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The Rules of Electronic Record-Keeping: Page 4 of 5

In addition, when optical media starts to wear out with use over time or because of poor storage conditions, you'll have to copy the data onto new media. You may also need to refresh it using current computer systems and applications. Some of the applications you used to access media five to 10 years ago--say, VisiCalc and WordStar, for instance--are history now. Although digital formats aren't expected to last as long as analog, they provide multiple, simultaneous access and a means to search by keyword. They also let users manipulate the data for viewing or printing. Paper and microfilm, meanwhile, are projected to last centuries, depending on their composite materials, how they are stored and how frequently they are accessed.

Save this, Trash That

So, bottom line, how do you reduce the cost of electronic data retention? Rather than keep everything "forever," keep only the data that's required for operational, historical or legal reasons. This means breaking down data into manageable document and record components to determine its value and retention period, and instituting an internal records-retention policy. You may need to keep purchase orders for only seven years, for instance. This approach won't extend the life of your digital media, but it can reduce costs and improve the speed and efficiency of accessing information from your data stores. It also can minimize the risks associated with potential litigation.

Everyday decisions on the hardware, e-mail system, document-management application and backup software you purchase, meanwhile, can affect your organization's legal interests. You may find document-management systems, such as Documentum's Documentum 5 and SGP International's Dox, useful. These tools help manage document life cycles, from creation to deletion or permanent retention, including the proper time frames for keeping documents so you can comply with the legal and regulatory limits for retention periods.