New Zealand Law Society - Contract management: Keeping it simple

Contract management: Keeping it simple

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There are more and more software solutions available for routine business tasks which have a legal component. Making sense of the ever-increasing range of single and multi-function packages available can be daunting, especially as they will all claim to be the best, the most cost-effective, and “the answer”.

Keeping it simple and focusing on solving one particular problem has been the focus of New Zealand contract management software provider Contract Eagle. It has been in business since 2003, although it was not until 2007 that it got its first big customers. Now it does business in 15 countries and its New Zealand clients include TSB Bank, Paymark, Otago Polytechnic and Ballance Agri-Nutrients.

Like many businesses founded on an identified need, Contract Eagle started from the experiences of its founders. Mark Aspden and David Ross had legal backgrounds while CEO Simon Aspden was an experienced commercial software developer.

“The seed idea came from an in-house legal perspective,” Simon Aspden says. “Contracts were getting thrown in the drawer and they spent a lot of time finding them or not finding them. There were often milestones and date-related provisions in those contracts that weren’t being managed because of that.”

Surely it was possible to build a solution to effectively manage contracts? “Absolutely. We can do that. With IT and software we can do anything,” says Simon Aspden. And a New Zealand-developed contract management web-based software package entered the market alongside a number of existing solutions from global providers.

The company traded as i-Scio Ltd until it changed to Contract Eagle Ltd at the end of 2016. It took few years of hard work and marketing before the first customers arrived. Like the identified need which led to the company’s birth, it needed an actual problem to make a sale.

“It was easy to get people to say ‘Yes, this is a good idea, we could really use something like that’, but to get them to spend money on it was another matter entirely,” Mr Aspden says.

It wasn’t until a business suffered “some real expensive pain” that the first sale was made.

“They had a highly valuable lease on a plot of land and they’d had it roll over and cost them a large amount of money. They used that to justify the cost of the system,” he says.

That often seems to be the way – actual pain is needed before a business will finally be driven to purchase and install a software solution.

“They try and cope with a spreadsheet or a manual solution and it’s really not until there is an actual incident that they think ‘Actually, maybe those manual techniques aren’t quite up to scratch’ – and that’s when we might get the call.”

He notes that the company’s experience is that the same “real pain” exists in Australia and the United States, but businesses there have more of a tendency to justify a purchase based on perceived risk and following best practice – rather than waiting for the pain.

While in-house lawyers are an important group of customers for the company, they’re not the only ones. Many have a procurement team or contract manager and not having to worry about managing a large number of contracts is something which greatly appeals to the lawyers.

“If you ask a general counsel they’ll agree that their role is to ensure contractual compliance and to provide a service to the business in managing its legal relationships. But the contract management can be something they’re often left with in their role and nobody necessarily wants to do it.”

Since it was founded, Contract Eagle has stuck to providing a way of managing contracts. The one major change has been the development of a cloud-based solution alongside the on-premises software.

Providing one part of the jigsaw that is the automation of legal processes has meant Contract Eagle is a keen observer of the ongoing advances in legal technology.

“If you go to any trade show you are exposed to all the aspirational hype, but there are some fantastic technologies out there,” Simon Aspden says.

“But you can still take the ‘keep it simple’ approach. In terms of contract management, the contracts haven’t essentially changed, the points of pain haven’t really changed since we started. The only thing now is that there are different options open, different ways of solving the problems.

“Essentially, if your lease rolls over, it rolls over and it’s going to have the same effect now as it did 20 years ago and the way of solving it can be pretty simple. It doesn’t need AI or blockchain; it needs a consistent or reliable process to manage it.”

Mr Aspden recently returned from the CLOC Annual Corporate Legal Operations Institute which was held in Las Vegas from 22-25 April. This was described as the largest gathering of corporate legal professionals in the world and focused on optimising the delivery of legal services to businesses.

“One thing I’ve observed among the bulk of available solutions is that they do seem to be doing a good job of making their interfaces clean and simple and friendly,” he says.

“That’s helpful, but being able to set aside all the fanciest technology and just to look for something that’s practical and does what you need it to do – something you can trust – you can’t really go wrong. Sometimes the simple is best. Fear of technology failure by not going for the latest solution is understandable, but keeping it simple is still a good way to go.”

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