Not all contract management systems are created equal. One advantage of using a digital storage solution is greater knowledge of where contracts are. Frustration over locating contracts and determining status is common—we’ve heard someone joke that the local pizza parlor’s app could tell him the moment they added his extra anchovies, and yet he couldn’t easily pull up an important contract. Get swept up focusing on basic functionality, and you might miss a chance to evaluate important features that can help your organization save money and control risk.
First and foremost, a contract management system has to serve the organization. Software that emphasizes features or limitless customizability, but is complicated and unintuitive to use, may not end up as useful as the marketing copy suggests.
Start by considering the core competencies you need the software to support. Generally, this comes down to four key features:
- Unlimited users and file storage. As the business grows or acquires other companies, the contract management software needs to handle rapid increases in volume of contracts and number of users in the system. This should happen without reduced software performance or substantial increase in price.
- Secure file storage. The software should offer details about how files are protected, both from attacks and tech failures like a server going down.
- Quick, easy searchability. Storing contracts on an agile software system means you shouldn’t have to hunt for files. It should be easy to perform advanced searches to get a high-level view of contract trends throughout the organization.
- Contract tracking and reporting features. Storing documents is only part of the contract management process. Analyzing reports to learn how to improve contracted projects and relationships can make a significant difference in how effectively the organization operates.
These four features don’t represent everything a competitive software solution should include (we’ll talk about some other important features later). But they are the basic essentials that a department should be able to implement in a matter of hours, if not minutes. In some cases, this might mean that a simple, no-frills option makes more sense than software with more features and a steep learning curve. The easier software is to implement, the faster an organization can see positive results.
Native Two-Factor Authentication
One of the primary advantages of using dedicated contract administration software is minimizing risk. Contracts contain some of the organization’s most sensitive information, possibly even discussing proprietary information that could damage the organization if there were an information breach. Other contracts are subject to federal, state, local, or industry-specific regulations that could result in legal action or penalties. In short, protecting the business implies protecting the contracts.
With this said, it seems strange to think that you might encounter contract administration software that doesn’t include two-factor authentication to verify user identity. But this feature is not as standard among available options on the market as you might expect.
The good news is that if you find that your contract administration solution lacks this feature, it’s not too late to implement it. A skilled network administrator can put together a two-factor identification system with another program. He or she may then be able to link this system with your existing contract management software so that users get routed through the two-factor authentication before they access the contract management interface.
Better yet, if you are still comparing contract management software options, ask up front about this feature. Ensuring you have the features you need from the outset saves time and eliminates the concern that the IT department may not be able to implement an adequate solution after the fact.
A complex contract is likely to involve a large team. A construction project, for example, might require input from any of the following people:
- Local government permits department
- Operations manager
- Building manager
- Legal counsel
- HR department
- CFO or other high-level financial officer
- Construction company
- Lumber provider
- Other materials vendors
- Landscaping company
Project leads need to determine who needs to access which materials, how to prevent confusion, and how to delineate who has the authority to read only or make changes to information. One way to increase clarity and minimize risk of information leaks or unauthorized changes is to improve control over document access.
While many systems allow “Read-Only” versus “Editor/Admin” status, it may be necessary to create custom roles for various projects. Having the freedom to set permissions on a folder-by-folder basis helps mitigate risk, since the software can restrict user’s access to match their precise access needs.
Unauthorized Document Sharing Protection
If you’ve ever heard a rumor (or worse, been the subject of malicious gossip), you know that a secret can quickly get out of hand and twist into a serious problem. Contracts can be the same way. You may trust the person who you authorize to access the file, but if that person is careless with the information, it can fall into the wrong hands.
Schoolyard secrets may spread like wildfire, but fortunately business contracts come with a higher degree of protection. Software features like digital watermarks and anti-screen capture settings make it difficult for a user to make unauthorized copies.
As technology continues to advance, more and more aspects of business dealings take place in the digital realm. Electronic signatures are a legally recognized way for parties to enter into a binding contract. Many companies prefer the convenience and rapid turnaround of e-signatures, as opposed to the more cumbersome processes of faxing large documents back and forth or fitting an in-person meeting into busy schedules. Contract administration software that doesn’t easily allow e-signature options is well behind the times.
Similarly as with two-factor authentication, it’s often possible for a network administrator to set up e-signature capabilities by linking contract administration software with a separate program that supports e-signatures. It’s a less convenient solution compared to opting for software that already has this functionality built in.
When evaluating a contract administration software solution, it’s important to ask both about the capabilities the software has, and what it may be missing. This can help you decide where the balance is between the need for a streamlined experience and a long list of available features.