Retention in SharePoint Online: The WHERE, WHAT, HOW, and WHEN

Reading Time: 4 minutes

There are many things to consider when applying retention to your SharePoint Online content, and each decision you make will have follow-on effects to be aware of. I’m writing 4 posts to highlight 4 key questions to answer when configuring Office 365 retention and will identify some pros and cons of decisions surrounding each:

4 posts

I think the image below sums up the retention scenario across Microsoft 365. Knowing you need it is only scratching the surface (which is partly what this blog post series is addressing)…

Iceberg image

Anyone working in records management in Office 365 MUST understand the implications of the answers to these 4 questions to make a sound and long-lasting decision on any compliant solution being built. It’s not sufficient to place a retention label or policy on content and call it “done” – there are considerations to be made with real consequences both for the end-user working with the content as well as the records management team working to ensure their organization’s regulatory requirements are being met.

This is a shared responsibility between the records management team and the information workers within an organization – both are required for success. Sometimes there are trade-offs to be made to balance productivity and compliance using a risk-based approach, while other times regulations need to be adhered to in the strictest way. Your records management team needs to understand these (often competing) approaches to choose the “right” approach for any given situation.

Content in these posts is based on working with Office 365 retention in SharePoint Online with customers in the field.

This series of posts focuses on:

  • document retention (not email retention)
  • Office 365 retention capabilities (no third-party products/add-ins)

My thoughts on Third Party Products in this space

I’m a bit brave putting this in here, but I get asked this a lot so here’s some things to think about…

Advanced Data Governance capabilities in Office 365 are routinely being scrutinized by information management teams as they evaluate the current Office 365 capabilities against those of third-party products on the market. To be fair, this is something all teams should be doing. Although there isn’t (yet) feature parity with all 3rd party products, there are some key considerations to take into account before deciding whether to proceed outside of the Office 365 product stack for your retention needs:

  • Microsoft will continue to focus their engineering efforts on advancing the capabilities of Retention across Microsoft 365. (i.e. it’s only getting better)
  • Microsoft will continue to focus their retention capabilities across a growing number of Office 365 workloads in the modern workplace (E.g. the inclusion of Teams private and shared channels)
  • Content is being produced at an exponential rate across Office 365 and most of it is unstructured (called corporate “dark data”) making manual efforts for applying retention not feasible. Machine learning capabilities Microsoft is introducing will provide the ability to apply retention at scale across this data.
  • Organizations are already paying for Office 365/Microsoft 365 licenses and will need to make a determination if the additional license costs incurred for the advanced compliance features that may be required to meet their regulatory needs are comparable to a third-party product purchase over the long-run
  • Balancing the need for retention with collaboration needs of information workers is paramount for all organizations. Allowing retained content to live within Office 365 will improve the end-user experience by eliminating the need to “go elsewhere” for retained records (I acknowledge not all third-party products will require this however)
  • If the content is retained within Office 365 rather than being stored elsewhere, it can be protected with features within the Microsoft Purview product stack
  • If content is retained within Office 365 rather than being stored elsewhere, it is discoverable via eDiscovery (either Standard or Premium eDiscovery)
  • If content is retained within Office 365, Data Subject Requests can use the automated tooling within Office 365 to surface results
  • Retention is often long-lived – if your content needs to be retained for years/decades (and most does), will your decision stand the test of time? No one knows this for sure, but make the decision you feel sets your organization up for long-term success or, at least, allows you to pivot later if you need to

Even after considering these things, there may still be valid reasons for organizations to choose a product outside of Office 365 for their retention needs, however, it’s important to acknowledge the points above before making this all-important and strategic decision.

Thanks for reading.



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