I’ve had a couple of requests now for a SharePoint Contract Management System, so I thought I would write up one approach to the project.
SharePoint contract management systems are unique to each company, but typically they involve these features:
- Stores draft and final versions of contracts
- Manages contract phases (under review, approved, active, and archived)
- Maintains workflows, supporting contract review and approval.
- Monitors contract expiration and renewal
- Displays dashboards showing contracts per vendor, renewal/expiration date, business contact, dollar amount, etc.
- Manages contract templates.
SharePoint can be made to address each of these concerns and create a highly customized, effective system for tracking contracts through their lifecycles. This post describes how SharePoint:
- Stores and organizes contracts in document libraries
- Creates reports or views of documents
- Acts as a database and allows integration
- Uses workflows to manage processes
- Uses Content types for templates
Document Libraries and Metadata
All documents stored in SharePoint are housed in web parts called, “document libraries”. Document libraries are similar to the top level of a folder structure, except that instead of using nested folders to organize content, document libraries typically use custom metadata, also called columns.
In the case of the document library below, I created several columns
- Status- A drop down choice field for Under Review, Declined, Approved, and Archived
- Vendor- A lookup column using options from a custom list on SharePoint
- Departments- A drop down choice field with a list of departments
- Expiration Date- a date column
I can sort and filter the document library by these metadata columns to create unique views of the documents. For example, I can filter it to only show IT contracts that are approved or Under Review.
In the screen shot below, I used two instances of the same document library web part on the same page to show a grouped view of contracts that are “Under review” and a list of expiring contracts sorted by expiration date.
A similar dashboard could be created for specific vendors, status, departments, or any other custom columns applied.
SharePoint as a database
We also regularly use the “Custom List” web part, which is essentially a spreadsheet of information. In the example above, the Vendor name in the document library refers to a Vendors custom list using a look up field. These relationships make SharePoint act like a relational database with separate tables.
Using separate lists for column data is preferable to allowing open text fields because it makes the data reusable for other systems (project management, vendor management, etc.) and it enforces data integrity.
Data from outside of SharePoint can also be brought in as one of the tables. If the billing system has a complete list of vendors, we would want to bring in that list with a live connection instead of duplicating it in SharePoint. In that case, one of the tables of the relational database would live outside of SharePoint.
There are some limitations in how SharePoint works as a database, and these limitations impact the way that a document library can be sliced up. The details get murky (that’s why you hire a consulting company), but with some forethought, there aren’t any major issues.
Using metadata, views, and related tables, we control how the contracts are organized. The next major piece of a contract management system concerns document approval and notification workflows.
SharePoint workflows are the tool used for notifications, approvals, and records. A contract management system has several examples.
- Contract Approval Workflow – When a new contract is submitted by a vendor, a set of individuals need to approve or request changes to the contract before it is signed. SharePoint’s workflow features can manage this process by notifying each contributor in turn or at once that their input is required.
- Expiration – A workflow might be used when a contract is expiring or being terminated. SharePoint can notify the individuals who need to contact the vendor, revoke access, issue final payment, etc. and track the completion of each task.
- Archiving – Workflows can move expired contracts from an active document library to an archive.
Workflows can be simple two step approvals or be very complex with “spaghetti-like” business logic (requiring data from external system, looping back on themselves, or following two paths simultaneously, etc.)
Every company will have a unique approach to their workflows. All workflows are custom. This is one example of how a contract may be approved.
- Business Manager fills out request and attaches the vendor’s agreement
- Executive assistant is notified by email that there is a new request. He reviews the request and uses SharePoint to
- Approve – process moves on to CFO
- Decline – form is returned to business manager with notes on what is needed.
- CFO is notified by email that there is a new request. He reviews the request and uses SharePoint to
- Approve – process moves to Legal counsel
- Decline – Returned to Business Manager
- Legal reviews the contract and
- Approves- process moves on to CEO
- Negotiates contract changes with the vendor through the Business Manager.
- Reviews and signs
SharePoint manages this process by
- Housing the documents
- Notifying (by email, SMS, task) each person that their approval is needed
- Managing the back and forth to negotiate changes
- Recording each approval
- Managing document versions
A simple workflow can also be used to notify a group that a contract is set to expire. In that case, the workflow is triggered by a date calculation (expiration date – 90 days). The workflow can simply email individuals, create tasks, or move documents from one library to another.
Contracts that originate from within the company also need to be managed by the system, including contracts for employment, contract employees, and other business specific documents. SharePoint content types can be a big help here.
A content type is a standard starting place for a document. When you first create a document library the only option available under New Document in the Files tab is a new Word document. Content types add other options.
In this example, I added three new content types to the same contracts document library: Contractor Agreement, Employee Confidentiality Agreement, and Employee Ethics Agreement.
Content types are more powerful than simple templates for a couple of reasons. Content types can assign metadata to documents automatically. Content types prevent overwriting the template, and content types can kick off different workflows.
For example, submitting a contractor agreement might notify the business unit identified within the agreement that a new document has been created, while a new Employee Ethics agreement might simply move the document into the HR Employee document library.
Of course, when you use SharePoint as your contract management system, you also get all of the usual SharePoint document management features. In brief, these include:
- Integration with Microsoft Office- Save and open documents directly into SharePoint using OneDrive for Business or mapped drives.
- Sharing and links- Instead of emailing attachments, use the Share or Link features in SharePoint to direct people to an online copy.
- Permissions- Control who can access which documents. Grant temporary view or edit access to documents.
- Follow and Alerts- Be notified whenever someone adds a new document or makes changes to a specific document.
- Versioning- Track past versions of a document. View or restore past document versions with a couple of clicks.
As a platform, SharePoint can also route information from system to system. A contract management system can feed directly into vendor management, project management, purchasing, etc. Information can easily flow between the various systems developed within SharePoint.