This piece is from a three-part series by guest blogger Michelle Middendorf, workers’ compensation manager at Stanley Steemer. The series focuses on how the company’s streamlined process for managing certificates of insurance evolved into addressing even bigger initiatives like vendor management as a whole, and ultimately allowed the company to expand its commercial business with more value-added services.

Maintaining up-to-date certificates of insurance from third-party vendors can be a real struggle for organizations–ripe with opportunities for error, legal implications in the event of a lawsuit, and inefficiencies that can even hamstring an organization from growing its business.

That might sound like a lot of weight put on a task seemingly as simple as collecting insurance documents. But if you rely heavily on a multitude of third-party vendors, and you manually collect such information–meaning you rely on your memory, one-off communications, calendar reminders or in the worse case scenario, an inquiry from legal to check a certificate’s status–you know the struggle is real.

This was previously the case for my organization. With more than 200 franchisees and their own multitude of vendors, we were drowning in the process of collecting new certificates, renewing current certificates, or following up on expired certificates–all of which were on unique schedules with different stakeholders using various communication methods.

A tremendous amount of time and resources were poured into e manually updating records or constantly referring back to those records to check the status of certificates. Despite our efforts, the process was still riddled with non-compliance. In fact, we feared only 30 to 40 percent of our franchisees’ certificates were compliant–putting our organization and franchisees at risk in the event of any legal recourse.

Such risk is what drove us to automate the certificate management process–a decision that has led to dramatic improvements in compliance rates. About 96 percent of our franchisees’ certificates are now compliant, and the data collected from our electronic process has also given us clear direction on how to improve the other 4 percent that is possibly not compliant.

To do this, though, we had to break away from our internal legacy system. We elected to invest in a risk management information system that could help manage certificates, but quickly learned it could also manage our overall vendor agreements, end to end, from within a secure online portal. The results have been transformative–simplifying the process so much that we’re able to increase our capacity to enlist more vendors and substantially expand one of our lines of business, as a result.

As for the certificate management process, specifically, it now goes something like this: Upon electronic vendor approval, the system triggers an automatic request to vendors for an insurance certificate. They then upload their insurance information and attach their certificates within the portal. This automatically triggers a notification to our team that the certificate is ready for approval and even confirms whether it’s compliant.

Further, when a certificate is approaching expiration, the system will trigger automatic notifications to franchisees and vendors 30 days, 15 days and five days prior to expiring–helping to keep all parties compliant long after that initial relationship is established.

The fact that all this now transpires with little-to-no manual input on our end has allowed us to manage a process that was formerly managing us. Even more important, it has freed us from fears about errors and resulting legal implications, as well as opened up opportunities for new business.