Office 365 Disposition Review: Old and New

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In today’s world of information management and data governance, some organizations have regulations requiring approval of pending deletions. I’ve previously blogged about a new feature to address this in an Office 365 E5 tenant: Office 365 Retention: Disposition Reviews.

In this post, I want to compare the old way of approving dispositions (yes, there was one) with a test of the new Disposition Feature in Office 365 and show how the new way is a significant improvement on several fronts.

I recommend downloading Microsoft’s recent white paper titled ‘Modernizing Enterprise Content Management with Microsoft Content Services’ to learn about Microsoft’s approach to what was traditionally referred to as Enterprise Content Management (ECM). ECM has undergone a drastic evolution in recent years to what will now be called Content Services. The four pillars of Content Services are: Harvest, Create, Coordinate and Protect.

The Disposition Review feature I describe in this post is part of the ‘Protect’ pillar.

The Old Way

For any disposition to be approved in either SharePoint On-premises or Online there was a Disposition Approval Workflow you could configure. This workflow could be set at a content type or library level and for each document to be deleted, an approval task would be created. In the picture below, I am associating it with a Customer Contract content type:


Cons of the old way:

  • although the workflow could be configured at a content type level which provides a certain level of scalability, each library(site) where that content type is used would create its own task list. Reviewers would have to go to multiple locations to approve pending deletions. Although you could roll these up within one site collection, if the lists spanned site collections, there would not be an easy way of rolling them up.
  • although the user interface to “bulk approve” tasks was removed as of SharePoint 2010, the page was still deployed with SharePoint so you could manually browse to the URL to render the “Bulk approval” page. You would need to provide that URL to the user approving the deletions. (you could set up a button or link on a page for the approver)
  • the “bulk approval” tasks were an all-or-nothing approval. You couldn’t selectively approve a portion of the tasks. Not good!!!
  • the only action that could be performed was approve or reject.

Clearly, the old way was less than perfect, not scalable and left much room for improvement. Although I have tested this functionality out and demonstrated it to Information Management teams, I have not used this technique in a real-world scenario.

The New Way

Retention disposition is now associated with a retention label. In my opinion, the key differentiator between the old and new way is the ability of a label to apply to content across your entire tenant and to centralize the review process from one location. This makes it significantly more scalable than the old way.

When defining a retention label in the Security & Compliance Center of Office 365, you can choose to trigger a disposition review and provide the email address(es) for the individuals responsible for approving the disposition (i.e. deletion).

Disposition Review

Image1When the retention period arrives, the reviewer(s) will receive an email (mine went into my spam folder so beware of that). When they click the link, it will take them to the Security & Compliance Center where they will see the dispositions to review in the Dispositions section under Data Governance.

In the Dispositions panel, you will see all items requiring approval. For EACH item, you have 3 different options:

  • Apply a different label
  • Extend the current retention period
  • Delete permanently


Image3As you can imagine, there is potential for a lot of documents requiring approval at the same time. To accommodate this, you can also select multiple documents at a time and perform a bulk action using these same 3 choices.

Here is what happens when each of the 3 actions are chosen:

Apply different label

You can apply a different label to any document. It will allow you to apply a label that isn’t currently published to that location. In my test cases above I applied the “Test Label 2” label to the top document, “Sample document.docx”. That label is not published to the above site. After a period of time, I checked this document in its original SharePoint library location and it did update the label to “Test Label 2”.


Extend retention period

You can extend the retention period for a document by selecting another date. (I did this for the second document above, Sample document 4.docx and extended it to Sunday, September 4, 2017)


Delete Permanently

I did this for the 3rd document above, Sample document 3.docx. I waited for a period of time (likely controlled by a back-end timer process) and it did in fact get deleted. This is essentially the same as “Approving it”. It will appear in the “Completed Dispositions” view of the Dispositions page. Information Management teams could then export this list to a .csv file to create a Certificate of Disposition.



I’ll leave the remaining document, “Sample document 1.docx”, without any action being taken to see what happens to it. After several weeks, I checked back and it remains in the library (not yet deleted) and is still sitting in the list of pending dispositions. Therefore, documents will stay in this list until a decision is made on how to proceed with the disposition – a good thing.

My thoughts…

On initial testing with this new functionality, it is a vast improvement over the review process in place prior to this which is great news for Information Management teams. One caveat to this story is at the time of this writing it does require an E5 license in Office 365.

In my opinion, if you don’t have an E5 license and require a disposition approval process, there is currently no good solution to address this requirement using out-of-the-box capabilities.

I believe the options are:

  • Although not ideal, you could use the disposition workflow process I describe above however I don’t believe this is a scalable solution and has the limitations I describe earlier in this post.
  • Develop a custom workflow approval process for disposition approval.
  • Use a 3rd party product to augment the SharePoint capabilities.

Thanks for reading.


Credit: Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash


  1. Does the disposition apply to collections of documents (say, document sets or whole libraries) as well as to individual files? Selecting individual files can be cumbersome if a lot of files are involved, and,easily subject to human error.

    1. Sorry, I misread your question. No, I believe all users need E5, not just the reviewers.

      1. All users need E5 then. I was hoping having only the disposition reviewers with E5 would work.

        I created content for disposition review based on a day afer content is labelled. Its been 3 days now but do not see anything under disposition review and no notification email either.
        Moreover, after the retention phase of the label (1 day), I tried deleting the content, but got denied stating the label prevents it from doing so.

        Im sure there is a job that runs to monitor these labels. Is there any min expected timeline for this job to complete?

        Sorry for so many questions 🙂

      2. Hi Reza, it is controlled by a timer job. You will see it within 1 week.

  2. Hi Joanne,

    If item is marked for retention and also labelled as a record.
    After the retention period expires, will the record lock also go away or will it continue to be a record indefinitely?


  3. Hi Joanne,

    Do you know if it is possible to edit the columns shown on the disposition approval screen / or to edit the columns in the export?

    Thanks, Kate

    1. Hi Kate,
      You can’t currently edit the columns shown. When you export the dispositions, it is a stand-alone spreadsheet (.csv actually). This means you can manipulate that file as much as you want since once exported, it’s not connected in any way to the disposition screen. Hope that made sense.

      1. Hi Joanne, thanks for your reply – makes total sense that the file is manipulable. I was wondering if additional columns could be exported e.g. whatever metadata columns are in the site, as these would give context to the information being deleted. From my understanding by default the site and library name are the only other pieces of information about the record in the export, aside from the file name.

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