The Business-Technology Weave

Nov 28 2012   1:47PM GMT

Content: The retention schedule

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott

Once an organization’s documents are categorized, their content’s retention is then managed on a schedule.  The schedule simply lists various categories of content based on taxonomy, each category’s retention period, and action taken on that content after the retention period expires.  Only your organization can capture the comprehensive categories of documents relevant to your business.  We cannot craft “generic” retention, and content management, policies here.  Therefore, purely as an aid to understanding, let’s show some broad examples.

An organization should have a schedule for its “defining” documents; things such as records of incorporation, charters, business agreements, etc.  These things are permanent.  Other permanent items may include meeting minutes of board committees, minutes of evidentiary actions and consents, and records of settlements and releases, for example.   

Beyond foundational documents, there will usually be a general schedule for organization-wide content types – things that any department grapples with (such as working papers, minutes to meetings, confidentiality agreements, personnel records, etc.).   

In addition to this, each department will have it’s own schedule for content that is specific to that department (a Marketing department, for example, would produce a retention schedule for things such as marketing plans, sales reports, forecasts, etc.). 

Taking Action on Content:  Each department’s schedule rolls up to the organization’s main retention policy.  As time goes by, reports are run on a routine basis – usually monthly, and usually by a person in the form of a content/records manager.  The reports identify that month’s actionable content, in various categories.  Action is driven according to content’s age from date of creation, and its having reached the end of the retention period.  After review by appropriate authorities, the content is either archived or destroyed according to instruction in the Schedule. 

Many templates for schedules of content management are available on the web.  Organizations with their own legal resources will generate a good part of their retention schedules and content management policies there.  Here it is important to understand the concepts so that you can begin to plan your system, and deliver proper expectations when evaluating vendors and implementing a solution.

A Retention Review:  Retention drives a large part of your Content Management policy.  All content should have a retention period based on categories of subject material (taxonomy); it is the categories that yield the length of the retention period based on business value of that particular category of content.  A retention period can be extremely short, extremely long, and anything in between, from months to years.  For example, meeting notes’ retention period can be extremely short: the schedule can dictate that once formal meeting minutes are produced, the notes are to be immediately destroyed.  At the other end of the scale are things such as records of incorporation or organization, partnership and membership agreements, etc.  These would be permanent.  Other content can have a conditional retention period: you may choose to retain employee attendance records for a period of four years after the end of employment, for example.

Retention must comply with any laws governing content, and any other regulations.  Also, your organization will be legally obligated to retain all content relevant to pending or reasonably anticipated litigation, investigations and administrative proceedings.  Here, we cannot and do not want to be seen as advocating a system for obfuscating truth or sheltering an organization from consequence to actions of bad faith or bad business.  However, in an age of many frivolous lawsuits, we can see value in reviewing content for potential liability on a proactive basis.  We must recognize the importance in moving and removing “dead-value” content from our active environment. 

We must maintain an efficient, relevant, useful, bank of content, and that is a laudable goal and achievement.  In fact, archiving and destructing content on a disciplined retention schedule has become a duty within the true Business-Technology Weave, and is a crucial process in our overall management of content.

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