10 Years in Business … and a cautionary tale


Blueridge Software this month celebrates the 10-year anniversary of Contract Assistant – the leading contract management software for organizations of any size and budget.

Ten years of stable growth, product releases, and customer support is a proud milestone. It is something our customers can also appreciate, considering Contract Assistant is the business tool they use to help manage the contracts and documents that govern business-wide operations of all types.

Yet all is not necessarily good in the contract management world. Many software companies offer their products as software-as-a-service (SaaS), offering their services on a subscription basis via the web. It sounds like a good idea, but consider what happened to Mumboe.

A few months ago, our industry reported the hasty closure of Mumboe, an SaaS contract management company. It gave clients just two weeks to access and download all of their stored data before shutting down its site and web-based service for good in November 2011. Such a rapid shutdown was a tough enough situation for Mumboe customers, but consider, too, that many were left to scramble and search for replacement contract management software.

Nothing demonstrates the pitfall of trusting SaaS quite as well as the Mumboe event. SaaS companies store your information and records on their system. And in the event of a service failure or company shuttering, you may or may not get those records back; and if you do, they may not be in a viable file format for you to use. Granted, the anytime/anywhere access and instant software updates have a certain appeal, but keep in mind the drawbacks of vulnerability to Internet service interruptions and application closures.

Now, consider the difference we offer with Contact Assistant: when you purchase and own the software outright, your critical contracts and other legal documents remain on your system and under your full control.

Access to your data and to the program is indefinite, regardless of the selling company’s future state, your Internet service connection, or whatever else. With virtualization options available, you can set up anytime/anywhere access to the program across the devices and access points you use to run your business. Plus, you can rest assured that with your information stored on your network, you have control over its security.

So while Blueridge Software celebrates the 10th year anniversary of Contract Assistant, we hope all our customers have found some peace of mind with our purchased solution.

Law insiders see the need for contract management software

Contract management may not be the hottest topic on the Web or in social media, but even prominent websites are commenting on the subject.

Take, for example, a post found on Law.com by John Edwards: Contract Management Software Helps Lawyers Gain the Upper Hand. We could not agree more with some of Edwards observations on why attorneys need to use contract management software (Edwards uses the abbreviation CMS). Here are some of this best points on the topic:

“The myriad of benefits, such as return on investment, compliance, standardization of terms, contract life-cycle management, and system visibility, outweigh the perceived hurdles.”

The task of evaluating a contract management solution can feel daunting and overwhelming. But the benefits justify the up-front work. To help those getting started, see our post on tips and best practices for the selection process, including this list of eight steps.

“Not all CMS products are suitable for law offices and legal departments. Many offerings are targeted at sales, marketing, human resources, and various other types of business users.”

While this is true, many systems – including Contract Assistant – include the functions valued by attorneys and corporate legal departments. See an example of legal use cases here and also read how key features benefit other departments as well.

“CMS products can be delivered as a web-based service or traditional office server-based software. Most web-based CMS applications are sold on a subscription basis, offer anytime/anywhere access and include instant software updates. A drawback is the fact that web-based apps are highly vulnerable to internet service interruptions.

Choosing a vendor delivering a web-based contract management system presents its own category of risk. The prime example: Mumboe shut down its SaaS application at the end of November and warned customers they had just two weeks to retrieve all of their stored data and documents. While a sizable trend in software is a move to the cloud, full ownership of contract management software still makes a lot of sense.

Establishing Selection Criteria for Contract Management Software

By: Judy Tucker, business consultant, Blueridge Software, Inc.

Once you’ve determined that doing a better job of managing contracts is a priority and that the best solution is off-the-shelf software, the next step is to establish selection criteria.

ASP Or Client/Server?
You’ll need to consider whether client/server architecture, in which users access the system directly, or ASP, in which they access it via a Web browser, better suits your needs. There are plusses and minuses to each.

Advantages of Web-based programs include portability and, sometimes, price (particularly for organizations with large numbers of read-only users). Disadvantages include security, speed and screen display.

If the vendor hosts your data, security is a prime consideration. Should you ever want to get your data back, be sure that the supplier will return not only your source documents but also the meta-data derived from those documents. Access speed can be an issue because of the vagaries of the Internet. The speed of screen refreshes can be problematic for data entry, sorting, searching, and reporting functions.

Web-based programs offer limited control over how information is displayed. Users may find the inability to customize drop-down menus or to remove extraneous fields frustrating or distracting – affecting efficiency.

Advantages of client/server programs include security, speed and report display.

Client/server software is not as widely accessible. But commonly used remote desktop technologies like Citrix, Virtual Server, and Terminal Services make distance computing practical. Access speed is more consistent and dependent only upon factors that are under your control (the traffic on your network, for example). This is important if most of your users will be manipulating data.

Your initial investment in client/server software may or may not be higher, depending upon the proportion of your users who are read/write. If you are comparing client/server models to hosted ASP solutions that charge monthly fees, remember that those fees are ongoing and are often based upon the number of records in your database. As your database grows, so do your costs.

With client/server systems, security is not an issue. Your data is never out of your hands. You are storing it and controlling who sees and works with it.

Client/server systems also offer much better control and customization of features. This can favorably affect ease of use.

Proprietary Data Storage Format – A Red Flag
Danger, Will Robinson! Whether you choose ASP or client/server architecture, be sure that the system will store your data in a standard, non-proprietary format. Any proprietary format should raise a red flag.

For one thing, you may want to work with your data from the backend, either for reporting purposes or to tie into other databases.

Infinitely more important, however, is the ability to move your data out if necessary. You may never need to get your information out of the system, but you must be sure that if you need to, you can!

Features & Flexibility
When you think about features, keep it as simple as possible. Ask whether a program meets your basic needs.

When you evaluate a product, be sure that it will store the specific information you need and that you’re comfortable with the way in which it allows you to view and retrieve the data. Consider whether there are layers of complexity that you don’t want.

Flexibility is particularly important with packaged software. Is the program too narrowly defined, or not targeted enough? If the software is intended for general business use, is it agile enough to accommodate your specific requirements?

Ease Of Use
How friendly is the user interface? How complete and accessible is the documentation? Is training needed for all users? Or optional for those wanting a jump-start?

What costs are involved in implementing the software? Does the vendor charge for help with installation? Is user training required, and, if so, what are the costs?

Upgrade Path
Is the system scalable? Can you start small and upgrade to a larger version later? An easy upgrade path allows you to leverage your investment in time, money, and knowledge of the software.

Technical Support
Look for responsive technical support. Make sure the supplier will provide personal responses to technical questions. Check references. Has the software been relatively trouble-free? How effectively does the vendor work with customers to solve any problems that do arise?

Although there may not be a simple formula for pinpointing when contract management software pays for itself, keep in mind ROI benefits may occur soon after implementation. That may become clear to you the first time an alert prevents you from an overpayment, or maybe even the first time you easily retrieve a contract record rather than asking a separate department for its files.

Core Requirements: A Sample List
Summarize your core requirements in a brief list. Here’s a sample of criteria you might use. Just add sub-points to the list where necessary.

  1. Easy to use
  2. Priced within budget
  3. All charges (software, installation, implementation, training) knowable up front
  4. Stores the data you need to store in a way that makes sense for your organization
  5. Provides visibility into key contract provisions
  6. Supports automatic alerts (visual and/or via email)
  7. Includes a way to store or link actual contracts, notes, and related documents
  8. Simple to administer in your environment
  9. Offers robust security that doesn’t interfere with ease of use
  10. Responsive, responsible technical support

An Excellent Beginning
Outlining the criteria for your contract management system is, of course, just the beginning (although it’s a good one). Implementation is still ahead of you, and designing and building your database is not a trivial project. But knowing what you’re looking for in contract management software will go a long way toward making sure you choose the product that’s right for you.

SaaS – says who? Carefully consider your contract management software vendor

There’s a lot of talk these days about “the cloud” and certainly there are advantages to SaaS (software as a service), but it’s important to know there are disadvantages too — particularly when assessing contract management software.

Contract management software typically handles some of the most confidential, sensitive information for your business. Can you fully trust a third party to safely store and process your contracts and other critical documents? Hosted software means that crucial business information is sitting on someone else’s server.

That can be a considerable risk for several reasons.

Risky Business

Let’s face it – vendor/solution provider viability is a significant concern. What would happen if your SaaS provider suddenly ceases operations? Not only does your access disappear, but the integrity and protection of your business information comes into serious question.

Suppose you were overly cautious and stored your own backups so your contracts were never out of your reach. You may retain the files – but what about the time and investment your company has put into using the vendor’s software. And you may not be able to replace that functionality quickly enough to stay ahead of deadlines.

Even if the software provider stays afloat, the very fact that your data is being stored on the Internet is an inherent risk not to be taken lightly. Hackers and competitors can steal, ruin, or even just finagle access to your documents. These risks are real and need to be evaluated against the benefits of using a contract management SaaS.

Keep It Local

How can you mitigate these risks while still reaping the benefits of a contract management system?

Look seriously at a software program that becomes an intimate component of your business management infrastructure. Keep your data on your system for your eyes only. Put it behind the security system and firewalls your company has trust in.

Software running on your computer or network is operational – whether or not you have Internet access, whether or not the software vendor’s company is operational. The contract management software continues to work as promised and your contracts, and your business, continue to perform.