. This advice has two meanings. First, keep your implementation predictable by automating processes in the order that makes sense according to business need. Second, finish automating each target group of contracts on time. This will get usable solutions into the hands of business users promptly, allow for feedback, and keep endless refinements from sidelining the implementation.
You can buy software and even hire professional implementation help, but your contract management process is your own. When you are ready to automate, understand that process so you can define it with confidence and evaluate the implementation smartly. This means looking back (what have you been doing to create, review, and manage contracts?) and looking forward (what can you do differently and better with the help of contract management software?).
For a successful implementation, pay attention to these things:
- Templates. Contract templates are time-savers because they start similar contracts on the same footing, with the same approved language and business-appropriate clauses. Automated templates are part of most contract management implementations, but deciding which contracts to automate requires thought from your contract team. Which contracts are in high demand and are reproduced frequently? Which contracts are highly differentiated and not worth the investment of effort in creating a template? If you know these answers before you start implementation, your focus will stay on the contract templates that can save your organization time and money.
- Variability. Contract management software can handle variables very well. Contract terms can change in response to counterparty risk-profile, legal jurisdiction, purchase volume, total deal value, and more. A user’s permission to access, modify, or approve contracts can change by department or job description. Being clear on what differences are relevant for your organization is vitally important. Vendors and implementers can help you see the implication of your decisions, but your forethought about variables will make the implementation take shape much faster.
- Requests & Access. In selecting contract management software, you have probably seen how electronic workflow helps the contract along its journey. But your organization decides how contracts are requested, by whom, and with what essential information. Along the way, workflow presents contracts to trained professionals whose input is required. To make your implementation successful, be ready to answer two questions: Who needs to access the system to search for or request contracts? And, whose access and input are necessary for the contract to proceed?
Your system users are the ones who will make your implementation a success. The first test: will they use the system to do their jobs? Second test: will the system make their lives easier? Don’t implement in a vacuum – bring your people along with you by remembering the following:
- Communication. While it’s essential to have a core team to steer a software implementation, two-way communication with all users is just as important. Three things should be clear to every user. 1) A new contract management system will mean some change to old procedures. 2) The system will result in specific improvements (and do name them). 3) The system will be rolled out to each user group with notice and training. Communication means making time to listen as well. You will need user input from legal, contract managers, and business users to align the software with your organization’s practices. You will also want to listen to user feedback to address immediate issues and plan for later improvement.
- Training. Undoubtedly, you want to save time for busy contract professionals. Work with your contract management software vendor to provide the training users needs to get up to speed and stay there. There are several time-tested approaches to training. Provide in-depth, hands-on training to selected members of each user group so that their colleagues can see a confident system user from Day One. Deliver training that addresses the real-life use of the system for particular users (e.g., contract access at all stages for contract managers, high-level reporting for executives, etc.). Make follow-up training and questions easy with FAQs, videos, and regularly scheduled drop-in sessions.
- Results. Contract management struggles to overcome its reputation as a cost center. It has many unsung heroes. Successful deployment of a contract management system should bring lots of good news to system users and management: reduced cycle times, increased contract volume, cost and budget savings, reduced use of third-party paper, better purchase under contract practices, fewer invoicing errors, and an end to burdensome contract searches and manual in-process tracking. Sharing these results within the organization is a great encouragement that will improve another crucial metric: user adoption.
With a successful implementation in one business unit, you will want to expand use of the contract management system to new departments, regions, and contract types. For that you will need continued support from finance and management. Make it easy for them to say “Yes” by collecting, quantifying, and reporting on the benefits that contract management software is bringing to the organization. Here are three ideas:
- Identify/track ROI. Your business case for purchasing contract management software probably identified potential returns on investment in automating your contract management processes. Don’t file those ROI targets away – use the software’s reporting metrics to show savings that relate to those targets. If you have not done so already, capture the time and effort needed to get a contract from request to signature under your old (possibly manual) system. Then use software reports to measure total and average times between workflow steps that represent the same process as automated. Gains in efficiency are usually easy to demonstrate in a short time. Post those results where managers can see those improvements for themselves.
- Promote Executive Use of Reports. Without a contract management system, reporting on contracts to C-level is often late and second hand. With a successful implementation, executives can log in and see contract-related data in real time. The value of the system then becomes evident. Examples of useful data reports for senior management include sales contracts concluded, procurement savings realized, contract throughput for legal, and supply chain security. With minimal prep time, contract-rich department heads such as the CPO or VP of Sales will have trustworthy data for meetings and reports.
- Foster Cooperation across Functional Groups. Without an electronic system, contracts tend to be handled only by contract managers and attorneys. This can result in dissatisfaction and distrust from the business users who rely on the contracts to accomplish their work. Enabling collaboration within your contract management system improves quality of contracts by involving business users where their input is needed. Electronic access to contract drafts allows SMEs and technicians to evaluate promised KPIs realistically. Heads of sales can weigh in on problematic clauses that clients push back on. Procurement and finance can knowledgeably predict spend over the coming year to recommend optimal volume discounts. Electronic collaboration by business users adds satisfied clients to the contract management system.