Selecting a Contract Management System Where to Start?

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Contract Management Systems are a critical function in well-managed organizations.  It doesn’t matter if you are a commercial entity, hospital facility, government, services, manufacturing or not for profit—the principles apply to every sector.  How much one invests in contract management technologies and processes is a function of finances, vision, culture and will. Being successful using the technologies over the long term is a whole different discussion.  

Where to Start?

If you found your way here, you are on the right track!  There are questions that need to be asked, though. Here are some issues to consider:

What do you want to get out of a contract management system?
It always helps to know what you want, right?

If you don’t know what you really need, you may wind up with a product that looks good but doesn’t do what you really need it to do. 

So, where do you start?

You may not know the full scope of what is available and what may be really help now or in the future.  I recommend a multi-pronged approach to getting up to speed fast:

Select the Project Sponsor and Project LeadA senior executive should sponsor the project so that it has the proper support.  
There also must be a manager or analyst who should oversee the research and selection process.  This would be a staff member who has the passion and focus to lead the charge, coordinate activities and has a clear understanding of the project.  
A project lead may have the organization role of Director of Procurement, Senior Buyer, Senior Paralegal, Procurement Analyst, Attorney, Global Sourcing Manager or other similar titles. 
Define Your AudienceWho do you expect the Users and Beneficiaries of contract management automation to be? 

Is the focus legal, procurement, sales, IT?  Is the scope narrow or broad—enterprise or narrowly focused?  It’s OK if you change the focus as you develop a deeper understanding of your requirements.  
Solutions are available for every size and scope.
Do an Internal Needs AnalysisIt is vitally important that you consider the needs of the different departments in the organization who will be participating.  If you do not get participation and a solid buy-in from the potential user departments, you may not the cooperation and support that you will need for a successful implementation.
Search the WebThe web contains a wealth of information about contract management and contract automation products.  Some are good, some are plugs. Some are “Top Ten” or “Top Five” ranking sites—but these are usually pay to play sites.  It doesn’t mean that the products aren’t good—but understand that these are not necessarily independent reviews.  
There are a few good sites that may be worth checking out:  Capterra, Software Advice to start.
See what information the industry associations have to offerThere are associations in every industry and function.  There are Contract Management Associations like the International Association for  Contract and Commercial Management (IACCM) and the National Contract Management Association (NCMA).  There are also Paralegal groups, Procurement groups and others that can be good sources of information. 
Read Product ReviewsThere are product reviews published by magazines (PC Magazine) and web sites.  Be careful, though, some of these reviews are just plugs for products.

Not all organizations need to be so formal, but this shows a thorough approach.  It is very much a cultural issue in the organization. But best business practices and best governance practices suggest that managing your organization’s contracts well is very important to its business health. 

We have seen large organizations opt for basic contract management tools, while others need the full cradle-to-grave approach.  Similarly, we have seen smaller organizations opt for a complete integrated contract management system, with workflows and digital signatures and financial transactions—while others are OK with the basics.  And some upsize and some downsize based on their needs.  

In other articles in this series, we will be looking into contract management system capabilities, tools and features.  

If you would like to see more, please visit Great Minds Software to learn more about Contract Management Systems. 

Author:  Alan Mazursky, CEO

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