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8 Steps to Selecting a Contract Management Solution

Oct 13, 2007
Once you've recognized that poor contract management is a significant business risk and decided to solve the problem, you've overcome what may be the biggest obstacle: business as usual, or sheer inertia.

Clearly, whether you're starting from paper documents, a spreadsheet, or a combination of the two, you're going to be seeking a technological solution. At this point, another danger looms: an ill-defined process that causes delays, leads to "project creep," and threatens to replace one set of risks with another.

Bottom line: Once you've identified the problem, you want to move expeditiously to a solution. Here are eight action steps to help make that happen.

1. Define the project and assign responsibility for the search for a contract management solution. Whether you designate one person or a team depends upon the size of your organization (and the magnitude of the problem).

2. Make sure that both the mandate and the timetable are clear. Be clear about what -- which is to find the product that best fits your contract management needs. Be specific about when. Set a deadline, whether it's one month, three months, six months, or a year.

3. Gather preliminary product information. This will give you a general awareness of features and capabilities.

Now's also the time to gather basic pricing data, including any vendor charges for installation, implementation, customization, and/or maintenance. Exploring a solution that doesn't fit within your budget is a waste of valuable time, no matter how wonderful the technology may be.

4. Create your wish list. Make a list of the capabilities you'd like your system to have.

Classify features as "essential," "important," and "would like."

Keep the list relatively short: 1-3 essential capabilities; 6-7 important ones; 4-5 would like. This will keep you focused on core needs and prevent the search from stretching on endlessly. Don't forget ease-of-use, which is vital.

5. View demonstrations of several contract management solutions. This will let you assess a product's specific strengths and weaknesses -- and get a good idea of its user interface.

Have an IT person on hand for at least a portion of each demo. This will ensure that you're not speeding down a road toward a solution your IT capabilities can't support.

6. Rate each product. Create a spreadsheet with your wish list down the side and the products across the top. You can weigh your ratings by assigning factors to each of your critical and important criteria. (Critical x 4, important x 2, would like x 1 -- or the multiples of your choice.)

Add each product's column to produce a total ranking. Then apply commonsense as a check. Software ranked #2 or 3 may actually be your best bet if the high scores of the leader result from wildly uneven ratings (or high and low rating in the wrong places).

7. Conduct a hands-on evaluation of one or two products. If at all possible, do a hands-on trial of the product in your environment.

Be sure that your evaluators understand the importance of their task -- and can make the time for it. Include the individual(s) who will be most concerned with building and depending upon the system after implementation.

Take advantage of any help the vendor offers during this process. And establish a firm deadline for completion.

8. When you've completed your evaluation, purchase the product that has shown it best meets your needs and implement your solution.
About the Author
Judy Tucker works with emerging companies in planning, project management, and communications and helps them get the most out of contract management systems. Find out more about how contract management software can save time and money at www.contractassistant.com 877-509-7500.
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