Retention schedules made simple

big bucket data

Simplifying retention schedules for your big bucket data

In her latest blog series, Siobhan King, Senior Consultant at Metataxis, addresses the value of big bucket data retention and shares some ideas how to simplify your retention schedules to minimise complexities across your organisation.

Here’s part 3:

It’s not all about class

Organising your retention schedules into big buckets is not about trying to create large all-encompassing retention classes. While this is of course a really important step, there are a number of other parts to your retention schedule that you will want to simplify. Simplifying all aspects of your Schedule reduces the number of factors, which in turn reduces complexity.  

When talking to your stakeholders, the following could be considered to maintain simplicity for stakeholders:

Retention periods

If you can, try to corral your stakeholders to agree to a small number of retention period types in your schedule. There are common regulatory time periods that can help you choose which ones you want to use. For example: Financial records are usually kept for 7 years, as is the catch all retention mechanism the Limitation Act. So, try to nudge people towards choosing 7 years as a retention period for records that need to be kept for a moderately long period of time. Try to avoid having retention periods of 6 years, 8 years, or 9 years. These will involve much more effort to implement.


If you ask a stakeholder to define when a business process is over, they can be very specific. For example: “the Quality Review of the inspection process is completed once the B488 form has had its second review by the fourth-tier quality reviewer.”

When really, a trigger such as “end of quality review” would suffice.

Specific triggers like this will make your retention schedule very complex, and extremely difficult when you try to apply this to systems. We can trust that the people doing the work would know how and when to mark something is closed. But we do not need to know the exact detail of the process to execute retention.

Having more general triggers, such as “end of programme/project” or “contract closure” can be really useful as they can be used in a number of different contexts. So, we suggest you try to have as few triggers as you can, and make them as broad as possible.

Disposal authorisers

Identifying an appropriate and reasonable number of people to be responsible for disposal review at the end of lifecycle for records is by far this most challenging aspect of any data retention schedule.

The challenge arises from needing someone with a sufficiently senior role to make a decision, while being operational enough to understand the content of the records to be disposed of.

Unless your organisation is really small, this is unlikely to be the same person. This is because, for example, the head of HR is concerned with governance and strategy and not likely to know the operational ins and outs of say, recruitment campaigns and applicants.

retention schedules disposal authorisers

Traditionally, this has meant that there is some form of delegation of decision making to the subject matter experts. Or conversely, some sign off of decisions are made by the head of department. This is a frustratingly difficult aspect of a retention schedule to simplify. Setting up workflows to incorporate a lot of people is really difficult and costly, so it is important to try to keep the number of authorisers low – even though this is challenging.

Disposal actions

As with the above, we recommend keeping these as simple as possible. Delete or archive may be sufficient for most organisations.

The question “what is an archive?” is a whole other conversation. Some organisations will deposit data to a national repository such as TNA, some will have their own in-house archive. Others will have records that have long-term value and need to be kept permanently even if the organisation does not have an archive.

Minimisation leads to simplification

When your retention periods, triggers, actions and authorisers are simplified, something beautiful happens. With a smaller number of factors in play, it makes it much easier to lump record types into much larger retention classes. This makes big bucket retention that much more possible! 

So don’t just go straight for classes when simplifying your Schedule. Think about minimising all the moving parts as well. It will make things much easier in the long run.

Next time, I will talk about dealing with the complexity that people will inevitably want to introduce to your schedule and how to deal with “snowflake” requests.

Retention management can be challenging. Here at Metataxis, we’ve helped many organisations address these challenges. If you would like to learn more about practical data retention and records management, simply contact us.