The COVID-19 pandemic has been causing havoc across the globe for months now. Despite challenges, businesses are adopting new ways to be operational, negotiate existing contracts, sign new deals, and close contracts. But, in this new reality, businesses are having to do so remotely. With remote work, come challenges that most organizations are not prepared for. IACCM spoke to its members and 85% felt they needed to enhance or add to their existing systems to cope with the situation. Ensuring contracts are error-free and compliant while turning them around quickly, is no easy task in the absence of office infrastructure, necessary paperwork, and physical interaction.
How then can legal and contract management teams ensure smooth functioning of contract requests, authoring, reviews, negotiations and renegotiations, and sign-offs? In this blog post, let us look at how legal teams can harness cloud-based, SaaS CLM solutions, and AI to get through pre-award contract lifecycle quickly and efficiently, all while working remotely:
- Advanced search capabilities for identifying and negotiating contracts
The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted businesses as well as customer and supplier relationships. As organizations suffer, they have to renegotiate certain contracts, evaluate agreements, and resolve any issues over Force Majeure clauses. Without a centralized repository with advanced search capabilities, companies are struggling to identify and prioritize contracts based on their risk profile. They are at a higher risk of non-compliance and heavy financial losses due to the inability to access, identify, and review at-risk agreements. It has made the need for a remotely accessible, integrated, centralized repository with easy search capabilities more evident than ever.
- Multi-platform contract request intake
The first step in the contract lifecycle is to request contract intake, which is most often done by legal, contract management, or sales teams. Using manual or rudimentary processes means filling out long documents, going back and forth to collect information, and waiting for a long time to get the request reviewed and approved – and this, in today’s remote environment, would pose an even bigger challenge to the contract teams.
Contract management solutions that enable request intake through multiple platforms like Outlook, Salesforce, CLM make it easy for these teams to use the preferred platform to fill in the contract request. All these applications are accessible remotely. Moreover, RPA-driven CLM solutions to make this process easy through comprehensive forms that take in all key information, turn it into the best first draft in the preferred template, and send it to the right stakeholders for approval. This effectively reduces contract request time from days or weeks to as little as a couple of hours.
- Contract authoring with templates and smart clause library
Authoring contracts is an important task but is difficult and time-consuming if done manually. Manual contract management means creating contracts from scratch and with little help to compare clauses, read through third-party contract documents, and ensure there are no manual errors or inconsistencies. It becomes more of a difficulty in the absence of a team to collaborate with while drafting contracts.
On the other hand, contract authoring becomes quick and easy with cloud-based contract management solutions with an intuitive clause library, for assistance. Having preconfigured templates and standardized language ensures there are no loopholes in the contract. Smart clause library can provide timely suggestions to ensure no clause is missed or has any errors. NLP (Natural Language Processing) can compare clauses in third party contracts in no time, and automatically alert legal teams in case of major discrepancies. These features are an effective way to ensure smooth and accurate contract authoring while working remotely.
- Automated workflows for reviews and negotiations
The next stage in the contract lifecycle is reviews and negotiations. This is a critical stage and often the most time consuming, considering the involvement of multiple stakeholders, reviews, and back and forth of documents. Using emails to collaborate is a rudimentary way and often riddled with problems like unread emails, emails lost in the inbox, wrong version updates, miscommunication, etc.
Solutions that facilitate automation of workflows and easy collaboration amongst teams remotely is the best bet to get through this stage fast and with minimum confusion and errors. These automated workflows send documents for review to the right teams and alert them of the same. At any given point, all stakeholders have visibility into who the contracts are stuck with, increasing accountability. These platforms also have means to collaborate during the negotiation for quicker turn-around. Automating workflows also keeps a record of all changes and updates, maintaining an accurate audit trail. Moreover, version control ensures everybody is using the latest version of documents at all times.
- Secure e-signatures for sign-offs
Imagine if organizations still rely on the physical presence of both parties for signing off contracts. That would have meant no new deals getting signed or renewed in these times of social distancing, costing businesses dearly. Relying on couriers and postal services for sending documents for signing would again be a hindrance in the time of COVID-19, with limited and restricted services. Thanks to technology, that is no more a requirement. Contract management solutions with secure e-signature facilities are a boon in situations like these.
Once contracts get authored, reviewed and negotiated, they need to be signed to seal the deal and kick-off operations. Until recently, it meant stakeholders had to be present physically to sign the documents, which relied largely on the availability and schedule of the participants and led to delays. E-signatures allow for stakeholders to sign contracts from anywhere, at any time, and from any device. This secure feature transcends the time and place barrier and helps sign contracts remotely, and in no time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the incompetencies and issues in contracting operations. It has brought forward the need for having cloud-based, smart SaaS solutions that can be implemented and accessed remotely. Going paperless through centralized integrated repositories, automated processes, and smart analytics is the only sustainable and competitive way forward. It’s high time organizations realize the urgency of this requirement and transform their contract management to have a competitive edge in the post-COVID-19 era.