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Is your RM software ready for real-world records retention?

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In a series of blog posts, we are getting into the nuts and bolts of records management software to help you understand what to look for in a solution.

In previous posts, we explored the features that make up a great document search tool and the features required to manage electronic and physical records in the same environment.

This week we turn our attention to records retention.   

Records retention is another one of those cornerstone features of an RM software solution. Retention is so important to organizations that it has started to crop up in other kinds of software such as electronic content management tools and information portals such as SharePoint.

The typical approach to retention in these tools is to automatically flag a document for disposal when it reaches a certain age.  This works fine for records whose retention periods span a fixed number of years after files are created. In some organizations, the majority of records retention periods may even work that way.   

Going beyond the retention basics

Time-based retention is a basic requirement for any solution. However, on its own it is not enough to cover all retention scenarios. Retention periods for many paper and electronic files are event-based, meaning that the retention period does not even begin until a predefined event triggers closure of the file.

Common examples of retention events include:

  • termination of an employment relationship (for a personnel file)
  • termination or expiry of an agreement (for a contract file)
  • completion of an annual internal audit (for annual accounting files)
  • project closure (for project files)
  • decommissioning of a plant or facility (for some engineering files)
  • corporate dissolution (for articles of incorporation and other core governance documents)

Calculating disposition dates based on when files were created runs the risk of destroying records before their retention period has begun, much less ended. In the best case scenario, your organization’s staff is forced to review lists of possible destructions that have to be delayed. In the worst case scenario, electronic records are automatically deleted and paper files sent to shredding facilities too soon, contravening internal policy and breaking the law.

Building in event-based retention

As a direct alternative to both nightmare scenarios, make sure that event-based retention is built into the design and configuration of your RM software.

In its simplest form, this includes:

  • naming of specific retention events in the actual retention rules applied by the system
  • data entry points for users to inform the system when the event has actually occurred
  • calculation of the retention period based on when the event actually occurs
  • sending of notifications to record “owners” when the event-based retention period has indeed lapsed
  • an opportunity for the user to further postpone disposal when there is a legal hold or other valid business case to retain the record further.

With these basic features in place, your RM software is much better equipped to handle the full range of retention requirements you will encounter in the real world!

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