Contracts are a critical business tool, setting out the terms and conditions which guide relationships with vendors and suppliers, employees, clients and other parties with which you do business, in a format that is recognized and enforceable by law. And yet despite the critical governance requirements contained within business contracts, most companies – 70%, according to a study published in the Journal of Contract Management – can’t find at least some of their vital documents.
There are numerous disparate ways businesses might store their contracts and other critical documents: using the age-old filing cabinet method, locked up in the desk drawers of employees involved in executing the agreement, on departmental share drives, and so on. What these methods all have in common is that they tend to be disjointed (and often disorganized), making it a challenge to access the contract or the information you need when you need it and decreasing the likelihood that a contract will receive the attention required through its lifecycle to yield its full benefits.
But it’s easier than you might think to effectively and strategically organize and store your organization’s full contract portfolio. Launching a document repository is a great way to securely store your important agreements, and at the same time improve the ease and efficiencies of many tasks related to contract management. Best of all, it’s easier than you might think to get started.
Here are the 5 keys to launching an effective document repository.
1. Conduct a document audit
Before you even start to think about how to organize and structure your organization’s document repository, it’s important to have a good idea of what will go in it. However, the disorganized manner in which many companies store their contracts may mean you have to do some digging to fully and holistically understand the scope of your existing portfolio of contracts and other documents you wish to store. From NDAs to employment agreements, it’s useful to start with a contract audit, itemizing all of the types of agreements in use and listing which departments and/or roles are using various contracts. The information gleaned from this audit will inform your next steps.
2. Find a storage system that will suit your needs
Once you have an idea of the volume of documents you’ll be looking to store within your repository, the next step is finding a storage system that will meet your needs. Many organizations find that a cloud-based online storage solution is the way to go because it allows employees to securely access the documents they need from any device at any time. As not all solutions are the same, you’ll want to spend some time evaluating the tools on the market. Some criteria you may want to consider include the amount of storage space, the fee model for storage, ease of access to stored content and any industry-specific security or compliance requirements.
3. Develop an organizational strategy
The crucial next step to launching a document repository is deciding how it will be organized. Even if your repository system has a keyword search tool, it’s important to have a plan for migrating and storing documents and not just add them willy-nilly as this defeats the purpose of migrating documents to a central repository. From naming conventions to folder structure, your organizational strategy should make it easy for you and relevant employees to effectively find precisely what you’re looking for within existing documents and to know where to put new documents as you add them to your repository. There is no one system that makes sense for every business – it’s important to think about what structure and organization principles will be most user-friendly and efficient for your user base; after all, if the strategy isn’t intuitive, then users may be less likely to abide by it. Some common organizational principles include organizing by department, document type, client or even timeframe. Whatever organizational strategy you use, the key is to apply it consistently.
4. Don’t forget to think about your archiving strategy
As you think about how to organize your document repository, don’t forget to have a plan for documents that have outlived their usefulness. Holding on to too many old documents can contribute to clutter and make even a well-organized repository start to feel unwieldy. As such, it’s important to have a plan for documents that are no longer in use. While compliance regulations may dictate how long you need to hold on to documents, you may want to create archival folders and outline the exact criteria for deleting expired contracts and other documents.
5. Start migrating
Now that you have a clear idea of how you are going to use and organize your document repository, it’s time to start using it. That said, for organizations with deep document stores, moving over to a new system can feel like an overwhelming task. Because it may not seem critical compared to other business activities, and it's easy to keep pushing it aside in favor of higher priorities. But migration doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Once you have your organizing strategy in place, you can immediately start using it as new documents come in, while migrating older documents over time.
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