4 dangerous myths about data disposal, debunked

Many "gotchas" surround data disposal. Here's advice from two experts on how to avoid some big traps.

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Myth 3: There's no way to tell what data is garbage.

Fact: With a systematized approach, IT can identify and throw out the garbage.

There are only two reasons to retain and manage data: it has business value or there is a legal requirement. Understanding information's business value and tracking legal obligations can be systematically managed with relevant workflow across business coordinators, attorneys and IT staff -- just as CRM systems track customer status across marketing, sales and customer service teams.

The essential ingredients are a modern retention program across business groups, a data source catalog or inventory with governance workflow in IT, and legal holds management in legal. By linking retention schedules and legal holds to the data in the organization, IT can build the foundation for good information governance.

Myth 4: It's too hard and it can't be done perfectly.

Fact: It will be twice as hard next year -- so start the process now.

Transforming legal holds and retention management processes can seem daunting, as it will likely require new applications in legal, retention management, and IT, as well as new communications procedures across the organization. But with data management costs hitting nine digits in most large companies, it's simply too costly not to begin reforming these processes now.

The good news is that you will find quite a few immediate savings opportunities, such as disposing of terminated employee data, disposing of legacy back-up tapes, retiring transaction system instances and their data, sweeping files off file shares that are beyond retention periods and not subject to hold, routine e-mail disposition, routine tape recycling, eliminating redundant systems and stores and reclaiming storage capacity. You will also find that classification and automation are far more feasible with this structure in place.

So where to start? First, IT and legal departments need to work together to develop a systematized approach to legal holds and ensure that there is a common view of those holds across the organization. CIOs should insist that the legal department provide persistent, reliable information on all active legal holds for assets and employees and that the business provide a value inventory and retention schedules for all information, not just records. Once IT has visibility into the current holds and obligations of data, they can begin to build effective retention programs, and ultimately, defensibly dispose of data.

Tom Lahiff is a director with PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory practice and previously served for 17 years in the corporate litigation group of Citigroup Inc., most recently as Assistant General Counsel, where he was responsible for a broad range of litigation matters and worked on developing and implementing a document retention schedule and legal hold processes.

Deidre Paknad is President and CEO of PSS Systems, a leading provider of legal information governance solutions, and founder of the Compliance Governance and Oversight Counsel (CGOC), a professional community on retention and preservation. Deidre is widely credited with having conceived of and launched the first commercial applications for legal holds, collections and retention management.

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This story, "4 dangerous myths about data disposal, debunked" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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