Lots of the organizations we encounter are using Word, Google, Adobe, SharePoint and various other tools to create, collaborate on, and store their sales and legal contracts. Many of these tools don’t integrate with each other, putting teams and their data into silos. Silos that breed delays and replication in the contract management process.
With so many more people now working remotely, silos are becoming harder to maintain. Increasing numbers of organizations are looking to centralize their data and achieve a single source of truth, in order to alleviate the confusion and poor data quality that comes from having distributed teams spread across time zones, all working off different information. And they’re doing this by moving all of their employees onto a single platform for document management.
Organizations already using Jira for work management, projects, and service/IT requests are naturally looking at Confluence, Jira’s sister platform, as a means of making and managing contracts. Maybe Jira Service Management already plays a part in your contract management process, i.e. you use tickets to get other teams, like legal or finance, to review statements of work (SOWs) from vendors.
In this article we’ll talk about why Confluence is becoming such an important and popular use case for contract management, and how to harness the power of Confluence and Jira together to turn your contract management process into a well-oiled machine.
Using Confluence pages to make and work on contracts
Confluence is an intuitive, user-friendly platform for creating and collaborating on documents. It comes with many of the features you’d expect from a word processor, such as basic text formatting and the ability to change text color and alignment, and add images, tables, links, and bullet points. Most importantly for collaboration on contracts, you can do live collaborative editing like in Google Docs or make suggestions as to changes using inline comments.
However, Confluence actually has more in common with website builders like WordPress than it does with traditional text editors like Word, and there’s a lot more automation involved. Confluence pages come with optional macros that let you pull in all kinds of dynamic content. For example, if you insert the Table of Contents macro, this will list all the headings on your page as clickable links. The Roadmap Planner macro lets you insert a visual representation of a timeline, so for a SOW this could be a project timeline or representation of project phases. And the Task Reports macro is used to track progress on open action items on a page, so this could be used to track outstanding changes to a contract.
Unlike most word processors, Confluence pages come pre-formatted. It deliberately doesn’t give you options for paragraphing and line spacing, nor font type and size aside from the paragraph and heading text types. These might be seen as limitations, but it’s because it’s designed to be a company-wide documentation repository, with all the documents contained therein having a similar look and feel. Heaven forbid you have someone doing all their documentation double-spaced in Times New Roman, another writing everything single-spaced in Comic Sans. *shiver*
Another great advantage of Confluence over most text editors is that all changes are automatically tracked. You don’t need to turn on “track changes” like you do in Word. You simply edit the text and whoever works on it next will be able to see exactly what you’ve changed and when.
When it comes to creating and working on contracts, though, Confluence’s biggest advantage over text editors like Word is templates.
The power of contract templates in Confluence
Sure, I hear y’all saying – er, Word has templates! Right, it does. In both Word and Confluence, you can write a beautiful sales or legal contract and save it as a template. But Confluence is much more powerful when it comes to creating them, and that’s because of page variables.
Page variables are an option when you create a template on Confluence Cloud and on Confluence Data Center/Server. On Server and Data Center you have the option of adding a text field. On Cloud you have the option of adding a text field, a multi-line text field, or a list. There isn’t a lot of difference between the text field and the multi-line text field; defining the number of rows or columns just impacts the size of the box they give you, but you can enter as much text as you want into either. The purpose of the multi-line text box is simply to give an indication of how much you should write.
So, when you’re building a contract template, you can add text variables for party names, dates, quantities, prices, and any other terms and definitions likely to change between contracts. You can then populate these text fields when you create the Confluence page, and the variable will insert the text. And because it’s a variable, it means you can reuse it throughout the document but you only need to populate it once.
There are, at the time of writing, a few problems with native text variables in that you can’t just select variables you’ve already created from a list to reuse them. You have to manually copy/paste the variable where you want it. See the Atlassian Community discussion here: Inserting existing variable into space template.
With a Word contract template, you’d have to manually insert the text in all the places you want it. There’s no way of automating that like there is in Confluence. Sometimes you need to adjust the formatting to make room for the new text, too.
Although using text variables in Confluence is much quicker and more efficient than inserting text in Word, they could be more dynamic. The problem with text variables in native Confluence is that once the page is created, the variable is just straight up replaced with text. As in, it stops being a variable. You can’t change or modify it later. You’d have to use find and replace, and update each piece of text manually, just like you’d do in Word.
This is where the Confluence add-on Live Input Macros (LIM) comes in handy. LIM literally embeds the variable in the page. In other words, it remains a variable even after you’ve created the page. So if you want to change the text, you can do so, and the whole contract will update with the new text. Even better, you don’t have to be in page edit mode to do so. Once the page is created, you can change the variables in view mode. This makes it quicker to create new contracts, and easier for users who may not be as familiar with Confluence or don’t need to make any edits to the page other than to the LIM fields.
In addition, Live Input Macros comes with way more variables than native Confluence. In addition to text, you can add checkboxes; date pickers; single, multiple and cascading dropdowns for any pre-defined value; radio buttons; and status pickers. You could, for instance, use dropdowns for contract types and status pickers to provide a visual status of the contract.
Collaborating on contracts with external parties
Creating contracts in Confluence is going to involve collaborating with other teams and indeed other parties to the contract. It’s likely that other parties to the contract aren’t going to have access to your Confluence instance.
This leaves you with a few options. You give them access by buying them a license and configuring the permissions so that they can only see the contract that’s relevant to them (the expensive option). Or you have to export the contract to another platform and send it via email in a different format (the inefficient option).
Most people go for the second option, but the problem with that is you’re just creating another silo. And the whole point of moving everybody over to Confluence for contract management is to eliminate silos.
There is, however, a third option, and it’s another Confluence add-on: External Share for Confluence. This lets you create a secure link to a Confluence page in just a few clicks, which you can share with whoever you want. These links have unique, 16-character URLs with optional time limits and passwords for extra protection. While they’re read-only to stop your Confluence pages being edited externally, you can allow external users to add comments for suggested edits, as well as attachments should the need arise. This allows collaboration on contracts to continue inside Confluence instead of on some other platform, but without the expense and complication of adding new licenses.
A recently added feature of External Share for Confluence is the ability to share Confluence pages only with selected external users, users who need to have an External Share for Confluence account to view the page. As contracts often contain sensitive personal and commercial information, the Selected Users feature acts as an extra layer of protection when you are sharing your contracts with external parties.
Using Confluence AND Jira to manage contracts
While Confluence can become the place where all your contracts are worked on and stored, Jira can become the place where you track the work that’s done on them. Jira is great at holding items that represent specific tasks and letting you track the status of that task. For example, Jira supports custom fields where you can define things such as contract renewal and expiration dates and remind teams to take action.
Linking Confluence pages to Jira issues is super-easy and can be done automatically. It enables you to track the status of your contracts in Jira, and also do some reporting on them. You can look at the number of contracts in progress, under review, or completed, contract types and values, contracts by region, due dates, assignee etc. You can also create a Jira dashboard to report on all your contracts, and there are add-ons available so you can customize these dashboards and make them easier to manage.
In effect, Confluence acts as your collaborative workspace and repository and maintains an ‘audit’ trail of changes, and Jira acts as your status tracker to understand the level of completion on each contract.
Other add-ons that could help
Most teams end up using at least one add-on to help them manage contracts in Confluence. In addition to the apps mentioned above, here are some others:
- Comala Document Management lets you manage the lifecycles of your contracts directly from your Confluence page and have approvals and reviews be part of the process.
- Brikit BlueprintMaker is a robust blueprint/template option that allows templates that create more than one page at a time, or even a whole Confluence space. However, users typically need coding experience and the variables still stop being variables once imported, just like native Confluence (but unlike Live Input Macros).
- Approval Path for Confluence lets you create custom approval processes for getting contracts reviewed and signed off within rather than outside of Confluence. Approvers can even be external, without a Confluence account.
- Most of the teams we’ve encountered who manage contracts in Confluence use Scroll Exporter for exporting contracts once they’re complete if they need to view them outside of Confluence or store a copy elsewhere.
Confluence is an increasingly popular platform for contract management, and a great choice if you want to centralize your processes and bring all your teams under one umbrella. This is because of the collaborative capabilities and levels of automation it offers next to traditional editors, and because of its links with Jira, which many teams are already using. And while Confluence already works more powerfully than most word processors, gaps remain. Gaps that are easily filled by Atlassian add-ons such as Live Input Macros and External Share, which make contracts easier to edit, update, and collaborate on.
Christopher is a self-confessed nerd who’d probably take the cake on Mastermind if Star Trek: Voyager was his specialist subject. He writes fiction about time travel, conspiracies and aliens; loves roller coasters, hiking and Christmas; and hates carpet, rom-coms and anything with chilli in it. He’s written extensively for technology companies and Atlassian partners and specializes in translating complicated technical concepts, specs and jargon into readable, benefits-driven copy that casual readers will understand.