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Office 365 Protection with Automated Records Retention in 3 Steps

As you transition to Office 365, there is a clear need to understand what content is living in the cloud and how it is classified. There are a number of things that can be done to ensure that you are maintaining a cloud environment that is up to date and does not contain redundant, outdated, or trivial content. While the conversation around classifying data in the cloud often stems from compliance and privacy concerns, it’s important from a records management perspective too. Records Management is an incredibly important task in any organization, and automating those actions will not only ensure the aforementioned compliance and privacy risks are addressed, but also satisfy any records requirements applicable to your organization.

Automating records retention in SharePoint has traditionally been a difficult task. Microsoft’s original solution required you to work in a Records Center as well as in the standard SharePoint environment. This was not widely adopted because it required end users to work in more than one location. As SharePoint evolved, native records automation solutions also evolved, but the platform still lacked a centralized, out-of-the-box tool to maintain and dispose of records. With Office 365, we’re one step closer to an automated solution, primarily due to the improvements with the management of Content Types in SharePoint Online. Using these Content Types in conjunction with a third-party tool can help you implement some excellent records management solutions.

In this article, I’ll outline three key steps to automating your records retention and disposal process in Office 365. Following these steps can help reduce the workload of your records team significantly.

1. Classify your Office 365 content

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The first step to any Office 365 records management project is to determine what you have in your environment. Without a clear picture of what your data is, you will never be able to determine what you should do with it. Classification of your content can be a daunting task, but it is the first step to truly understanding the data that you have and then applying policies to that content. You can handle classification of this data in more than one way, but the end goal is to either create a classification that can be associated with a Content Type in your environment or simply assign that Content Type directly. My preference is always to classify first as it can be reused more extensively than a Content Type. You will use these Content Types to handle the automation of your records retention in a later step.

You can also use these classifications to associate any relative rights management policies in your environment, so this step is not relegated only to your records management. Classification is likely the single most important step you can take in organizing and automating any actions and policies surrounding your data, so it is naturally the bedrock of any records automation system.

2. Automate the removal of your outdated Office 365 content


Once you have your classifications in place, you can utilize this framework to set up retention policies for your data. One of the bonuses of classifying all of the content in your environment is that it allows you to archive and remove content based on the classifications. When automating records management, we can use these classifications and associated Content Types to declare records and set corresponding retention periods.

Using SharePoint archiving tools, you can then create retention policies based on metadata associated with the Content Types. Creating a tiered hierarchy for archiving and records retention allows you to maintain your infrastructure and ensure that you can handle redundant, obsolete, and trivial data. Moreover, once this content has been archived, or at the very least declared as a record, you can set an additional retention date to ensure the safe disposal of the content. This transitions into one of the biggest pain points of records management: legal compliance.

3. Ensure legal compliance


Once you have your content classified, declared as a record, and have a basic retention policy in place, you can use this framework to ensure that you are in legal compliance with any standards that you are required to meet. Using the Content Types, you can specify any required legal holds for ongoing litigation by ensuring that content related to specific projects or users has been classified and then declared as a record. While the step to declare a legal hold will always be a manual process, the records retention surrounding the rest of your environment can be automated. This automation can be further integrated with Information Rights Management (IRM), Risk Management Solutions (RMS), and Digital Rights Management (DRM) by utilizing Content Types and metadata classifications to determine how you are going to manage that content.


Using the steps outlined above will not only allow you to manage the long term storage of your records in an automated fashion, but also ensure that the system in place to take these actions can be utilized by a number of other systems in your environment in addition to Office 365. Creating a universal solution for records automation will allow you to be flexible with new projects in your environment as these classifications can be digested by many other systems and third-party tools. Managing your records can be a holistic solution to managing your data across the organization if you start with data classification.

What’s Next?

As you plan your journey to the cloud, be sure to check out AvePoint’s Cloud Arcade for more helpful tips on managing, migrating, and protecting Office 365! You can also learn more about Office 365 protection by watching our on demand webinar, AvePoint’s Cloud Arcade Presents: Policy-Driven Protection for Office 365.

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