Nice Minds Software program Contract Benefit (which begins at $75 per named person per 30 days for the WebEssentials plan) is a robust contract administration platform with a choice of options, choices, and practically countless customization skill. Since our preliminary overview, Contract Benefit has obtained numerous person interface (UI) enhancements in addition to new integrations and add-on modules, workflow automation options, and extra throughout the entire end-to-end contract life cycle administration spectrum.
This veteran contract administration platform would not focus in on anyone side of the contract administration course of; somewhat, it gives an array of performance throughout contract storage and categorization, contract creation and enhancing, workflows and digital signature, in addition to reporting and alerts. The most important points we had with this product had been concerning usability and compatibility to initially rise up and working. The corporate gives a wealth of exhaustively complete guides, Assist paperwork, and sources to help you in navigating and customizing the system. However the sheer quantity of customization might be daunting and, even with the enhancements since our preliminary overview and the Assist supplies, the UI is just user-friendly after you get the hold of the product. The corporate says its Assist sources are not any substitute for formal coaching. The corporate gives demos and coaching periods, together with Three-5 days of onsite coaching and setup relying on the plan you select.
Editors’ Alternative Updraft gives higher contract authoring and Editors’ Alternative Agiloft is easier to use with just as much customization ability. There are also a number of more intuitive, cloud-based products reviewed in this roundup that are far easier to use but without nearly as much enterprise-level functionality. However, for midsize to large businesses and organizations that can devote the time to setting up the system and customizing the UI, contract templates and management options, and workflow automation, Contract Advantage is among the most powerful tools on the market.
Editions and Pricing
Contract Advantage is available in three different versions: WebEssentials, WebPro, and WebElite. The pricing differs depending on whether you’d like the hosted product available through a web portal or the installed version of Contract Advantage that would live on a server behind your firewall. Blueridge Software Contract Assistant is the only other product tested in this roundup that offers an on-premises option.
The WebEssentials plan begins at $75 per named user per month and $90 per concurrent seat per month. For the installed version, the pricing is a one-time license fee of $500 per named user and $875 per concurrent user. The next plan up is WebPro, which begins at $83 per named user and $99 per concurrent user per month. The installed version costs $550 per named user and $963 per concurrent user for the one-time license.
Finally, there’s the WebElite edition, which begins at $95 per named user and $114 per concurrent user per month. The installed version of WebElite costs $633 per named user and $1,108 per concurrent user for the one-time license. Great Minds Software also offers view-only seats for Contract Advantage, ranging from $15-$20 per month for hosted systems and a $150-$175 license fee for installed systems. As mentioned, the company also offers onsite training with each plan to help with the significant learning curve. Included training is three days for WebEssentials, four days for WebPro, and five days for WebElite.
While these editions all have “Web” in their names, that’s not to say they run only as hosted cloud services. Instead, it means that users interact with them through a web browser that’s pointed at software running either on servers being hosted by Great Minds Software [the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) option] or on servers run in customer data centers. The choice is up to you. Contract Advantage has multiple deployment and pricing options, so be sure to understand the full picture before purchasing. And remember that running the software locally means investing in Microsoft SQL Server (2008, 2012, 2014, or 2016 edition) or Windows Server (2008 R2, 2012 R2, or 2016 R2 server).
This added back-end infrastructure means additional cost beyond the base licensing price of Contract Advantage: server and client access licenses for both Microsoft platforms as well as the cost of a dedicated server machine, either physical or virtual. It also means, potentially, some additional complexity for small operations without internal IT staff expertise to manage servers and databases. This could translate into more third-party IT consulting costs. All that could be too complicated for some businesses, especially very small operations such as sole proprietors. For midsize operations with a physical or virtual server to spare and some IT cycles open for management, Contract Advantage does offer flexible licensing, all of the basic components, and a huge amount of customizability.
Customers should investigate the capabilities of each edition carefully, however, because there are marked differences. For example, there are a number of features that are not available in the WebEssentials or WebPro edition. The WebElite and WebPro editions offer a clause library and intellectual property (IP), financial, and specialty tracking capabilities. Also, the WebElite edition offers user-defined reporting, workflow with automatic notification, user-defined and pre-filled document templates, and invoice tracking. The number of reports available also increases by edition. You get 60 reports with WebEssentials, 70 with WebPro, and access to 115+ reports with WebElite. As with many contract management systems, there is a wide variety of features and a high level of individualization. This review focuses mainly on the out-of-the-box functionality—the core features of contract management—and the other numerous features to a lesser extent.
Like many of the other highly customizable contract management systems we reviewed, including Agiloft and Coupa Contract Lifecycle Management, Contract Advantage is initially difficult to navigate. The broad functionality encompassed in Contract Advantage means you’re faced with a crowded UI of buttons, tabs, data fields, and menus to customize your experience.
Compared to the streamlined Gmail-like UI of Concord or the simple cloud-based dashboards found in less powerful SaaS tools such as ContractSafe and Contract Hound, Contract Advantage isn’t a tool you can simply log into and start using. In addition to a demo in lieu of formal training sessions, Great Minds Software provided a number of user guides needed to get rolling. Armed with a Getting Started User guide, a Workflow guide, a Changing Displays and Renaming Fields mini guide, and a Web Browser Settings mini guide, the setup process began with my test account linked to a sample database.
Great Minds Software says the system works with Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Safari as well as Internet Explorer (IE) for the various portals offered. But the core system currently only runs on IE and requires an annoying degree of Settings tweaking to make it work. For our updated review testing, I used a Windows 10 PC with Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome installed. But, in order to get the Contract Advantage web portal working, I had to open IE and go through the browser guide to turn on the correct compatibility settings. Contract Advantage is optimized for IE 6, 7, 8, and 9, all of which are outdated. Newer PCs running IE11 need to configure a number of internet and advanced security options in the browser to make it work. For a web-based product in 2017, this degree of extra setup work to enable backwards compatibility is a significant knock against the product for any organization not still using legacy software. The company said it expects to have the entire core system multi-browser-enabled during the first quarter of 2018.
A Customized Management Life Cycle
Nearly every facet of Contract Advantage is highly customizable. Contract Advantage can be set to open to either the user’s Dashboard or to just the main menu (which is also housed on the Dashboard). The Dashboard is composed of different windows or tiles called “widgets.” These widgets can be configured to display nearly any type of information, including past due actions, upcoming actions, the user’s active tasks, and contract expirations. All of the Dashboard widgets can be dragged and dropped into a new position and more widgets can be added. Even the color scheme can be changed so that users may assign, for example, different colors for regular contracts, subcontracts, or master contracts for easier visual identification. The Dashboard can also be configured to show company announcements or a graph showing reports such as year-over-year contract number comparisons. Each user can personalize their Dashboard with color schemes and widgets in the settings menu, but the main menu is always accessible from the bottom left-hand side.
Contract Advantage also gives you a central document repository with a number of additional modules you can add depending on your business needs (for instance, a finance or a real estate module). In this respect, the contract management system is almost akin to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in its configurability. There’s also a contract request portal for users that don’t need administrator capabilities. This gives business users and supervisors a UI through which to submit contracts for approval, approve or reject documents, and manage workflows. All of the forms and fields are customizable by the admin, so this kind of portal is useful for an enterprise in which different departments need to submit and manage different types of contracts.
Although Contract Advantage does not have the same graph capabilities on the Dashboard as does Agiloft, Contract Advantage users do have the somewhat unique ability to pick their own color schemes on a few of the pages—notably the Dashboard and Contracts pages. It’s somewhat surprising that this feature isn’t more readily available in other systems. Contract Advantage is one of the few we have seen with such capabilities. With a full pallet available, users can dress Contract Advantage to their liking.
The main heading (on the top of the page) can be customized with a company’s logo and colors. There are two basic ways for users to navigate through Contract Advantage: via the menu bar and via the Main Menu. The Main Menu is a widget-like list of the various aspects of the core functionality of Contract Advantage including Contracts, Parties, Contacts, and a Document Repository. The menu bar traverses the top of every page; it provides quick access to many of the areas on the Main Menu pages as well as to Modules and Reports.
One interesting aspect of the UI is that many of the contract selection screens have the feel of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, even more so than many of the other products that I reviewed. This would likely provide a certain level of comfort to users who are well-acquainted with Microsoft Excel or spreadsheet programs. However, this might not appeal to users who prefer a virtual file cabinet-type approach to contract management, which can be found in systems such as ContractWorks and ContractSafe.
Adding a contract to the system is fairly painless; it’s just a matter of clicking New Contract and entering the relevant information to get the data entry process started. Once the basic information about the contract has been entered to set up the profile, the rest of the relevant information can be added. In the WebElite edition, you can also load the contract from a template. The page also lets you add more advanced contract party and negotiation information, including the “responsible person” for each company taking part in an agreement. You can also add the names of all the parties that are on each side of a case, as well as which users are designated as signatories.
The contract profiles have a navigation index of pages on the left-hand side to move between Summary, Actions, Amendments, and Clauses. Custom contract pages can be added in the WebElite edition. The Summary page has a header that displays the most basic information (such as type, term, expiration, and status). Information relating to Parties, Contacts, Details, and the Status can be entered. Additionally, if the user has permission, nearly everything on the page can be individualized or changed system-wide, if desired.
The parties and contacts can either be added from a list of existing stakeholders or added if they are a new company. This functionality allows for both speedy data entry and more efficient reporting. When there is no central listing of parties, users can vary the exact wording of a company (e.g., between XYZ Incorporated, XYZ Inc., and XYZ), which can lead to error-filled searching and reporting. Contract Advantage has an additional helpful feature that I had not previously seen in its “FKA History” tab. FKA stands for “Formerly Known As” and this helpful feature allows the former names of the company to be documented right on the profile to help keep track of changing corporation names.
Next up are Contract Details and Key Dates. It’s in these areas that the bulk of the contract data will be entered. The Contract Details section can be configured by an admin to present certain data fields based upon the type of contract initially selected by the user or across all contract types. Any type of field can be created: check boxes, text boxes, drop-down lists, multi-entry lists, currency fields, and dates. Additionally, a number of key dates can be set up including Agreement, Effective, Termination, Expiration, and Renewal Date.
From the Key Dates, Actions can quickly be created to remind those responsible of important future events. Early warnings can be set up, with automated emails sent out to the appropriate people for any number of days before the event. If financial information is implicated by the event, then such information can be added. Notifications can be continuously sent until the status of the Action is changed. Notifications can even be sent to the counterparty.
If you have the document signature module, which is only available with the WebElite edition, then you can also integrate the process with DocuSign for electronic signatures. When enabled, if you click on a contact’s name on the contract page, then it can save their credentials directly into DocuSign. Once you generate the document with all of the relevant dates, you can assign an optional signatory. If you’re using a template, then it will already have specific contract language and you can simply fill in the relevant fields. You can generate a Microsoft Word or PDF file with signature blocks dropped into the designated areas of the contract. Each contract has its own document repository in which you can customize the folder structure. The system will automatically save the contract to an approval workflow. So, if it’s a purchase agreement, then you won’t see folders for financials or insurance, etc. There is no native electronic signature, so you can either enable the DocuSign integration if you have an account or you’ll have to print the documents, sign manually, and upload the signed version back into the approval workflow.
Advanced Workflows, Search, and Reporting
For more advanced users in the WebElite edition, workflow information can also be added about the contract in the Contracting Process Status section. A configurable list of steps can be created for managers to track the progress of a contract. Yes/No option buttons can be set up next to different statuses (e.g., Sent to Legal, Executed, Sent to Accounting, Sent to Contracting Party, and Request Accepted) with date boxes to document the timeline.
The workflow automation capabilities have been enhanced since our initial review, with more workflow templates as well as post-workflow tasks. After completing a contract, you can assign follow-up actions such as emailing out a signed document, generating a report, etc. All of these follow-up actions are triggered automatically. Workflow templates can be modified to indicate a task, who is reponsible for it, its duration, and notifications for a new step in a workflow. Summary alerts can be set as well at custom time intervals.
Contract Advantage also has advanced contract negotiation and tracking features. These let you track amendments to a contract attached to an amendment entry in a contract’s document repository. The system also has a version comparison feature and includes rollback control and full audit logs of all changes and updates. Editing contracts will launch Microsoft Word directly and let you makes changes directly to the document. But the system will scan and process the updated version with optical character recognition (OCR) to register changes.
Like many contract management systems, there is a Note feature. In Contract Advantage, this feature is called the “Contract Diary:” and it lets users attach comments to the contract profile by creating Diary entries that are date- and time-stamped. Like many systems, contract profiles can be copied but Contract Advantage adds the ability to control what individual information within the profile is copied.
Contract Advantage takes a somewhat different approach to the document or file side of organization. Every contract profile comes with a Document Repository, which recognizes that some contracts might have a multitude of documents or sub-agreements attached. Each Repository has Document Groups that gives users the option of putting files under different categories [e.g., Contract, Amendments, Correspondence, Invoices, Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), and Purchase Orders]. Many systems on the market lets users attach multiple files or documents to a single contract profile. However, most do not provide the same level of organization that Contract Advantage does. Folders can be created and the structure can be edited. The documents can also be locked to prevent version control issues. Also, emails sent through Contract Advantage are logged in the Repository.
For admins concerned about security, users can be assigned to groups for easy control of access and editing. Users can be kept from entire areas of the system or merely prevented from editing certain fields, providing a nuanced approach to security.
Like all of the other aspects of Contract Advantage, the Search feature is highly customizable. Any data field can be searched, providing for nearly limitless search capabilities. The search parameters are organized into tabs. This keeps the most basic information front and center while still making any field searchable. Searches can be saved for later use as well.
As mentioned, Contract Advantage comes with OCR for uploaded documents. This feature allows for text searching of documents and files within the system. Contract Advantage’s text search feature is more helpful than most because it shows the number of hits on each document. The sophisticated search capabilities translate into robust reporting. Any search or list of contracts can be exported to Microsoft Excel and the columns of information can be entirely customized. In addition to exporting any search, Contract Advantage comes with a number of pre-built reports that can be customized for the individual user. These reports provide a slightly more aesthetic product and can be exported to Microsoft Excel or viewed in-system.
In addition to the many interesting features that have already been discussed, a few more are worth mentioning. For example, Contract Advantage is one of the few systems that allows for a global update to the system. This lets a manager update information across various contacts, companies, or data fields at once. This feature could save a huge amount of time and energy when implementing new fields or updating and amending old ones.
To help with organization, contracts can be archived. Contract Advantage has a number of other features such as Microsoft Outlook contact importation, template creation, and clause libraries. There is also Active Directory (AD) integration and single sign-on (SSO) support for the WebElite plan.
A Heavy-Duty Contract Management Platform
Contract Advantage can be customized to meet the needs of nearly any customer. But system requirements and setup might be prohibitive for individuals and smaller companies. Contract Advantage offers a number of helpful features such as OCR and global updates, plus a unique approach to document storage. For those users who prefer to be immediately up and running with a more natural contract management experience, Editors’ Choice winners Agiloft and Updraft might be better fits. And for a simple cloud-based option with intuitive collaboration, Concord might be a better fit.
However, when it comes to truly endless customization and the advanced workflow automation and management features required for enterprise-level contract management, Contract Advantage is among the most capable feature-packed tools on the market. Once you go through installation and trainings to get yourself comfortable with this complex product, it’s about as comprehensive and tailored a system as your business will find.