Business Drivers / ROI
Business organizations and government agencies that have not suffered through expensive investigations or litigation typically do not view the creation of document retention policy as a critical task. A document retention policy is in reality a document destruction policy, permitting files to be culled and operations to be streamlined. The U.S. Supreme Court validated use of a written and regularly followed document retention policy to destroy documents in a famous case growing out of the Enron scandal, Andersen v. U.S. Once an organization has notice of an investigation or litigation, the best opportunity to trim its unnecessary archives is lost.
One key metric for organizations considering whether to develop an document retention policy is the enormous costs to recover and review thousands of electronic documents that could have and should have been disposed of. The cost to hire computer forensics firms to recover information from back up tapes and servers and then make it word-searchable, can easily run into tens of thousands of dollars. If relevant but unnecessary documents are identified, they will need to be reviewed by the lawyers defending the investigation or litigation. Estimates vary depending on the nature of the legal issues, but an organization can expect to pay upwards of $20 per document for this cursory search and review. Return on investment for a document retention / destruction policy begins to make sense when considering the tens of thousands of unnecessary files and emails that organizations file as "unstructured data" with every passing year. At over 20 bucks a pop, can an organization afford to keep thousands of unneeded documents around? Most managers who have been forced to pay highly trained professionals to sort through their trash would say NO.
In addition to the fact that cheap data storage invites a "pack rat" strategy, the advent of Sarbanes-Oxley reporting requirements for public companies and the changes to the discovery sections of Federal and State Rules of Civil Procedure have raised the stakes considerably. Moreover, destruction of documents that are sought by the Federal Government can lead to criminal charges.
Such risks are becoming common business drivers. Organizations need to recognize that data minimization (destruction), if done properly, will reduce risk and produce ROI results. Budgeting priorities need to reflect the new realities as all businesses move from a paper-centric model toward email, electronic documents, and cloud computing.