Information Hoarding: Best Practice for Managing Retention?

By Susan Cisco posted 08-24-2010 10:47


According to a Symantec survey of 1,680 IT pros and legal executives in 26 countries, 75% of backup data are retained infinitely or kept for legal holds. In addition 25% of the data backed up is not needed for business or should not be saved. (Also called out is that nearly half of the enterprises surveyed are improperly using their backup and recovery software for archiving electronic records and legal holds.)   

Symantec suggests it’s the fear of deleting important records that keep organizations from moving away from the outdated strategy of simply keeping everything forever.  I think information hoarding is more complex:

  • Some people (and organizations?) are compulsive information hoarders. This compulsive behavior was easier to spot when recorded information was mostly in a physical format. The hoarders would be engulfed in paper – files, boxes, stacks, and piles. You probably know a “piler.” (If you do, enter him/her in the AIIM contest:
  •  There is a perception that records management programs have failed to reduce information volume.  A colleague heard an attorney state at the recent American Bar Association conference that he no longer recommends record retention programs to his clients because all efforts to date have been expensive failures and advocates a Google-based approach to finding information. He understands that keeping everything indefinitely will require more storage but thinks it is less expensive than the alternative.
  •  Many organizations have found that it is just too hard to make enterprise records management work across multiple repositories with today’s tools. A perfectly rational response is to assume that smarter people with better tools will be able to solve this problem in the future. Conveniently, this approach is also the path of least resistance. 

We’ve discussed the pros and cons for years:

Pros – Retaining enterprise information indefinitely

  • Easy to implement and train
  • Organizations can be assured they have retained any requested information
  • Simplifies legal hold process because essentially everything is on legal hold all the time 

Cons – As the volume of stored information increases

  • Searching takes longer, and more hits are returned
  • Identifying the latest version of a file takes longer and increases risk of using obsolete or amended versions of information
  • Storage costs increase
  • Backup and recovery windows increase
  • Some information is retained longer than legally required.
  • Costs increase if litigation is a risk factor; from, DuPont spent $11,961,000 in unnecessary costs in legal discovery for 9 legal cases because 50% of the responsive records were past retention period and could have been destroyed

The cons provide compelling reasons to stop hoarding information yet most organizations continue to keep everything indefinitely.  So why don’t we make information hoarding the best practice? If hoarding becomes the strategy, what would our tactics be?

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