Records Management Feature: Expiration Policies

Now that we've given you an overview information management policies in Office SharePoint Server 2007, we can (finally) dive into one of the most important records management features controlled via policies -- expiration.

As mentioned in the last few postings, expiration policies automatically determine when content is ready to be dispositioned, and carry out the specified disposition at the appropriate time. Since this concept is already very familiar to records managers, let’s get right into how expiration policies are configured and enforced in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.

How are retention periods determined?

As shown in the image below, the first element of an expiration policy is to specify the retention period --- the period in which the content will not yet be considered “expired”.

 

The system provides several options for specifying the retention period:

1. Retention periods based on metadata: For many types of documents & records, the appropriate retention schedule can be determined straightforwardly from metadata. (For example, many customers we’ve talked to have retention schedules for many record series of the form “date record was declared + <some number of years>”). So Office SharePoint Server 2007 makes it simple to implement expiration policies that function in exactly that way.
Retention periods can be automatically computed for items by applying a formula to their metadata – i.e. by adding an time offset to any date property of the item. These formulas can utilize ANY date properties of the item -- built-in properties like “Date Created” or “Modified”, or a properties created by your organization on document libraries or Content Types. (Yet another reason why earlier we stressed the importance of metadata… J )
For example, in the image above, the retention period is being set for a content type used for contracts, and the retention period is set to “Final Effective Date” (a property on the contract which captures the final date the contract was in force) + 5 years.

 

2. Set programmatically by solutions such as workflows: Another way that we’ve heard customer define their retention schedules is based on the lifecycle of a document/record. (For example, some record types undergo a periodic review process which determines their disposition date.)
In the 2007 release, Office SharePoint Server has integrated a new “workflow” platform to enable customers to help automate & manage their business processes. (Workflow in the 2007 release is a big enough topic that it’s covered in its own set of postings on the SharePoint team blog – here’s a link: http://blogs.msdn.com/sharepoint/archive/2006/06/07/621210.aspx). One of the capabilities of workflows in the Office 2007 system is that they can control the disposition date of content. So, an organization’s “periodic review” workflow could specify the disposition date for records. Or a “publishing” or “sign-off” process for important documents in collaborative spaces could also control disposition dates accordingly.

How can content be dispositioned?

The second half of an expiration policy is, of course, what should happen to content when it reaches the end of its retention period. Again, the 2007 release provides several options here:

1. Perform an automated “action”: For many types of content, disposition can be fully automated. For example, the item can be deleted from the system without any human involvement.
For these scenarios, we’ve provided the “perform this action” option, as well as two initial actions to choose from, both of which will delete the item from the system (the different between them is one that we’ll discuss in more detail when we talk about the how records spaces are implemented in the 2007 release). Additionally, the list of “actions” is extensible by corporate IT departments and other software vendors – so if your company requires other disposition actions, those can be easily plugged into this system as well.

 

2. Start a workflow: Other types of content (for example, a company’s vital records) may require a person-centric process to either manually dispose of content, or just to have someone approve the disposition.
For this reason, an expiration policy can also start a specified workflow on an item when it reaches the end of its retention period. And while the Office SharePoint Server 2007 workflow platform allows customers to create their own workflows specific to their organizational requirements, we’ve also provided a “Disposition Approval” workflow out-of-the-box, which will allow users to manually approve the disposition of items.

The role of expiration policies in records & collaborative spaces:

I hope that by this point the use of expiration policies in records spaces is clear – they are the way in which you can implement your retention schedules for each record type in your file plan. For those record types where an automated disposition is appropriate, you can use disposition actions; and for record types where manual disposition/sign-off is required, you can use workflows to manage this process.

However, there’s also an important use of expiration policies in collaborative spaces, which is very beneficial to both records managers and Information Technology departments – they can be used to automatically “clean up” inactive non-record content. For example, an organization could decide to set a default expiration policy in a collaborative space with a retention period of “date last modified + 180 days”, and using the automatic “delete” disposition action. (Note that this policy would NOT affect record content in the system – we’ll discuss this in more detail when we talk about how records are declared out of collaborative spaces…) Such a policy would reduce overall IT storage costs by removing un-used data. And it would reduce discovery costs for lawyers/records managers as well, by removing content from the system that the organization didn’t need to retain in an automated & defensible manner.

And that is the basic overview of expiration policies in Office SharePoint Server 2007. In our next posting, we’ll discuss a feature relevant to both records management and regulatory compliance – the auditing of active content & records.

Thanks for reading!

- Ethan Gur-esh, Program Manager