Compelling Reasons to Corral Contracts
Spotlight: Comprehensive and Doctoral Institutions, from "Business Briefs" department in May 2010 issue of Business Officer
By Kathryn Funk-Baxter and Judy Harral
In an environment of expanding and ever-more-complex contracts, today's universities are challenged in managing, monitoring, and centralizing contract administration. A review of contract operations at our university revealed a number of issues that called for solutions:
- We were experiencing a rapid increase in the number of contracts and heightened complexity of many agreements.
- The university was using outdated means of tracking contracts, relying on multiple spreadsheets.
- As contract administrators, department staff were not always aware of detailed contract terms and conditions.
- We had no area in the university designated as a central contract repository.
- Purchasing contract management software represented an expense for which we had a limited budget.
We concluded that we could benefit by consolidating our professional service contracts data into a single database that would capture decision-making information and allow better monitoring of the contracts for renewal.
After researching various contract software databases, we chose Blueridge Software's contract management solution as the best value for addressing our goals.
We implemented the program in February 2007, resulting in a centralized repository in digital format that creates audit trails and includes the tools to quickly access important information, generate reports, execute contracts, and receive automatic reminders of critical dates. Everything is available within the database portal, so we no longer have to track down contract folders or deal with misfiled or missing paperwork.
Task Training, Rapid Results
We assembled an implementation team to learn the system, with each member assigned to work on a standard operating procedure. Once trained in their respective areas, team members then learned each other's tasks. The information technology (IT) personnel provided support and answered questions along the way. With training complete, we began to see the benefits of the centralized database system, including:
- Saving personnel time in searching for a contract.
- No longer missing contract deadlines, which improves our customer service to the campus and vendors alike.
- Allowing the university to (1) review contracts well in advance, (2) fully research the renegotiation points, and (3) cancel a contract in the required time frame without penalty charges or increased escalation costs.
- Launching automated e-mails and alerts for actions that are needed during and prior to the end of a contract term.
- Keeping all contracts current by attaching relevant documents and notes to the contract file.
Shared Services and Future Goals
Because of the searchable categories, we share information with other Texas A&M campuses and appropriate outside institutions. This allows us to negotiate one contract for multiple A&M campuses, with better pricing and other terms.
For example, in contract negotiations for NCAA auditing of intercollegiate athletics programs, we asked that the agreement include the possibility of other A&M campuses using the audit services. The final agreement resulted in greater discounts and services for all and included the option that other campuses that did not contract with the vendor are still able to do so within the term.
This automated system will allow for expansion of programs and users as necessary. We anticipate, for example, being able to share our contract list and work with other A&M campuses to identify opportunities for negotiating other shared-services contracts that will best meet our needs.