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Data Retention: Background

    Data retention, otherwise known as records management (RM), is a concept that has been around for well over a hundred years but one whose visibility has grown significantly with the dramatic increase of electronically stored information (ESI) and the recent changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) regarding how ESI is handled during the legal discovery process.

    Since the majority of business records are now stored electronically this tutorial uses the term electronic records management (ERM) to refer to this concept. The final deliverable of the effort described in this tutorial is a comprehensive ERM policy that addresses a company's business records including a data retention schedule for each identified record type (RT).

    Conceptually a record is the equivalent of a document but ERM should not be confused with document management. Document management is primarily concerned with capturing documents (and metadata related to them) at the time of inception or creation, while ERM is concerned with records at the end of their life cycle. The said, the proposed solution described here presupposes a relationship between the two. The reason the link between document management and ERM is required is explored further in the section Developing the "To Be".

    The types of records will vary with the type of business, but nearly all businesses have standard record types that must be addressed by an ERM policy including: accounting, contracts, insurance policies, corporate and board records, email, instant messages, employment, facilities, marketing, intellectual property, legal and others. While most records are now stored electronically there may still be (most likely are) record types that exist only in paper form. In order to have a single comprehensive ERM policy it is recommended that paper only records be converted into electronic form. While the conversion of all paper records is not a prerequisite for a comprehensive policy, it is nonetheless a significant step in the right direction. A 100% electronic data record environment facilitates discovery response times and is valuable in its own right from a business operations perspective.

    Large and mid-size organizations have struggled with ERM since the dawn of the computer age. The issues presented today are not new. What is new is the exponential growth of ESI and the varied forms that it now takes, encompassing both structured (e.g. a purchase order database) and unstructured (e.g. email, instant messages, and websites). The complexity is magnified because of scale. As a problem scales its basic nature is transformed.

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