IBM pushes online contract management technology

IBM pushes online contract management technology

IBM has come up with technology to take IT contracts online, initially making the software freely available to its US partners and customers.

IBM unveiled technology Monday designed to put the entire process of signing and managing IT contracts online to let the vendor, its partners and customers save time and money.

"The problem we're trying to help solve is allowing our partners and clients to do business more efficiently," Cathy Lasser, vice president, industry solutions and emerging technology, IBM Research, said.

Developed by IBM Research over the past couple of years, Contracts OnLine is a Web-hosted application that the company is making available for free to its business partners and customers in the U.S.

The application relies on digital watermarks with signer names and dates as well as IBM's WebSphere Application Server and the vendor's DB2 database. Contracts OnLine also requires Adobe Reader.

With the application, users on the Web can securely access, review and sign a contract, track its status, and see who made which alterations to the online document, Lasser said. Contracts OnLine automatically sends e-mails to the parties involved in a particular contract notifying them when to review and sign the document as well as when a contract is about to expire.

IBM has been piloting the software with 700 partners and customers.

With headquarters in Monett, Missouri, Jack Henry & Associates provides IT systems to financial institutions across the US. An IBM business partner, Jack Henry sells iSeries and pSeries servers to banks and credit unions, respectively. The company is already close to standardizing its contract management on Contracts OnLine, according to Steve Crawford, manager of hardware technology and services at Jack Henry.

"So far, it's working extremely well," Crawford said. "We're extremely pleased with the pilot and customers have been very responsive to it." To date, Jack Henry has handled contracts with over 100 customers through Contracts OnLine. Though it's too early to tell how much money the software may save the company, Jack Henry has already eliminated a lot of paperwork and is more time efficient, he added.

Previously, when selling an IBM system to a customer, the company would use a combination of scanning, e-mail and express mail to have all parties involved sign a contract, meaning the process could take several days and not occur in real-time as it can online.

Although IBM is positioning the software for use by small and medium-sized businesses, Contracts OnLine is suitable "for any size business," Lasser said, with the application capable of handling the demands of complex multiparty contracts as well as simpler two-party deals.

So far, the software is limited to use by US-based operations doing business with IBM, whether purchasing the vendor's technology or signing up for lease or loan contracts from IBM Credit. IBM does intend to expand Contracts OnLine to its partners and customers outside the US next year, Lasser said. "As we look to extend it out, we're exploring different legal options," she added.

IBM is also considering other uses for the technology, potentially making it available to non-IBM customers and partners, Lasser said.

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