Business operations have changed a lot in the past year, and as such, many companies are becoming aware of the benefits that automation and contract management offer. Though the pandemic has generally been a negative experience for everyone who has been impacted by it, a couple of opportunities have arisen in light of the difficulties.
Lisa Lang is the General Counsel at a public regional university in Kentucky who has been in her position for three years. Because she works at a small university, her role in the office of the General Counsel involves supporting all staff. Due to recent events, Lisa has been able to make much-needed changes in the way her office handles contracts.
The Issues with Manual Systems
Lisa explains that in larger universities, there is an office that handles procurement and contracts, but in her small office, she is responsible for every contract that exists in the system.
Before the pandemic, all of the processes in her office were manual. This means that when it came to negotiations, she would have to print a contract, stamp it to mark the status, sign it, date it, scan it, then send it to the next person that needed to sign.
Though a new system was not implemented until after the pandemic, Lisa was aware of the need for change when she first worked in her position.
Contracts were at one time stored in binders and organized alphabetically, which was acceptable for a paper system despite its time-consuming nature.
Lisa highlighted the issue, as she was aware of the existence of electronic systems. Because the manual system was a constant issue, Lisa did what she could to bring awareness to it.
For example, during yearly external audits, lease information flowed to Lisa for review, but due to the inefficiency of the system, she did not always have easy access to every department’s leases. For that reason, she had to dedicate time to chasing down lease information and trying to determine its accuracy.
Expressing A Need
Upon the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lisa’s CFO wanted spreadsheets designed that included every contract the university kept, as well as information regarding who was responsible for it.
In situations like these, Lisa would explain how long this task was going to take with a manual system, then mention the time it would take using an automated system.
For example, “All of our contracts are in binders, so this task may take me two weeks to complete. If we could get a CLM, AI could take care of this task in an hour.”
Lisa took time to research the capabilities of CLM systems so that when she was asked to perform a task, she could compare manual efficiency with the predicted efficiency of a CLM system. This helped prepare her for expressing the need for a new system.
Lisa explains that even though the Purchasing Director and CFO were aware of the need and wanted to assist, the university had competing priorities. Finding the money to afford a system would be a challenge.
However, research allowed her to locate a product the university could start with. The system was offered by a small, yet growing company. Because of the size of this company, Lisa thought the system would be a good fit as both entities could grow together.
One of her main concerns during this process was whether this new system would be able to integrate with the university’s existing software. DocuSign, for example, was an important element of the university’s financial aid department.
While the new system integrated with DocuSign, it took some trial and error learning to configure the integration to where it met the university’s needs.
On top of the DocuSign concerns, the new system operated somewhat separately from the Banner system that every department kept data on. In a perfect world, the systems would integrate, but Lisa remains optimistic.
As time passes, Lisa hopes to include budgeting into the new system. This way, she will be able to take contracts from a repository and assign them to different units within the university. On top of assigning contracts, she will be able to better anticipate money flows and make more detailed purchasing plans.
She hopes to overcome the issue of poor vendor organization with the new system. By having a database of vendors, it will be much simpler to locate and use a vendor rather than seeking out a brand new one.
She recalls that at one point, the university had three vendors providing the same service but for different units. Had there been a database, one vendor would have been used at a considerable cost reduction.
In addition to saving money in that sense, the new system is likely to help prevent the university from losing money to auto-renewals for products that the university may not even use.
The Current State
Lisa explains that utilizing the CLM system is a process. It does not improve everything overnight, and there will still be challenges when it comes to configuring the product to her university’s needs. Training staff to use the system will also take time and effort.
Fortunately, the vendor has been helpful in this sense. They have been able to help Lisa get the contracts placed into the system, which saved her quite a bit of time and frustration.
Despite the fact that a CLM system takes time to learn, it seeks to improve efficiency well over the past manual system.