Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Three Bears Solution

Can I get rid of all that “old” information tomorrow?

“My company is so full of info debris that we are no longer efficient." “Hey Randy, why can't we just get rid of everything right now and have clean servers and start fresh tomorrow?" Seems like a wonderful idea. After all its spring time—the perfect time for spring cleaning.

Don’t hit the delete button so fast, bucko. You can’t just blow everything away tomorrow and here is why.

Four compelling reasons why jail would be so not fun.
1. I don’t want a forced roommate.
2. I like going OUT for Asian food.
3. I don’t do well when told when to eat, sleep, relax, exercise etc. I like freedom.
4. I like to travel and jail would severely limit my freedom of movement.

Ok, so the law requires that records are retained. Every business, big and small is required to retain records of their business.

Four compelling business reasons why destroying everything immediately is stupid.
1. How can you manage your day-to-day and long range business activities without records?
2. How do you know what your business rights and obligation are if you don’t have documentation?
3. How will you manage employees and customer relationships without something to rely upon?
4. How will you keep managers, board members, and executives apprised of what’s going on?

Ok, so there are business reasons to manage records and have a way to access and retrieve content to run your business.

The issue of over-retention of information is a major issue for most businesses today. Way too many companies are storing too much stuff, way too long. That equates to real money which could be better used for other business activities. So, more is not necessarily better. All is not tenable. Too little is a business impediment and a legal headache waiting to happen. So, I need a Three Bears Solution—“This pile of information is too big, this pile of information is too small. Oh—this pile of information is just right.” Easy in the porridge business. Not so easy in the information management business.

So, let me help you start to think about getting your business to the place that says we have just the right amount—not too much, not too little.

In order to retain the right amount of information, you first have to know what information you have, what business value it provides and the many legal, regulatory and compliance needs for the information. Then, by considering all those inputs you can determine how long to retain the information. As with anything, there is always an end to the value. This explains why you shouldn’t keep everything forever.

Now, I’m sure there is a whole bunch in the email system, on shared drives, on old servers, etc. just screaming to go to the info graveyard right now. But, how can you get rid of the data that has been stored and ill-managed over time. First, you need to do due diligence around what information exists. Second, you need to determine what information is subject to any audit, investigation or litigation preservation obligations. In that case, the information has to continue to exist until the matter is over and lawyers say it’s OK to destroy. Finally, you need to assess what record retention rules apply. It gets rather complicated pretty quick, so if you have question, please don’t hesitate to ask. Send your questions to Better being safe than sorry.

Finally, I strongly believe in cleaning house but in today’s litigation environment you need to do it in a defensible way. No doubt leaner running is better business. But, innocent house cleaning can be considered “destruction of evidence” so clean with a documented plan that is followed and blessed by the business folks and the lawyers.