How to Build a Data Retention Program

Many businesses routinely keep excessive amounts of data, putting them at danger. To handle the expanding volume, kind, and sensitivity of enterprise data, data retention is sophisticated, nuanced, and demands a modern methodology. Organizations must create and administer a robust data retention policy that spans the whole organization and allows them to address infractions.
June 17, 2022

What is a Data Retention Program?

A data retention policy is a vital step in preserving and protecting an organization's critical data in order to avoid the civil, criminal, and financial fines that can follow from improper data management. Local, state, federal, and international policies, rules, ordinances, and laws, as well as industry-imposed requirements, define the types of data that must be kept by businesses. Furthermore, these authorities establish the length of time that certain categories of data must be held and maintained, as well as the manner in which that data must be stored.

A data retention policy is a set of rules and procedures that specify how long an organization should keep the data it gathers, maintains, and processes. A solid retention policy should be automated, scalable across an organization, and contain the following:

  1.  When was the data created and when was it last in use?
  2.  For what reason was data collected, and how long was it kept and disposed of?
  3. Requirements particular to regulations
  4. How to deal with conflicting retention policies
  5. Methods for recognizing the same data across multiple data sources
  6. Across the enterprise, all data, from all data types, repositories, and sources; this includes sensitive, critical, personal, and regulated data.
  7. A unified, user-friendly interface

A complicated set of business standards as well as local and global legislation must be operationalized by an organization. Any data management endeavor must start with a data retention policy. Data retention guidelines and regulations are dictated by both internal and external policies, and it's vital for businesses to be able to manage a comprehensive data retention policy that addresses both.

The Benefit of Data Retention Program

By developing, administering, and enforcing data retention policies across the organization, businesses can avoid infractions and increase consumer trust.

Organizations that have a robust data retention program can do the following:

  1. Define data in terms of how long they should keep it.
  2. Separate vital data from redundant, outdated, and trivial (ROT) information. 
  3. Take into account legally permissible exclusions to data retention rules (such as pending lawsuits or audits)
  4. Establish if documents should be archived or deleted.
  5. Work with legal and IT teams to develop and implement data retention policies.
  6. Create a link between legal and IT teams so that they can stay in touch, accomplish compliance, and stay on top of all rules.
  7. Remove any data that is outdated or duplicated: Regularly reviewing your data retention policy allows you to clean house, removing duplicated and old files to avoid confusion and speed up any essential searches.
  8. Increase Storage Space and Save Money: You may always use the extra storage space to make room for new files if you store your own data. If you have already moved your data to a cloud storage provider, you can assist keep costs down by cleaning up your data before migration or while in cloud storage if duplicates are discovered.

The following people are important resources of your data retention team:

  • Policy creators: Policy creators, who are usually members of the privacy, legal, records management, or compliance teams, establish and manage policies in accordance with privacy and protection rules.
  • Data owners: IT or business data owners evaluate and manage retained files in violation, as well as establish and manage exceptions, check DSAR fulfillment, and transfer data through remediation processes.
  • Auditors: Internal or external auditors verify policies and violations, as well as corrective actions.

How to Build a Data Retention Program?

1. Assemble a team to develop your data retention policy.

You should engage not only your legal and accounting teams, but also varied voices from within your firm who may have a stake in the data in your system. While your first reaction may be to delete, your accounting manager may have valid—if not critical—reasons to save certain documents.

Staff members responsible for data retention settings should be added to your data retention policy creation team.

- Departmental managers and supervisors - In-house legal counsel

- Anyone who is in charge of receiving and managing financial reports

- Anyone who is in charge of preparing financial statements

2. Compile a list of all applicable regulations for your company.

The following are some of the regulatory organizations and legislation that set data retention durations and data removal conditions:

  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a law that governs the healthcare industry and applies to healthcare organizations as well as businesses who do business with them.
  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) contains its own banking industry-specific requirements.
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulates every sort of business in the United States, regardless of location.
  • Another law that applies to all businesses in the United States is the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

This is why it's critical that your data retention policy formulation team comprises a legal expert and your accounting team, who will extensively examine any relevant laws, policies, and regulations applicable to your business and area.

3. Define the information that will be kept in your data retention policy.

There are some general sorts of data that you must include in your data retention policy, regardless of your sector or location:

  • Documents, emails, and other electronic documents, customer information, transactional data.
  • Spreadsheets, contracts. 
  • Interactions between employees and clients, agents, vendors, shareholders, and the general public.
  • Data from suppliers and partners.
  • Employee and customer records.
  • Sales, invoicing, and billing information.
  • Tax and accounting records
  • Financial statements.
  • Patient and healthcare data.
  • Student and educational data.
  • Any other data generated, gathered, and preserved in the course of normal company operations

4. Create a Data Retention Policy.

It's time to properly draft your policy when you've determined what happens to old data that you can delete or archive. The following are some of the sections that must be included in every data retention policy:

  • Laws, Regulations, Policies, Rules, and Acts that Apply
  • Schedule for Record Retention and Deletion
  • Review and Update of Litigation Plans

5. Ensure that all employees are aware of the company's data retention policy and that they fully comprehend it.

Employees were unaware of the company's data retention practices if they were aware of them at all. You don't want this to happen to your company.When it comes to data retention, you absolutely want to keep your staff informed. While you and the rest of the team are developing the policy, you might find it helpful to invite a few employee ambassadors to attend periodic data retention policy meetings so they can obtain a better knowledge of the reasons for various sections of the policy.

You never want to leave your essential business data to chance at any level, therefore make a copy of your data retention policy available to staff after it's finished. To keep everyone up to date, you may hold regular training and review sessions.


The process of storing documents for predetermined lengths of time to comply with corporate needs, industry guidelines, and legislation is known as data retention. A solid data retention policy should spell out how long data and documents are maintained, as well as how to deviate from the plan in the event of a lawsuit or other disruption.

The policy should also specify who is in charge of each type of data and whether or not data that is no longer needed should be archived or removed. A company's data management strategy includes a data retention policy. It makes crucial and important data more useful and accessible by ensuring that old material is properly archived or destroyed.

Written by Denny Fardian
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