How does your organization manage retention plans requiring purging of information including structured data?

You might answer that question by saying:

  1. What is structured data?
  2. I don’t know
  3. We just keep all our structured data

Does your current retention plan apply to structured data?

Again, you might answer that question by saying:

  1. Of course, not; our retention plan applies only to “RECORDS”
  2. I don’t know
  3. Maybe, but we keep all our structured data

As you are thinking about how to manage your electronic records from network drives and your emails, you want to consider those structured database systems and how long you retain data, while you are looking at your overall strategies for retention of information.  Structured databases, in non-technical terms, are any type of system where data exists within a database that can be pieced together to create records, screen views, reports, etc.  Examples include accounting packages, human resources relational databases, customer relations management systems, or asset management databases, to name just a few common applications with structured databases.

Not properly managing structured data poses the same risks inherent in not managing emails or documents to an organization:  hefty costs associated with producing electronically stored information (ESI) during litigation (FOIA and PRA requests for governmental organizations) because that data must be searched and produced just as your records and emails.  There also is the business opportunity costs associated with not understanding (or leveraging) the information maintained within your business that could be useful/harmful.  And, when aging legacy systems are often maintained “just in case we need that data” there is a cost to keeping those systems running.

So, when implementing a structured database system consider those that allow for retention to be applied at the data level, purging whatever is no longer needed for a business record, and/or consider systems that easily integrate into your electronic content management systems.

There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all solution.  But for too long everyone has applied the head in the sand option, first regarding emails, shared drives, social media, and now structured data.

Moving forward, especially with the tools offered by Electronic Content Management Systems to capture the business records you need to maintain for legal and business requirements, it is time to investigate how you manage your structured data.  And, specifically, to address it on your retention schedules so that you accurately identify the data/information/records that your organization needs and follow those retention schedules.  Remember, you probably do not really need to keep data on how much money your organization spent on pencil purchases 10 years ago, but many of you still have that data hanging around in your accounting packages.