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 Yet many businesses still rely on outdated technology or take a “save everything” approach when it comes to their important information. This puts organizations at risk of noncompliance, potential fines, and/or a data breach.

With the ever-increasing amount of information and regulations created daily, organizations can significantly benefit from a clearly documented record retention schedule. But how do you ensure your organization’s retention schedule is up to par? Continue reading for an overview of what your retention schedule needs to ensure success.

The Must-Haves for Your Record Management Retention Schedule

Record retention schedules help ensure files and records are accessible for as long as required by industry, state, and federal regulations. They also ensure that out-of-date records are destroyed in a manner that complies with relevant regulations.

When it comes to evaluating and developing (or updating) your retention schedules, there are many factors to consider. A comprehensive records management 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 it could also be an internal statutory authority.

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

Considerations for Your Record Retention Schedule and Processes

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

What is a record?

Records come in a variety of formats, but they all contain important business information. Traditionally, organizations managed a mix of paper forms, cards, photographs, reports, microfilms, tapes, disks, and electronic files. Now, many organizations utilize email, collaborative social tools, cloud technology, and personal mobile devices to conduct business and generate records. It’s important to consider how all this information fits into a long-term record retention schedule and strategy — regardless of format.

Conducting an information audit allows an organization 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 or enhancing your document management program, it’s vital to tailor the record retention schedule to each department’s specific record creation, usage, and storage practices. 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. This will allow you 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 on groups of records— an approach often referred to as “big bucket” retention scheduling. This 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 retention and privacy management software, organizations can automate retention schedules and capture documents as they’re created, place them in the correct retention group, and monitor for updates.

How can we ensure long-term preservation and access to 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 the flexibility to digitally retrieve documents stored offsite, so you can access them anytime and anywhere.

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

A successful records retention schedule requires buy-in from team members across the organization. Comprehensive training and ongoing education on 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 technologies that automate and simplify records retention. Communicate frequently and thoroughly about updates to your retention policies so employees understand their role in protecting company information.

Need to update your retention schedule?

We can help with that! Streamline your privacy and retention policy updates with continuously updated legal research covering 220+ jurisdictions around the world with our record retention schedule management solution, Virgo.

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