The Right Data Retention Policy for Your Organization

data retention

The Right Data Retention Policy for Your Organization

by Steven Fiore

Every business needs a strategy to manage its data, and that strategy should include a plan for data retention. Before setting a data retention policy, it’s important to understand the purpose of the policy and how it can contribute to organizational goals. 

There are four values that drive most businesses to do anything:  

  • To make money and increase revenue
  • To save money by decreasing costs
  • Because they must comply with regulations
  • Because they want to use the business as a platform for social good

While each of these values will be represented in any organization, some investigation will usually reveal that one or two of these values outshine the rest. Which values are most important will vary from one organization to another. 

Organizations need to start by clearly stating the goals of their data policy, and then build a policy that supports those goals. We help companies unearth business drivers so data policies can contribute to the company values and goals rather than compete with them. 

In this post, we explore best practices in establishing and maintaining a data retention policy through the lens of these business drivers.  

What are the goals of your data retention policy?

Value: Make Money

Companies that rely on advertising revenue like Google and Facebook want to keep as much data as necessary to maximize revenue opportunities.  

Companies that mine their data can spot trends in their data that inform product enhancements, improve customer experience (driving brand loyalty), and reveal revenue opportunities that would have otherwise been hidden. 

In both cases, the data retention policy should focus on what data can contribute to revenue, and how much of it is needed. Balancing aggregate data versus more granular data is the key so you retain enough data to achieve your objectives without retaining unneeded data that adds cost, complexity, and security or privacy risks.   

Value: Save Money

Many businesses focus on the bottom line and prioritize efficiency to avoid wasting time, money, and energy. 

Businesses that want to save money can use data retention to make the organization more efficient. While data storage is inexpensive, it isn’t free – and access can be more expensive than storage. So, for an organization that wants its data policies to help save money, the policy might focus on retaining only the data that is necessary to avoid extra storage and management overhead. 

Further, retaining more data than you need to can be a legal liability. Having a data retention and disposal policy can reduce legal expenses in the event of a legal discovery process.  

There’s also an efficiency cost to data – the more data you have, the slower the process will be to search and use that data. So, data retention policies can and should be part of a data governance strategy aimed at making the data that is retained as efficient to manage and use as possible. 

Value: Comply with Regulations

Many industries have their own regulations while some regulations cross industries. Businesses that must have a data retention policy may need it to comply with laws that govern data retention such as the Sarbanes Oxley Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), or IRS 1075. Even US-based companies may be subject to international legislation such as the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and companies that have customers in California need to understand how the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) can impact data retention. Government agencies in the US are also bound by the Freedom of Information Act and some states have “Sunshine” laws that go even further.  

Businesses that are motivated to comply with regulations will need their data retention policy to reflect federal, state, and local requirements, and will need to document compliance with those requirements. 

Value: Business as a Platform for Social Good

 Whether an organization was established as an activist brand or has been drawn to social responsibility as investor demand has risen social responsibility, many companies are finding ways to use data to understand their social and environmental impact.  This impact is often also reported on through Environmental Social Governance (ESG) reporting, Carbon Disclosure Projects, and reporting structures like GRESB (Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark). 

In these cases, organizations that use their business as a platform for social good, may identify key metrics such as energy consumption or hiring data that can be used to inform reports on social responsibility.  

In closing

By understanding your organization’s values and priorities, you can ensure that its policies support those values. Every company has data to collect, manage, and dispose of, so it’s critical to have a roadmap for how to address data requirements today and into the future. This framework is a starting point to that effort because there’s nothing worse than going through the effort to implement a complex policy, only to discover that it moves the business further from its goals.  

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