How to implement retention schedules

Retention schedules

Where the rubber hits the road: Implementation

In her latest blog series, Siobhan King, Senior Consultant at Metataxis, addresses the value of big bucket data retention and how to ensure complex records management requirements are accommodated.

Here’s part 6 – the final blog in the series, where she looks at how to successfully implement your retention schedules into the organisation.

Retention implementation plan

During this series, we’ve been looking at ways to simplify the retention schedule into bigger buckets. A retention schedule will usually take the form of a table which can then be applied to systems and communicated to staff. The retention schedule may be supported by a written document, usually a retention policy or records policy, and this will outline the governance, scope, roles, responsibilities, compliance expectations, etc. The last piece of the puzzle is the implementation plan, which is the practical application of the retention schedule to the records held in your systems.

Document the practicalities

It’s inevitable when talking to stakeholders that they will flag up concerns about the implementation of records retention policies very early on. In fact, they are likely to identify practical issues as reasons why longer retention periods should be applied to certain records. In an ideal world, these practical limitations should never dictate the retention period for a records class. Instead, steps should be taken to improve the metadata, or to improve processes, so that new records can be managed appropriately, and legacy records dealt with more strategically.

Adopt a risk-based approach

Because we work in complex environments, it is necessary to have some kind of strategy to apply retention to both newly created records going forward as well as older records created in the past. This means having a good information architecture that supports retention management and a risk-based approach to the legacy records.

big bucket data

Leverage simple systems rules

This is just one element of planning for retention schedules implementation. There are numerous practical considerations that can be taken in order to get through the bulk of retention management. And yes, you guessed it, opportunities to lump things together in the implementation plan. For example, your retention schedule may have the following two rules:

  1. Financial management – 7 years from end of financial year then delete
  2. Annual strategic planning – 7 years from end of financial year then delete

These two classes stem from different functions but require the same retention treatment. This means that a retention rule may be created in systems that states: “delete content 7 years from end of financial year”. It will do the job for both classes and if disposal is done in line with the retention schedule (meaning metadata also is collected) it doesn’t matter what the technical mechanism. This is also helpful for more manual applications of retention where searches for eligible records are done for anything older than 7 years in relevant system areas for both functions.

Capture stakeholder intelligence

Finally, remember those tricky discussions with stakeholders where they provided masses of detail? An implementation plan is the perfect place to capture all that valuable intelligence. Not the retention schedule. Retention schedules need to be super simple.

Avoid complex rules for your retention schedules

While there’s some scope to have lots of detail in a description field to help users identify the right retention period for their records, there’s not much room for nuance in your actual schedule.

The more “ifs”, “ors” and “except fors” you have in the schedule, the more complex your retention rules will be. Complexity costs. And your users will get confused by a schedule with too many caveats. Save these for the implementation plan – it will be valuable intelligence for dealing with those legacy issues! And the plan is the thing that will make your retention schedule real!

So that’s the final entry of the series. I hope you have found it useful. If you want to know more about what implementation plans should look like or would like to learn more about practical data retention and records management, simply contact us.