Why the BUILD vs. BUY Question is Much Easier to Answer Than You May Think

You’re ready to implement a contract lifecycle management tool. Your company cannot maintain its place in the competitive market unless it adopts a comprehensive, streamlined system for managing the lifecycle of its contracts, from creation to archiving and everything in between. You need meaningful, complete insight into contract data; you need libraries of best-practice clauses to be shared among attorneys; you need to be able to create contracts with far more speed and accuracy; you need to you need to be able to store and locate your existing contracts; and, most importantly, you need it to be intuitive enough that your team will want to use it.

Now you’re seeking help. You know you need to implement a comprehensive Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) system. But how? Do you build your own system or do you buy something from a CLM vendor?

Depending on your situation, it could be a really simple decision.

RequirementsIn order to determine whether to build or buy, you’ll need to work out exactly what problems the solution will need to solve. This is no easy task, given the conflicting stakeholder expectations and internal politicking that inevitably color any enterprise-wide IT project.

You’ll need to consider the issues that are pressing right now, those that may arise down the track, as well as potential applications and necessities for other business units within your firm. Remember that specialist contract lifecycle management vendors – as well as other businesses who have turned to them – have valuable experience and expertise that will help you appreciate and evaluate the sorts of problems you may want to address and other sources of value a CLM solution may be able to leverage.

While it’s true that smart companies spend a lot of time researching solutions, the answer to the build vs. buy question should become apparent pretty early on. Here’s why:


What does it mean to build your own CLM solution? It means the whole process takes place internally. Once your team works out their specific needs, the buck passes to the IT department, where the solution will be designed, constructed, serviced and maintained. It also means the instruction necessary to get – and keep – your team competent and comfortable using the tool must come from within.

Building may be the way to go if your contract management needs turn out to be truly unique and if you’re confident that your IT department is sufficiently resourced from the perspectives of budget, brainpower, capacity and vision.

Even if you think your IT guys and girls can’t be beat, you still need to be aware of the challenges of building your own document assembly system. Here are some things to keep in mind:

It’s not just the tool that needs building. There’s support, maintenance and possible enhancements down the line. As your business grows, your CLM solution will need the capacity to scale. Also don’t underestimate the effort that will go into testing.

On the surface, building a CLM solution may seem straightforward. As with any area of expertise, it’s only when you dig deeper that you can begin to grasp the complexity that lurks in building the logic behind each distinct contract template, not to mention the various and complex ways in which their logic interacts and co-depends.

Building anything from scratch will mean more customization right off the bat, but it will also take longer to implement than a vendor-supplied solution.
While a good end user experience is essential, it’s only half the battle. Templates need to be updated and maintained. Without the right authoring tools, maintenance needs can easily turn your project into a money pit.

If your project really is a “one off “with well-known, defined requirements that are unlikely to change over time and you have a well-resourced, skilled development team, then building your CLM internally could be your answer.


What does buying a CLM solution mean? To begin, it’s more than ordering an out-of-the-box product. Many specialized CLM providers understand that no two companies are the same and will work with you to fine-tune solutions tailored to your unique needs and issues. Additionally, CLM providers may offer various levels of support, based on your requirements and budget. They are also able to foresee problems – as well as opportunities to leverage contract data – that your team may have overlooked.

Here are some considerations:

You’ll need to assess various CLM vendors and identify the features and functionality that best match your business problem. Take advantage of other customers having been through what you’re going through. Use the vendors to help you to define your business requirements. Remember, they may be able to foresee problems (and solutions) you hadn’t even contemplated.
Make sure the system you choose can aptly handle the tricky parts. Things are always more complicated that they first appear. Complexity will inevitably increase as you delve deeper, and you’ll need a stable, easy way to automate it. Be wary of anyone who offers to automate your contract portfolio in five easy steps; any solution worth its salt – and your money – will take time and effort to implement successfully.

Confirm that the solution you choose works and integrates with your other applications and infrastructure. Requirements change over time and growth trajectories. Systems with flexible APIs that are based on open standards enable you to future-proof your investment.


It’s possible that, after toiling through your pain points, the IT department’s capabilities and vendor-proposed solutions, nothing will seem quite right. For example, your own IT team may not have the wherewithal to build a solution from the ground up but no vendor you explored could handle the sensitivity of your documents or the breadth of your contract portfolio. If something like this is the case, a hybrid solution – in which your IT team works hand-in-hand designing and/or building aspects of your CLM solution – may be available. It is also important to keep in mind that many seasoned CLM vendors are willing and able to design bespoke solutions that sit on top of their pre-designed solutions to fit your needs.

That wasn’t hard, was it?

Essentially, the answer to the Build vs. Buy question is a simple one: it will almost always be Buy.  Building your own CLM tool from the ground up will be worthwhile only where you have the time, budget, brains, vision, and truly unique requirements to make the project viable. Buying from the right provider means you will have the benefit of expert insight, faster turnaround, personalized service and maintenance, bespoke features, increased ability to handle complexity and most likely better value.

So what makes a provider The One?

Ah, that’s the stuff of another post. Until then, happy contracting.

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