A business runs on communications. These communications can be e-mails, documents, contracts, proposals, memos, notes and so on. They make up the business records of an organization. Many people think that business records are only the accounting information. While accounting information is part of your overall business records, it’s not all of it.
Here’s where the problem lies. How long do you keep these records for and when can you delete them? In some instances the time required to keep business records are mandated by law. In all other instances how long you keep your records is completely up to the business itself. In addition to the records not covered by law, you also have to decide if you want to keep records required by law past the legal retention requirements.
The length of time you should keep your business records should be determined by measuring risk versus reward. Keeping records for a long time will enable your organization to look up history which may or may not be valuable for future dealings. That’s the reward. The risk is in litigation or audits. If you keep documents and are sued or audited, then those documents may be subpoenaed in the proceedings. Once your documents are subpoenaed, you’ve lost control.
Once you have a policy in place, you then have to ensure that the policy is being followed. If you delete records early you may be in violation of government rules or regulations. If you keep records beyond the time that they should have been destroyed they still can be subject to subpoena. Having the policy does not protect your organization if you don’t follow it.
To protect your organization and yourself, start automating records management. With automation, the retention and destruction of documents and records are consistent. This protects you in case of an audit or lawsuit. However, your records management system must also have a hold feature in case you are ordered by the courts to retain information past their scheduled retention period.