While contract lifecycle management platforms continue to increase in sophistication and popularity, they are still plagued by end-user dissatisfaction and low adoption rates that rob the investment of value. This is a persistent phenomenon.
A 2017 Gartner survey reported “a low percentage of respondents perceiving value created by their contract management systems,” and two years later the 12th Annual Law Department Operations Survey shared that “survey respondents rated their contract managements systems just 6.6 out of 10.” Two years later, a Legalweek panel “detailed that just 33% of contract lifecycle systems get fully implemented, with 85% of companies defaulting [back] to manual systems.”
This year’s long juxtaposition between their growing popularity—CLM systems are high on the list of planned investments for legal departments—and continued disappointments points to as yet unresolved root causes.
“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” —W. Edward Deming
Contract management systems are sophisticated technologies that are intended to support a complex and dynamic process. Use cases can range from the seemingly simple to the complex: from repositories to enhanced storage, search and retrieval to complicated end-to-end workflows that encompass automated contract generation, workflow automations, playbooks, enterprise integrations, and powerful analytics.
Yes, implementation of contract management software—even “simple” offerings—is a complex endeavor. These are not out-of-the-box solutions and require varying levels of customizations. And indeed, post-purchase implementation failures are often posited as the source of dissatisfaction.
However, while implementation management challenges can cause suboptimal results, our experience working with clients to improve their existing CLM implementations demonstrates that the roots of end-user dissatisfaction can begin to take hold before implementation and trace as far back as the initial planning and discovery phases.
To improve CLM implementation, expand usage and user satisfaction and improve ROI, care must be taken to:
- Exhaustively understand your requirements and constraints
- Improve stakeholder alignment and integrate attorneys as end users
- Focus intently on the end-user experience (both legal and business), going beyond UI/UX design
- Ensure robust change management protocols that begin with gathering requirements and continue through shortlisting, testing, customizations and configurations, implementation, rollout, and beyond
- Incorporate rollout techniques that establish quick wins and buy-in
Without this focus, the solution you implement may be perfectly designed to disappoint.
Know (and test) requirements
There needs to be absolute clarity about what you are trying to achieve. Is it a basic contract repository or a more robust solution that manages compliance with corporate guidelines, auditable workflow, and post-contracting analytics? What are your goals?
It is not unusual to find disconnects. Organizations that have acquired robust CLM solutions may find they are being used only as simple repositories with a “default back to manual systems” perhaps due to a frustrating UX that hinders adoption. Or they may acquire systems that do not provide the means for the anticipated use—possibly due to undeveloped requirement gathering or poor change management protocols early in the planning process. All too often, the use cases examined and time spent gathering requirements only loosely develop what is needed before teams go to market to shortlist solutions.
Lack of a mission statement, a full range of use cases, and fully developed requirements understood and agreed on across all stakeholders is often the culprit. These omissions can be a key leading indicator of end-user dissatisfaction and poor ROI long before any purchase decision or implementation struggles.
Improve stakeholder alignment to improve user experience
Lawyers are typically engaged to develop the substantive elements of the CLM (e.g., contract templates, playbooks, and workflow) but are not always recognized as key stakeholders in the assessment of a user interface. This is unfortunate as attorneys can provide valuable insights that should play a large role in the selection process.
Traditionally, the technology, IT, and procurement teams guide the decision, for a selection process that may be weighted to CLM attributes aligning with internal system architecture. Conversely, lawyers, who likely do not know the technology or infrastructure requirements, often identify something as being optimal which is not suitable from an IT or budget perspective.
Buy-in across stakeholders—which can also include business, finance, and other users as well—is critical to successful change management. However, attorneys are not always as involved in shortlisting as they should be. This leaves the negotiation between “wish list” and budget, competing priorities, requirements, and constraints absent this key stakeholder input.
This means the core group that will live in the system—and for whose benefit the system is being considered—is not involved in assessing one of the most important aspects of the system: user-friendliness. It is an omission that indicates trouble ahead. A multifunctional team should form the core of the selection and implementation process, particularly in an end-to-end CLM system that will include business users. Ease of use for all types of users will definitely impact adoption rates.
User experience beyond UI/UX design
User experience is not just a function of the CLM’s design elements or the particular tool’s interface. User experience includes the process that begins well before any go-live date (including customizations, testing, and staging) and continues well after (e.g., help desk support). This is the “UX” that will most dramatically improve adoption, maximize anticipated benefits and accelerate ROI.
Our experience shows that 90% of CLM systems can support 90% of potential use cases and have the features and customization capabilities necessary to meet organization-specific goals. That said, it is important to understand if the licensee can perform such customizations or if only the provider can do it—and will. Lack of clarity about this will become a real point of contention after implementation.
The UI/UX customizations and configurations performed in a staging and testing environment prior to rollout can include available options and features exposed to the user workflow configurations, and myriad other aspects of the UI. All of this needs to be exhaustively tested. This should include targeted user acceptance testing (UAT) prior to any go-live event.
All it takes is for one user to get on the system, not see an expected option or the wrong nomenclature and say, “I don’t think this works,” to spread the word and frustrate adoption.
Of course, a vital aspect of UX is ongoing support. Training sessions, self-help documentation (e.g., FAQs and tutorials), help desk availability, and clear procedures for getting support are prerequisites. Changes to the system are likely post-rollout as feedback from live use is incorporated, so robust support and vigilant change management are crucial. If you have not planned for these, you are courting failure.
Rollout: Quick wins or quick losses
It is important to keep in mind that a CLM represents a sea change, especially for business users who just want to get something done quickly and are accustomed to simply calling a lawyer to find what they need. Now everything has been moved into a process no one is familiar with.
Rolling out the CLM en masse is a surefire way to achieve a quick loss. Again, if anyone—especially a key stakeholder—doesn’t like what they see, the odds of being able to regain interest are low. They will showcase any issues as a reason not to adopt the system.
Those organizations that have transitioned via a carefully controlled and phased implementation have achieved the greatest success in terms of high adoption and the enhanced ROI that follows. Even if everything up until the point of the rollout was done well, an uncontrolled rollout can, and will, spoil those efforts.
What do successful CLM implementations have in common?
- Rolling out an initial set of features rather than the entire system capabilities all at once
- The careful selection of an initial set of users who are enthusiastic about the opportunity
- Strong feedback loops to apply learning to implementations going forward
- The creation of success stories around the experience to showcase to other groups
- Establishment of key performance indicators to objectively measure success against requirements and goals to assess ROI
- Exceptional program and project management discipline with periodic review on use, issues, and improvement opportunities during initial implementation and to incorporate any change requests
Ultimately, whether your organizational requirements are a simple contract repository to improve storage, search and retrieval capabilities or an enterprise system supporting complex end-to-end contracting workflows, the difference between success (happy end users, high ROI) and failure (frustration, low adoption, abandonment, and expensive rework) comes down to strong project management acumen, robust and fully documented requirements, and careful stakeholder alignment—not just buy-in —from initial discovery and project planning to post-rollout management.
In other words, it’s up to you.
About the Authors
Sailaja Meesaraganda is Associate Vice President, Client Solutions, QuisLex. Before joining QuisLex, she worked with a law firm handling IP-related matters and practiced in the Delhi High Court. She received her LL.B. degree from Amity Law School, Delhi, where she graduated first in her class.
Aush Arsh is Associate Vice President, Corporate Solutions, QuisLex. Aush completed his LL.B. degree at the University of Delhi and postgraduate diploma in corporate laws and management from the Indian Law Institute, New Delhi. He is based in the Hyderabad operations center.