What is a document retention policy? By definition, a document retention policy is a systematic plan for maintaining, reviewing, and destroying documents and data, including hard copy, electronic documents, databases, emails, and other business records that are created, sent, or received by an organization during the standard course of business.
In today’s business atmosphere, companies large and small are creating, receiving, and storing multitudes of electronic and physical documents and information at blazing speeds. This information is stored on desktops, laptops, websites, phones, filing cabinets, and hundreds of other storage locations. Because documentation has become so easy to transfer and store, companies find themselves storing more and more information. This information is being backed up to servers, tapes, cds, and even cloud storage services.
With the ever-increasing need to store and retain information, there are several important questions to consider:
- How long should we keep this information?
- What if we inadvertently destroy a critical document?
- How does our staff know what to discard?
- What documents do we save?
- What data should we archive?
- What files can we destroy?
In order to protect your valuable data, organizations should consider crafting a detailed document retention policy. In order to help you prepare your own policy, we have compiled 3 major concerns for your consideration:
Designing a Document Retention Policy
- What data do we retain?
- How do we retain it?
- How long should we retain it for?
How you store your documents and the length of time that you retain documents will vary depending on the type of information stored. For example, financial documentation should be retained longer than an employee sick day notification.
3 Important Document Retention Questions:
1. What – What documents should you retain?
The first and most important step in configuring your retention policy is to identify what type of information needs to be retained. For example, you may specify that all contracts, insurance policies, employee records, etc. will be stored.
It is not necessary to be overly detailed with your instructions, unless a direct business need can be identified or a particular compliance regulation requires it. If there are any exceptions to your requirements – be sure to label them separately (ex. All contracts are to be stored offsite – except for company XYZ)
2. How – How should you retain your documents?
While deciding what documents should be stored is a critical step in formulating a document retention policy, it is also important to consider how these files will be stored – ie. file-type and storage medium. Depending on the format and purpose of your document, the way in which you save and store it will change. For example, if you are storing mostly electronic documents, or converting physical files into electronic documents, it would be wise to invest in a secure document management system.
As you prepare your document retention policy, you should keep your eyes open for new ways to keep your documents safe from harm. Implementing the right document management software will not only help you retain documents – it will also provide you with a disaster recovery plan, an off-site data backup, and additional security measures such as data encryption and password protected files. Not only can you ensure best practices when it comes to the retention of data – you can protect valuable information from other threats.
3. How Long – How long should your documents be retained for?
Just as important as the type of files, the length of time that documents are kept is also extremely important. By setting the proper time-limits for your document retention policy, you will prevent file build up while helping to prevent the accidental deletion of critical files. Not can a document retention policy help ensure the safety of your documents– it will also give you the benefit of the doubt should a file be required after its destruction date. Depending on your industry, the regulations on what types of documentation must be retained, and for how long, will vary. However, regardless of your industry, a well-structured document retention and destruction policy will help safeguard your valuable data.
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