If you or your organisation are already a regular user of Microsoft’s retention and disposition tools in Microsoft Purview, you will likely have encountered disposition reviews. A useful tool for records management in Microsoft 365, disposition reviews allow retention labels to trigger a review at the end of a retention period to help organisations appropriately dispose of information.
Though useful in certain situations, in the long term and if not properly governed, disposition reviews can create an administrative headache for records managers. I’m sure there are those of you out there who are already concerned about the backlog of pending dispositions awaiting you in Microsoft Purview! Though this is of course something you should be concerned about, it is not an uncommon situation to be in.
Disposition reviews: challenges
The overuse of disposition reviews can lead to extensive overhead and resource costs to manage the ever-growing list of pending items. Not to mention, failing to promptly action pending dispositions might be putting your organisation at risk of non-compliance with internal policies or external legislation. Of course, there are genuine cases where information needs to be reviewed before it is disposed of, rather than being automatically deleted. However, it’s often best to avoid the wide use of disposition review retention labels, and, consider scenarios where you can use automatic deletion instead.
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Disposition review: technical limitations
Until recently, the maximum number of pending dispositions per retention label was 1,000,000 items per stage. Although this may seem a large number, for organisations looking to fully migrate to Microsoft 365 this was a genuine concern. Fortunately, Microsoft have recently removed the cap and updated that reference in their documentation here. The update also affects the previous proof of disposition limit of 1,000,000 items per label, which is kept for seven years. Users should still be aware that 16,000,000 items in either the ‘pending’ or ‘approved’ stages of disposition, is the maximum per tenant.
What is the effect of this change?
While the updated limit on disposition reviews does not require you to make any changes to your tenant (it is not explicitly mentioned in a roadmap item) be cautious not to let this be a pretext to abandon automatic disposition (where appropriate) for review-based retention.
Creating disposition review retention labels can seem like a good idea at first, that’s for sure. One can certainly see the benefit in many scenarios. They give you more control over your information and its lifecycle, something that automatic disposition seems to take away. However, if you’re not careful they can easily be used as a way of kicking the can down the road when it comes to making disposal decisions, keeping the wrong information. Sound familiar?
This is most evident whilst migrating content into Microsoft 365 as it enables organisations to make the most of their information through a whole package of features and capabilities. However, it does present some challenges for our colleagues when asking them questions like:
How long should we be retaining this information? When can it be appropriately disposed of?
This is a particularly difficult discussion if your organisation is looking to use Microsoft 365’s retention and disposition capabilities across all your information, not just a select scope of records. Quite often, files stored in network drives or legacy SharePoint versions have lacked any retention controls. Therefore, when asking your colleagues these questions on retention and disposition, often they will be drawn to the review option, delaying the disposition process and seemingly “protecting” their data.
“At this point it is good to stand your ground on automated disposition where possible, whilst bringing in pre-approved retention schedules or Information Asset Registers to reinforce your position.”
– Matthew De La Pole, Solution Consultant, Intelogy
“When translating your retention schedule into a model of retention labels, it is important to consider the real world implications of disposition review. While certainly a great tool to use for many of your records, you do need to be careful that your reviewers will have sufficient capacity. Delegating your disposition reviews to staff closer to the context of the records is often a sensible approach.”
– Robert Bath, Solution Architect, Intelogy
Automatic disposition of information provides Records Managers with greater assurance that information is appropriately disposed of. This is especially true when combined with the deployment of default retention labelling in SharePoint document libraries. This strategy reduces ongoing manual effort (i.e. file tagging) for retention and disposition, while also reducing the likelihood of human error.
Overall, Microsoft’s decision to increase the technical limitations around the disposition review process is a welcome update. I’m sure it will come as a huge relief to those organisations already approaching the previous disposition stage limit who now have more breathing space.
It should be noted that this change is likely to be part of Microsoft’s response to concerned customers who were starting to reach the previous technical limitations. I feel that this in itself is concerning for general records management strategies in Microsoft 365 – indicating perhaps a reluctance to delete. My advice is to tread carefully. Although ending your retention periods with a disposition review is a fantastic tool for meeting certain information/records management requirements in Microsoft 365, it can quite easily become a dangerous path for organisations to navigate.
That said, disposition is not a binary choice in Microsoft 365, there are other options to disposition review and automatic disposition. For more information on disposition options take a look at this article:
With a background of technical support in the education sector and more recent information management/governance around UK aviation regulation, Matthew is a KIM Solution consultant with a foot in both camps. He is a professional looking to make 'change' to the new normal through Microsoft 365 whilst maintaining a "governance first" approach to implementation.