In case you missed my earlier post, I had discussed some of the “why’s” of records management. Over the next few posts, I’ll discuss some of the “what’s.”

Have you ever seen the A&E documentary show “Hoarders?” Every week, they highlight a person with severe compulsion issues that cause them to save absolutely everything in their house, to the point where there are giant stacks of newspaper, boxes of food, and other junk and scrap, and the person’s loved ones and family members stage an intervention with the help of a team of therapists.

Well, in a lot of ways, SharePoint Records Management projects often come to be in the exact same way, where the “hoarders” are played by the end users, the loved ones and family members are the executive/RM/legal/IT groups, and the SharePoint consultants are the therapists.

Many times, organizations let their employees save as many documents, drafts, and emails as they want. Employees may be operating under the hoarding mentality of “just keep it around because you never know when you’ll need it” or may just simply not have any impetus to clean up documents they no longer need. After several years of this, email servers, shared drives, and SharePoint sites may start to appear like the living rooms of some of the people on the “Hoarders” TV show.

This is where the application of retention comes into play. Retention is the concept that all documents should have a predetermined lifespan, and that the document should be disposed of promptly after that lifespan is finished.

For instance, if a meeting takes place and the agenda is copied down and saved, there may be a need to keep that agenda around for people who were unable to attend, but after a certain period, say, 1 year after the meeting has ended, you can safely say the document is no longer needed and should be disposed.

Conversely, a signed statement of work for a 3rd party vendor may need to be kept around for as long as the vendor is employed by the company and, for legal reasons, several years after the fact.

The length of time determined that the document still needs to be kept around is called the retention period. Sometimes the retention period is determined by legal needs, and is called the legal retention period. Other times the retention period is determined just by the way the business operates, and is called the operational retention period.

As part of the retention process, the organization will need to come up with an outline of all the major types of documents that are used within the organization, spanning all activities and business functions, from interoffice memos to financials and shareholder communications.  This outline in all its entirety is called the File Plan. Once a retention period is assigned to each of the document types within the file plan, that is referred to as the Records Retention Schedule (RRS).

So how are these concepts enacted in SharePoint? Through the use of content type taxonomies and Information Management Policies.

Once an organization has a File Plan, the file types can each be represented by a SharePoint content type. Then, for each content type, under settings, there is a setting for Information Management Policy Settings.

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Retention can be enabled for the content type by clicking the “Enable Retention” checkbox in the “Retention” section. Then, retention stages can be added by clicking on “Add a retention stage.”

Out of the box, retention can be based on the date of creation, the last modified date, or the date the document was declared as a record, and is usually offset by a time period (usually several years) after this date. After the retention period has passed, SharePoint can enact one of several actions, including:

  • Move to Recycle Bin
  • Permanently Delete
  • Transfer to another location
  • Start a workflow
  • Skip to next stage
  • Declare Record
  • Delete all previous drafts
  • Delete all previous versions

For more complex retention periods, SharePoint can also utilize custom developed retention formulas. Additionally, for multi-stage retention (for example, if a document must remain in a “final” uneditable state for some period before being permanently deleted), additional retention stages can be added by just cliking “Add a retention stage…” once more after the initial retention stage has been set up.