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Gaining support for and actually implementing contract management systems is a tall order for any legal department. But it is all the more difficult when one is unsure of what to expect.

“Don’t underestimate the task at hand,” especially when implementing a large-scale contract management system, said Kerry Phillip, Legal Director at Vodafone Global Enterprise. To shed light the challenges and realities of such an effort, Phillip spoke of her company’s own contract management implementation at the “Hype v Reality: Technology and AI Lessons from the Corporate Legal Department Front Line” session on May 10 at the 2017 Corporate Legal Operations Consortium’s annual institute in Las Vegas.

Vodafone’s legal department’s implementation of a contract management system was driven by the reality that while“the business was growing, the only part of the business that wasn’t growing was the legal department,” Phillip said. At the same time, the amount of data handled by legal departments, especially that involving contracts, was increasing exponentially.

Further, contracting work was “often a slow process, and very much paper-based with no technology or automation behind it,” Phillip noted. She added that such difficult, time-consuming work negatively affected how the department acted with its internal clients.

Vodafone’s legal team decided to implement “a complete end-to-end” AI-powered contract management system. The system worked to track and gain visibility into their contract workflows, automate drafting and approval to speed up the contracting process, and centralize all their contract data.

With its new contract management system in place, Vodafone’s contract work was transformed to new heights of efficiency. For example, Phillip was able to sign a time-sensitive contract on her mobile phone while she was on flight waiting to take off.

These benefits, however, did not come easy. Phillip recalled how she previously attempted to get funding and support for a new contract management system. “I failed because I was talking to the wrong people about the wrong thing,” she said.

What helped her secure support this time around was her ability to explain it as a business need, “not a legal need.”  To do so, she framed the request as “we have a poor customer experience that we can improve massively,’” she said.

After securing funds and support, Phillip still had to spend “a surprising amount of time” reiterating to the C-suite and managers why the system was needed. The project took around two years, more than double the amount of time initially planned.

The extra time, however, was not spent just installing the technology. “We spent a lot of time shortening our templates, getting rid of templates, mapping out our processes, making sure that we either offshored or stopped doing the work we shouldn’t be doing.”

The effort also forced the legal department to take a more hands-on approach to the project and work in tandem with the IT department to make sure the system was up to their expectations.

Phillips noted that in past, she would let IT manage any tech-related programs, but with this project, “I realized that wasn’t the right way to do it. And since then, I’ve been on their case about deadlines and timing.”

“I have in many occasions had to remind the IT guys that this is not an IT project, this is a customer lead project,” she added.