Retention Schedules: The Must-Haves and Things to Consider

Ian Robert Moran

, Vice President of Sales

90% of the internet’s data was created in the last two years. That means that, before 2016, only 10% of the data that now exists was considered when developing records and information management (RIM) strategies.

Today’s increasingly digital workforce moves quickly, creating more information than ever before, and often in formats that didn’t even exist a decade ago. Yet many businesses still rely on outdated technology or take a “save everything” approach when it comes to their business information. Not only does this waste time and money, but it puts organizations at risk of noncompliance and/or data loss or breach.

With more information and more regulations, organizations can significantly benefit from a clearly defined retention schedule. Not only will it reduce costs and storage space needed, increase security and promote compliance, but it will also allow your team to focus on strategic action—not tedious paperwork.

When it comes to evaluating and developing (or updating) your retention schedules, there are many factors to consider. A comprehensive retention schedule should contain the following:

An official copy holder – This is the name of the office, department or business unit where the record(s) in question are created or stored.

Records inventory – A records inventory provides a comprehensive description of all the records your organization or department creates, collects, stores and manages.

Disposal action – The disposal action outlines what happens to records once they reach the end of the document lifecycle. Many documents will need to be destroyed or shredded. However, other records may need to be transferred, reviewed at a later date or stored indefinitely offsite.

Retention period – A retention period is the minimum length of time that a record or group of records needs to be retained before the disposal action is undertaken. Often, this period is stated in terms of months or years, but may also be contingent upon other events, like the termination of a contract or once a project is completed.

Authority upon which disposal action and retention period are based – Most commonly, this authority will be either the legislative or regulatory authority that applies to said documents but could also be an internal statutory authority.

Disposal trigger event – Much like it sounds, this is the event which triggers the disposal action. Most often, this will be when the document reaches the end of its retention period, but could vary depending on the record type, or whether the document is being held for litigation or auditing.

As you’re developing, implementing and monitoring these pieces of your retention schedule, consider the following:

What is a record?

Records are constantly evolving. In addition to traditional paper forms, cards, photographs, reports, microfilms, tapes, disks and electronic files.  Many organizations now utilize email, collaborative social tools, cloud technology and personal mobile devices to conduct business.  It’s important to consider how all of this information fits into a long-term records management strategy, regardless of format.  Conducting an information audit allows organizations to see the types of records each department or team creates, making it easier for records managers to evaluate, prioritize and classify information into a retention schedule that encompasses all record types.

Who creates records?

Different departments create and use documents differently. When developing a comprehensive document management program, it’s critical to consider how each group creates, uses and stores its records so that the retention schedule accommodates the unique needs of each department. Consider creating an information governance board that includes representatives from throughout the organization. They can help identify the types of documents that are created, as well as how frequently they’re needed and how long they must be saved to develop the appropriate retention periods and storage procedures for each document group.

What is the lifecycle of our documents or data?

The lifecycle of a record will vary depending on its legal and operational value. Federal, state and local regulations will usually help determine how long a certain record type must be saved, however, internal policies may also affect the length of the retention period. Retention schedules should not be created based on individual records but for groups of records. A classification system allows businesses to organize records with other related or like records—ones that have similar retention needs—so they can be filed, used and evaluated together.

With a digital document management solution, organizations can automate retention schedules and capture documents as they’re created, placing them in the correct retention group and monitoring the progress throughout their lifetimes.

How can we ensure long-term preservation and access of records?

Business documents must be complete, secure and accessible.  A digital document management solution should provide organizations with fast, secure, centralized access to all of their information. The software you choose should be designed with compliance in mind and scalable to meet the growing needs of your business. For documents that must be kept in physical form, offsite storage centers provide a secure, climate-controlled setting to protect your information while freeing up valuable office space. Look for a provider that offers scan-on-demand services of documents stored offsite so you can retrieve the documents you need, anytime and anywhere.

What staff training do we need to ensure the team complies with the new procedures and policies?

A successful retention schedule requires buy-in from team members across an organization. Comprehensive training and ongoing education of RIM best practices will ensure employees are aware of the latest policies, procedures and threats. Make it easy for your team by providing them with innovative tools and technology that automate and simplify records retention. Communicate frequently and thoroughly about updates to your retention policies so that employees understand their role in protecting company information.

Need to update your retention schedule?

Access’ comprehensive suite of information governance services helps organizations better manage their information, control their risks and transform their businesses. Learn more about our physical and digital document management solutions.

Want more? Subscribe to Our Blog

Talk to an expert who can help you find the right solution.