I’ve spoken to two different groups over the last couple of days and both groups asked me the same question about Content Types and SharePoint Information Management Polices. Essentially, they wanted to understand why simply applying a retention and disposition schedule directly to each unique Content Type wouldn’t meet their records management requirements.
This is an excellent question that addresses a fundamental understanding of SharePoint records mangement and is vital to a successful solution implementation, so I thought it might be a good idea to post my response here.
Many retention and disposition requirements (indeed, most retention and disposition requirements at some organizations) are determined by an event rather than the type of record being managed, so a record’s Content Type is usually not enough information to accurately apply the correct Information Management Policy to it.
This is probably best explained by an example. Suppose you manage mortgages at a large financial institution. With each new mortgage a new corresponding folder is created in your records repository. Over the life of the mortgage, hundreds of records with dozens of different record types – Mortgage Agreements, Property Assessments, etc., etc. – will be added to the folder. And most (or more likely, all) of these records will have their own Content Type. Internal corporate policy and outside regulations require that these records are maintained for 10 years after the mortgage is paid off, at which point all the records in the folder, as well as the folder itself, are destroyed.
From this example – known as case based records retention – it is easy to see why a record’s Content Type alone wouldn’t provide adequate information for applying the appropriate retention and disposition schedule. If you were to simply apply a 10-year expiration to, say, all Mortgage Agreement Content Types, SharePoint wouldn’t have any way of knowing when the record’s mortgage was paid off, so it wouldn’t ever trigger the record’s 10 year expiration period.
This example also explains why the addition of Content Organizer was so critical to successful records management in SharePoint 2010. Using Content Organizer, we can configure SharePoint to route a record to a folder in the Records Center based on its Content Type (e.g. ‘Mortgage Agreement’) and one or more metadata values (e.g. ‘Mortgage #12345′). Once the records are properly classified into the correct folder, an Event Date can be applied to all the records it contains upon payoff of the mortgage and the 10 year expiration period can begin in compliance with corporate and external requirements.