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As the amount of organizational data around the globe grows, it becomes increasingly important for companies to develop comprehensive data retention policies or strategic plans. The growing impact of new data privacy and compliance laws, coupled with the importance of strong data security measures, makes having a comprehensive data retention strategy less of a want and more of a need at this point in time.

SEE: Electronic data retention policy (TechRepublic Premium)

To ensure stored data is secure, accessible and held for no longer than required, organizations should implement comprehensive data retention policies that cover the specific nuances of their particular industry and business use case. In this guide, we’ll talk more about what exactly data retention policies are, the benefits of having a policy in place and some of the tools you can use to optimize your organizational data retention.

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What is data retention?

Data retention is the preservation and usage of data for a predefined period — called a data retention period — to satisfy business, technical and legal requirements. Data retention ensures that data is easily recoverable in the case of an unforeseen disaster or circumstance that leads to data loss. A practical approach to data retention should cater not only to the initial state of the data but also to its varying values and liabilities over time.

Your data retention approach needs to be mindful of your long-term needs and use cases, helping you to determine when and how to store data during data retention periods. It’s also important to map out your specific data retention requirements.

What is a data retention policy?

A data retention policy is a policy or principal course of action that ensures organizations store and dispose of data using a consistent approach. The policy specifies how long different types of data should be kept, as well as their storage locations and formats.

The data retention policy is the first step organizations should take to protect their data and avoid financial, civil and criminal penalties that often accompany poor data management practices.

SEE: Data governance checklist for your organization (TechRepublic Premium)

Local, state, federal, and international laws — as well as industry-specific regulations — don’t simply specify the types of data organizations and businesses must retain. Guidelines also often dictate how long specific types of data must be maintained and even how the data needs to be stored.

From client and customer data to patient records, organizations face an increasing number of data retention requirements. The following are some of the types of information, records and data that should be covered by an organization’s data retention policy:

  • Electronic records and communications.
  • Business, client, agent and supplier correspondence.
  • Documents, spreadsheets and databases.
  • Customer and human resource records.
  • Supplier and partner information.
  • Transactional data.
  • Contracts.
  • Sales, invoice and billing information.
  • Accounting, banking, finance, earnings and tax data.
  • Healthcare, medical and patient information.
  • Student and educational data.
  • Personal information.
  • Other data produced and collected to fulfill business activities.

Benefits of a data retention policy

Data retention policies are incredibly important for businesses to maintain regulatory compliance, but legal considerations aren’t the only reasons to develop and implement strong data retention practices. Learn about some of the top benefits of having a data retention policy in place below:


A data retention policy helps enterprises maintain regulatory compliance with new and evolving laws concerning employee and consumer data privacy. For instance, the California Consumer Privacy Act regulates companies that carry out business with California consumers, regardless of the company’s location. A deliberate violation of CCPA can cost businesses up to $7,500.

SEE: GDPR resource kit: Tools to become compliant (TechRepublic Premium)

The privacy provisions in the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation are also much easier to follow with a plan in place. A data retention policy delineates exactly what data you have and how you can store and use it, thus helping enterprises satisfy regulatory requirements without too much hassle.

Lower cost

Data is often expensive to store, especially if you store large amounts of it for longer than necessary. A data retention policy can help you to determine the need for and viability of storing different datasets by answering whether data should be retained, what the cost of retention is, what the retention schedule would look like and how often data needs to be accessed. The questions this type of policy poses ensure that data retention and disposal processes are set up to optimize costs and storage requirements simultaneously.

Cleaner and more accessible data

Data disposal is a key part of data retention policies, as outdated or duplicate records can cause bigger data quality and management issues. Because data retention policies require teams to regularly audit and clean their data, business data becomes more accessible and usable as a result.

SEE: Review the top data literacy training courses (TechRepublic)

Especially with a records retention schedule, methods such as record deletion and disposal are carried out legally and effectively to make data cleaner, more searchable and easier to understand for various teams.

Better disaster recovery

As the information technology landscape continues to evolve, the cyber threat landscape is becoming not only more complex but also more dangerous. As a result, outages and disasters can occur at any time.

SEE: Disaster recovery and business continuity plan (TechRepublic Premium)

Data retention policies often factor in aspects of backup and recovery to secure mission-critical and sensitive data, which further supports a swift recovery. An effective data retention policy can also limit an enterprise’s exposure to security breaches and complement other data protection efforts.

Consolidated record storage

The move from paper records retention and storage to digital storage has many companies struggling to adjust and manage a hybrid storage environment. But because data retention policies are customizable to your organization’s exact data setup and requirements, a policy can accommodate both data storage methods and ensure effective records management across all mediums.

Data retention tools

SAP Data Retention Manager

SAP Data Retention Manager is a service provided by the SAP Business Technology Platform. It orchestrates the lifecycle of business data and manages end-user data deletion while also supporting the orchestration of personal data deletion. It is most useful for employees and organizational teams who manage data protection and data privacy.

Mimecast Cloud Archive

Mimecast Cloud Archive offers a secure and accessible cloud archive that helps to keep corporate information available, protected and preserved while lowering the cost and complexity associated with data management. It particularly focuses on managing email data and simplifying email and metadata retention.

Google Vault

Google Vault is a tool that enables users to retain, hold, search and export data to support the archiving and e-discovery needs of enterprises. It holds data from various Google Workspace apps and allows users to set their own retention rules.

Veritas Long-Term Data Retention

Veritas Long-Term Data Retention provides powerful and scalable solutions that improve the cyber resilience of enterprises and help them yield long-term cost savings. The company delivers an integrated approach to optimize data compliance, implement end-to-end deduplication and ensure immutable storage — all while providing the ability to automate the management of retention policies.

Read next: Top data governance tools (TechRepublic)

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