Without the right tools, effectively managing huge volumes of contracts can be a complicated, time-consuming task – even more so if you’re dealing with government contracts, which carry far stricter requirements than those typically seen in the private sector. Guidelines around acquisition planning, contract formation, pricing and all aspects of contracts and their management, whether at the local, state or federal level, place an added layer of complexity to the tasks associated with contract management.
But while a recent survey of 250 federal contracting professionals found vast agreement – to the tune of 92 percent – that effective contract management is vital to organizational success, those polled also reported key gaps that can slow down processes and task already-stretched resources. One in five reported that their organization lacks the staffing and resources to effectively manage contracts; more than half of those polled centralize all contract-related tasks and responsibilities within a single department; and 59 percent reported using Microsoft Excel and 50 percent SharePoint to manage and track contracts.
Though it might not be possible to change cultures and grow resources allocated to contracting processes overnight, effective use of contract management software and all its features can save time and ease some of the challenges of dealing with government contracts, whether you are approaching agreements from the government agency or vendor side.
Here are 5 time-saving features to look for:
1. E-signatures: Otherwise known as the E-sign law, the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act states that e-signatured contracts are as legally enforceable as traditional paper agreements signed by hand. But while a paper contract must be printed off, copied and returned in its fully-executed form, along with a host of other manual requirements – each of which requires time and resources – e-signing is virtually instant.
In order to save time without sacrificing security or contract integrity, the Government Finance Officers Association also recommends that government agencies and their affiliates look for tools that create a permanent audit trail of electronic signatures and that can provide automatic alerts if changes are made to contracts.
2. Advanced text-based search: Though the spreadsheets and SharePoints used by so many government employees responsible for contract management can help track the existence of contracts, they may not be all that helpful should you need to actually locate a particular contract – or worse, a specific clause within a particular contract – quickly. Storing all contracts within one central repository can help improve the ease and speed of locating contracts. But software that offers advanced text-based search is an even more powerful tool for homing in on the information you need fast. Text-based search allows you to quickly look within your contracts, while filters can further help you to zero in on the information you seek.
3. User-based permissions: Fifty-four percent of government contracting professionals polled in the aforementioned survey reported that contract management responsibilities within their organization were confined to a single department. But though it might seem efficient to relegate responsibilities to just one team, it’s an organizational structure that doesn’t reflect the reality of the contract lifecycle, especially when dealing with government agreements. Stricter regulations typically mean that more people are involved throughout all of the processes of contracting. In cases where contracts are owned by a single department, the disconnect between the number of people able to grant access to contracts and those who require information within can cause bottlenecks and even compliance issues, if delays in contract retrieval result in a missed milestone or an obligation laid out within the contract going unfulfilled.
User-based permissions, meanwhile, allow contract management teams to delegate access to contracts to the individuals who need it without creating security gaps that may contravene contracting guidelines. Employing user-based permissions allows the authorized party to quickly and seamlessly access the documents they need, rather than requiring the contracting team to process and fulfill each individual request.
4. Notifications and custom reporting tools: The strict rules and regulations and close adherence to terms and conditions for government contracts typically create a roadmap that must be followed strictly during the lifecycle of a contract. This may require more frequent and thorough contract reviews than usual – with a more complex and involved calendar of activities related to the administration of each individual contract. In fact, keeping up with required tasks might feel like a job in and of itself. Using notifications and custom reporting tools can be a major time-saver as these features allow you to automate some of this work. Using tagging features, it can take just a few minutes to enter relevant key dates and add automatic email alerts for all of the relevant parties, while it’s also easy to pull custom reports within a matter of minutes.
5. Templates: Although the actual dates, relevant departments and other details may vary, some types of contracts may have similar types of milestones and requirements during the contract term. Using templates can reduce the time that would otherwise be required to set up similar metadata tags and alerts for each new contract by instead carrying these fields through to each new document. Rather than having to add each tag from scratch, the empty fields will already be present within any new contract created in the template group – all you have to do is add the relevant information.