Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Master Services Agreements Can Help Cultivate Long-Term Business Interests

If your organization is seeking to expand business opportunities and foster long-term relationships, one of the most beneficial tools to use is a master services agreement (MSA). This document not only serves as a blueprint for how mutual business interests or projects between two parties are to be addressed and conducted, but it also helps organize business relationships in a contractual but not burdensome manner, making it a very user friendly tool.

MSAs are popular for establishing relationships among a wide array of businesses, including information technology, communications, and life sciences. Traditionally, they have been used frequently for union negotiations, government contracts, and supply chains aimed at long-term relationships.

One of the primary benefits of crafting a MSA at the beginning of any business relationship is for expediting future opportunities. There is a true advantage to this approach, especially if the signing parties to the agreement are working together on more than one project at a time or plan to engage in multiple projects in the future. In many instances, the original MSA requires little or no revision of its basic contract provisions — saving time and overhead dollars. Subsequent agreements generally only call for a new scope of work, perhaps a revised purchase order, or some other change order that complements the original MSA.   

This happened to be the recent case with one of my life sciences clients, a Clinical Research Organization providing support for drug trial testing for the Food and Drug Administration. My client was hired to monitor the drug administering protocol and patient results for one particular drug at various health clinics. The MSA spelled out the business relationship for that particular project. When another drug is to be tested through clinical trials — next week, next month, or next year — a new scope of work will be issued for this second project, which will just basically outline what the new drug is and its planned use or purpose. However, the terms of the original MSA will still apply to this new project.

I’ve also observed long-term applications of MSAs in installation contracting: cell phone towers, cable systems, and communications infrastructure. Some of these agreements have been in effect for more than 10 years, and the process is simple. The parent company just forwards a revised purchase order or directive to the contracting interest, stating, “Pursuant to our master services agreement, please install . . . .” Revisions to the location, cost, and completion time are specified on the MSA as usual, but the minor terms of the contract remain intact from earlier versions.

As you can see, building a foundation for business longevity is a key benefit of MSAs. If you let your client know going forward that you can add to the MSA by tacking on an addendum or a scope of work change order, then you won’t have to negotiate the basic terms all over again.

In our next discussion, I’ll address some of the key sections of a MSA and where to begin in developing a document that has flexibility for long-term use.