Configure, Don’t Customize Your Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) system

Patricia Callejón


by Patricia Callejón

As technology progresses at hyper-speed, most organizations are maintaining a pretty hefty tech stack. As more and more business functions move towards automation, that stack keeps growing and growing.

Of course, even a "perfect" solution never remains perfect. As business needs evolve, all of those systems that you've spent money to deploy, time to learn, and dev team resources to improve, can quickly become obsolete. This is an ROI nightmare.

We can see a pretty clear example of this when we look at contract lifecycle management (CLM) systems. In less flexible CLM systems, organization-specific needs are usually met by a development team building customized content and workflows into the software to meet organization-specific needs. After all, contract management isn't one-size-fits-all, and making sure that your processes are hyper-customized to your business needs is required for literally every organization.

But, how well does customizing a CLM system through coding really work in the long, or even fairly short run? Sadly, not very well. Workflows change. Contract templates need to be updated. Individual clauses need to be replaced. Doing all of this through hard coding is like reprogramming your word processor every time you need to write a new document! Given this reality, should you keep feeding processes back into your CLM vendor's development teams queue for customization? Or, should you be using configurable contract management software instead?

Customization vs. Configuration CLM systems

To the less technical, customization and configuration of CLM systems sound much the same. In fact, they could not be more different. In short, customization requires coding to make changes to workflows such as contract approvals, and often even to make changes to contract templates and clause content. In contrast, the configuration of a CLM system means that the ability to make changes is built-in to the software itself. So, instead of sending specifics off to an engineering team to tweak them to be organization-specific, software with built-in configuration can be changed and adjusted on the fly — no coding required.

From a CLM system perspective, this means that your organization can configure as-you-go to suit specific departments as well as individual needs and workflows. Or, more importantly, on a case-by-case (or contract-by-contract) basis. Configurable CLM systems address tech evolution pain points and give your organization the room to scale and grow on-the-fly — which is critical in the ever-evolving world of contracts.

Why Your CLM system Needs Configuration

Having a software stack that's configurable to specific business needs and desirable in almost any domain is great, but for contract management, it's a necessity. Best practice flexibility keeps your organization on-top of changes and keeps clients informed and accessible. In the contract world, legal language is ever evolving.

For example, a business may discover that a specific set of clauses puts it at legal risk, and therefore want to refresh its templates with new language. A configurable CLM system can implement these changes in minutes. A system that requires hard coding of templates will not only drive up development costs, but it will also expose the company to additional legal risk while the template is being re-coded in the system. The fluid nature of contract management means that your CLM system needs to be able to adjust, scale, grow, and adapt to incoming regulations, legal language, and, more importantly, client needs and adjustments. Better yet, configurable CLM systems can lean on the user community, who are usually directly engaged in contract management processes. This avoids implementation frictions that arise from engineering teams developing processes without having first experienced those processes. The people who will be giving input on, or even implementing changes will be the employees who understand the day-to-day challenges and unique workflows that accompany contract management.

Configuration gives you the agility necessary to stay up-to-date on all current contract best practices — while offering you the ability to automate unique business processes that will save you time, money, and hair-thinning mistakes.

How the CLM system Configuration Process Works

The art of configuring your CLM system starts with your processes. What works? What doesn't work? What could you automate to save time? What features do you need to implement to improve employee and client satisfaction rates? What can you do to mitigate risk while also decreasing approval time? Chances are that when you begin implementing a CLM system you will only have partial "today" answers to those questions. That's OK, if you have a CLM system that can grow and change as your needs and understanding evolve.

Here are some steps that you can take towards configuring your CLM system to fit your operational needs.

  1. Understand your manual operations: What are the processes that you are currently fulfilling manually? Once you pinpoint these manual steps, you can start working towards eradicating them and replacing them with faster, automated processes in the CLM system. These changes should free up valuable employee time that's currently spent on mundane and repetitive tasks. Remember,  18% of the enterprise sales cycle is directly related to contract work. Reducing that number by targeting manual operations will significantly impact your ROI.

  2. Use KPIs to improve efficiencies in your CLM system: Of course, you can also improve upon your existing workflows, including your previously automated processes. By tracking specific KPIs, you can figure out which contract processes (assembling, approving, executing, searching, modifying, etc.) are taking the longest, and why that is. You can then start to tweak workflow specific to strengthen your processes, reducing time, cost, and headaches.

  3. Find corporate-specific contract management weaknesses: A good CLM system isn't going to be specific to your business out-of-the-box; it's going to be good at getting specific, fast. Best-in-class enterprises are 30% more likely to use customized automated contract workflows to handle proposal, creation, negotiation, workflow, and signatures. Why? You want to tweak your CLM system to meet hyper-specific business needs — which will reduce time-to-sign.

Roll With the Changes

An inflexible, hard-coded contract management solution requires engineers and developers to spend a significant amount of time and resources to create a process that's only useful in a static environment. Unfortunately, in today's business, there AREN'T any static environments. Since contract management involves changing content and evolving best practices, businesses who rely on customization are in for a world of financial pain. The pace of change is likely to overwhelm solutions that require custom coding.

A configurable CLM system, in contrast, allows business users to change content and process quickly and without relying on developers. Changes can be made by the business experts who face the everyday challenges of contract management head-on. You can also adapt your software to meet hyper-specific demands, which gives you the fluidity to evolve with industry practices.

About the author

Patricia Callejón

Patricia Callejón

Patricia Callejón is the Content Manager at ContractRoom. She uses her law degree and work experience at two of the world’s most recognized global law firms to help ContractRoom and its customers create the future of agreement.

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