by Barry Murphy.

Last spring, Forrester introduced the concept of retention management, which extends records management to all content from creation through long-term retention and destruction (check out the Retention Management document).  Seems simple enough, but with so many repositories of information (hard drives, network file shares, SharePoint sites, email servers and archives, and any number of managed repositories) extending retention policies to all of it is all but impossible.

To get a sense of how organizations address retention management, I reached out to approximately 300 companies for a research interview, figuring maybe 10 would be willing to speak about what they are doing.  In an indication of how hot the topic is, over 30 companies wanted to speak further.  Having conducted about half the interviews so far, it’s clear we are at the very beginning of the learning curve for retention management. 

Some emerging hypotheses to date:

IT owns retention management.  While IT staff cannot necessarily create the retention policies (that’s up to records management, compliance, and legal), budget authority and ultimate responsibility lies with IT.

  • Retention management is a 5 year vision.  Executing retention management does not happen overnight.  For most organizations, putting management around all content regardless of where it lives will take at least five years.  Yes, there is work to be done and tools to deploy in the early years, but achieving the vision of managing all content from birth to death will take time.
  • The upfront work is hard – and messy.  As with many projects, the early work in retention management involves political battles and change management.  Organizations must first put granular retention policies in place – and address all content with those policies.  Next comes figuring out how to organize that information, creating a file plan (taxonomy) and standard metadata vocabulary.  And finally, tools must be in place to enforce and audit policies.
  • The solutions landscape is fragmented.  When it comes to retention management, there is not one product that can be deployed today as a black box to provide the solution.  Rather, there are a number of products – records management, message archiving, file system archiving, desktop imaging and collection, search and analytics, and eDiscovery – that can help to get closer to achieving the goals of retention management.  But, there is much consolidation to be played out, leaving customers wary of putting all their eggs in one basket.
  • Litigation and information risk are becoming the dominant drivers.  As organizations digest the impact of the amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (for more, see my eDiscovery Market Overview), there is a growing sentiment that the ability to response to electronic discovery requests is a cost of doing business.  No organizations wants to be the next Morgan Stanley and run into millions of dollars in fines.
  • Agree?  Disagree?  Want to talk further about what your organization is doing?  Send me an email at