The Latest in the Contract Management Market: Catching Up with Upside (Part 2)

In the first post in this series, I provided a general commercial update on Upside, one of the top independent contract management providers in the market. In the column, I also offered up some insights into when companies are most likely to prioritize Upside-like capability over a more run-of-the-mill (and less expensive and configurable) contract management offering of the type Upside can also deliver through its UpsideLive product, a lower cost SaaS solution that competes more directly with solutions like Ariba's cloud-based Contract Management product. In today's post, we'll turn our attention to what's coming down the pike for Upside.

At Upside's annual user conference this fall in Chicago, the company shared that it is looking to drive enhancements in a number of key areas which focus on collaboration (internal and external), configurability and an enhanced user experience. As far as the general company strategy goes, Upside appears to continue to want to pattern its go-to-market and R&D approach on historical successful software companies, rather than embracing how the SaaS/cloud structure and model (even though Upside does have SaaS offerings of its own).

In this capacity, Upside is planning to maintain R&D spending levels at 25% of revenues while continuing to build partnerships/alliances with a range of SIs and resellers, including partners in different regions throughout the world. Interestingly, Upside also intends to embrace a growing trend toward process outsourcing by offering bundled solutions alongside OEM and service provider partners in the knowledge process outsourcing (e.g., legal) and BPO (e.g., procurement) arenas. Accenture and others have been strong channel partners for Upside in recent quarters and regional growth in South America (including Brazil) has also helped drive the overall growth of the contract management vendor, along with success in more established US and European markets (growth and interest in India and China in contract management is not taking off at the same level, Upside suggests). For solutions, Upside will soon be unveiling what it describes as a "very light, very easy" to use solution aimed at the SMB market, deployed exclusively in a SaaS model.

Yet where Upside continues to make a name for itself is in the enterprise (CD) area, when companies need a highly configurable (and often customizable) solution that integrates closely with a range of third-party applications (e.g., ERP, e-Procurement, etc.) and ties together business processes between legal, procurement and/or sales functions. In learning from the past ten years of building contract management solutions, Upside believes that it will be important to focus on enabling new levels of configuration (to streamline what can often be complex set-up processes in highly specific customer environments).

In addition, Upside is investing significantly on improving the overall user experience in immediately forthcoming and future releases, including providing greater flexibility around screen/UI design and controls. The Upside development team has focused on a number of performance improvements to increase responsiveness (planned at a 30-33% increase in overall speed) and general scalability, in part through updated AJAX controls. Integration capabilities, which have always been a competitive strong suit for Upside, are also slated for an upgrade. Upside's new architecture and development initiatives have allowed the vendor to reduce the overall number of lines in the code base from greater than three million to less than one million. Underpinning this new code base is a technology stack built on top of Windows Server 2008, .NET Framework 4.0 and additional Microsoft components. Supported clients will include IE 8.0 (or later), Firefox 3.5, Chrome, Safari and Opera.

For usability, Upside is focusing on enhancing its feedback process by providing immediate input on data validation while also reducing the number of clicks required to navigate the application (also reducing the number of screens needed to accomplish a task). When it comes to localization, Upside is increasing language translations and adding additional number and date formats. Even though only contract management system sponsors and systems administrators will be overly interested in Upside's new data extension approach, the ability to enable user defined fields at the actual database column level will lead to significant performance improvements, greater configurability and enhanced mapping between system objects (e.g., users, clauses, vendors, etc.).

In short, Upside, already in front of many of its competitors in most areas of contract management functional capability, is not resting on its laurels. Rather, it's doubling down by focusing on the complex and often challenging areas of contract management deployment, configuring and usage. Spend Matters looks forward to continuing to cover Upside along with Emptoris, Ariba, Selectica and other contract management providers in 2011, helping procurement organizations to better explore the possibilities of contract lifecycle management capabilities in the context of their procurement and supply management visions.

- Jason Busch

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