Bernstein Data Guides Companies in Building an Effective Records Retention Schedule.
A Records Retention Schedule is a foundational component of a Records Management program and effective Information Governance practices. It acts as a roadmap for retaining and disposing of records and information by clearly defining what information (paper and electronic formats) needs to be retained and for how long. It is designed to consistently manage all necessary information and enable disposal of the information an organization no longer needs, while helping to ensure that employees have access to the information necessary to run the business, recover from a disaster, and comply with required laws and regulations.
Creating an Authoritative Source
Records and information retention and disposition are essential elements of the information lifecycle. Retention Schedules are important because they serve as a company’s authoritative source for retaining and disposing of company information. It also captures the types of information created, defines how long information must be retained, and ultimately determines when it can be disposed of in the normal course of business. This helps ensure the company’s information is being retained and disposed of in compliance with laws and regulations, with good faith efforts.
Minimizing Risks and Decreasing Spend
In the absence of a Retention Schedule an organization would not be able to defensibly dispose of its information as it would have no consistent knowledge of current legal requirements, regulatory obligations, and business need for how long to retain information. Without a Retention Schedule, it is nearly impossible to destroy information, due to the risk of destroying what an organization is legally required to retain or needs to run the business. Therefore, companies will end up keeping information in perpetuity, increasing privacy breach risks, risks of legal exposure and associated costs, and potential non-compliance with privacy laws.
Developing, maintaining, and systematically applying a Retention Schedule to all applicable records and information, regardless of medium, across an organization can deliver a meaningful return on investment. Once a Retention Schedule is implemented, it can help by limiting liability, increasing operational efficiency, and reducing cost. Additional benefits of an accurate and fully implemented Retention Schedule include:
- Demonstrating compliance with legal requirements and regulatory obligations.
- Serving as evidence that the organization has a policy for disposing of information in the normal course of business.
- Limiting the volume of discoverable information by only retaining what is required.
- Reducing confidential and personal data that could be exposed to a cybersecurity breach by retaining only what is required by law or needed to run the business.
- Reducing both the cost of storage and legal discovery efforts by limiting the volume of information to only what is required.
- Minimizing the risk of potential fines, penalties, or other legal consequences for failure to comply with laws, regulations and/or reports required by government.
- Increasing productivity by minimizing time spent discovering and retrieving records and information whenever required.
Building a Functional Schedule
Organizations should develop a functional company-wide Retention Schedule, rather than an organizational or department-level schedule(s). A functional schedule is easy to follow, can be systematically applied (providing an audit trail), can be easily managed and updated, and is resilient (such as when departments are reorganized). Building out a Retention Schedule requires capturing an organization’s types of records and information — along with applicable legal requirements and regulatory obligations ensuring information that is needed to run the business is retained.
Addressing Key Considerations
- Ensuring all legal requirements and regulatory obligations regarding retention requirements are supplied by an authoritative source.
- Developing the Retention Schedule to be as “big-bucketed” as possible, while still meeting organizational needs. Granular Retention Schedules are more difficult to follow and update, and harder to apply across all media.
- Preventing department-level practices from undermining a companywide Retention Schedule. For example, if one department prefers keeping project files for five years rather than the company’s one-year retention period, this departmental practice should not be on the Retention Schedule. The entire company is not required to follow that department, as doing so would unnecessarily increase overall risk and storage costs.
- Customizing the record type descriptions to make it easier for users to find the correct record type and retention timeframe for their information.
- Enlisting guidance from a Records Management expert to ensure the Retention Schedule is comprehensive and correct.
- Developing an implementation plan for how the Retention Schedule will be applied across the organization. Retention Schedules cannot provide value unless successfully implemented.
By understanding the importance, guidelines, and challenges to building a Retention Schedule, your organization can realize many valuable benefits that far surpass your investment. Bernstein Data is here to help.
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