The State of Email Retention Schedules

Most organizations have policies on how long to keep such things as key taxation and employee documents. If they are in hardcopy form, the documents are kept for an appropriate time, and then disposed of. In other words, retention policies are applied.

The situation is much less clear with electronic documents. For formal systems, such as insurance processing, rigorous retention policies are likely to be implemented.

But for many other electronic documents, especially those in email form, retention schedules are not usually applied today. Here's a summary of the email situation:

  • For a small proportion of emails, retention schedules are applied. This is usually because the user has dragged the document into a folder with an associated retention policy.
  • Defining retention policy is usually left to users. It's too labor-intensive to do this, so it's usually not done. When users do define a retention policy, they often do so incorrectly.
  • A diminishing proportion of organizations delete information after some period, perhaps 30 or 60 days.
  • An increasing proportion of organizations today make no systematic attempts to delete emails at all.

With many thanks to Mimosa's Barry Murphy for interesting insights and discussion on this topic.

... David Ferris

One Comment

  1. Posted January 16, 2009 at 4:04 PM | Permalink

    It’s pretty interesting how customer thinking around retention has evolved. I have seen the following many times:
    * “We want to delete everything after 90 days.”
    * “Except for my mailbox… I need to keep that longer. :)”
    * “Actually we want to have users categorize stuff manually and only keep business-relevant stuff more than 90 days.”
    * “Actually can we have some technology to automatically figure out what’s important?”
    * “That technology doesn’t exist.”
    * “For now, we’re going to keep data for 3 years until we define a better policy.”
    * “Actually, since the 3 years are up and we’re not sure about deleting, let’s just keep data indefinitely for now.”

    It’s no one’s fault but simply points to the complexity of matching business and legacy policy to the huge, unstructured and informal volume of email communication we have today.

    I have a blog post on this at

  2. Posted January 17, 2009 at 7:17 PM | Permalink


    We have seen this trend as well. The focus of Procedo is performing archive migrations. We have seen our average project go from 2TB 2 years ago to just about 16 TB today.

    We typically see what Nick describes in his post. “Well, we had a 3 year retention, but that was started 6 years ago and well, we haven’t turned on expiry.”

    When we migrate the content we have the ability to maintain or extend the retention policies. What we see though is that no matter what set, they still don’t turn on expiry in their new archive platform either!

    I blogged about this last summer and based on what we’ve seen in the last 6 months, most of our customers are just planning on keeping the data forever. Storage vendors should be happy.

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