In a couple of previous posts, I covered retention labels and how to apply them within your tenant.  An option when creating retention labels is to have your document declared a record when the policy/label is applied. Records add an extra level of content security to your documents.  Now keep in mind I don’t mean information security in this case.  Declaring a document won’t keep your information from entering the wrong hands or being used improperly.  We’ll cover those topics in the future.  A record instead protects the content within the document.  Read on as I explain Office 365 records management.

Office 365 Records Management

Basically a record is a state or mode a document can be in.  When a document is being modified often subject to change it is considered transient, but once it needs to be maintained in its current version or in some cases becomes an “official document” based on rules within an organization it is declared a record. This means this document can’t be modified from how it was when it was declared as a record.  There are exceptions and Office 365 allows for this which will be covered later in this post.  Within Office 365, a label determines if a document is defined as a label or not.  When creating a retention label the records manager has the option to declare the document a record when the label is applied or not.

Records have the following attributes

  • A record cannot be permanently deleted
  • A record cannot be modified/edited
  • A label applied to the record cannot be changed
  • A label cannot be removed

Note: There is an exception to the last bullet.  A Site Collection Administrator where the document is located is able to remove the label.  Once the label is removed all record controls are also removed so the content is now editable.

One thing to note: While the document content is not editable when the record label is applied, the metadata is.  So in other words, within Office 365 if your document has been applied as a record you can’t change the content but you can change the data describing it.

Items That Can Become a Record

Any location you can apply a retention label to you can also declare the content a record.  Also, since you can apply a label to a folder then any document placed within that folder will inherit the parent’s label.  This means if your folder has a record label applied to it, any documents within will also become records.  Basically any document you store in SharePoint, OneDrive or Exchange can become a record.  List data within SharePoint cannot become a record at this time.

Working With Records

The most important concept to consider when working with records is that of immutability.  This is a term used often within records management and if you review the documentation from Microsoft it is used everywhere when discussing records in Office 365.  Basically, immutable means unchanging.  This fits within the concept of records within Office 365 in that when a document is a record you can’t change it.  The one caveat I have to that and one I hear from others is the metadata.  In many cases, metadata is almost as important as the contents of a file.  Office 365 allows a record’s metadata to be modified.  This should not be the case and I hope it will be rectified soon (it hasn’t yet been at the creation of this post).  However, the contents within a document declared as a record cannot be changed.  They are immutable.

As stated above, once declared a record a document cannot be deleted.  However, different solutions handle this differently.

  1. SharePoint will outright block the deletion of a record

Office 365 Records Management - Deleting a Record

  1. OneDrive allows the document to be deleted from its location, but a copy of the records is preserved in the Preservation Hold library
  2. Exchange also allows the document to be deleted from its location, but a copy is retained in the Recoverable Items folder.

If a user wishes to edit a record there are two options available.

  1. Remove the label from the document.  This can only be completed by a Site Collection Admin. Site Owners cannot perform this step.
  2. Enable record versioning.  Record versioning allows users to maintain the record declaration but removes the immutable lock from the document.  One thing to note with record versioning is if the document is unlocked for editing, the edits are not declared as records again until the immutable lock has been re-enabled on the document.  This is a property added to a document when a record label is applied.  I’ll cover this more in a future post.

Records are an important component of data integrity.  Previously the focus has been on physical records and many of the more established record management tools are built around or focus on that.  Microsoft is making plenty of inroads in their move toward further information and records management innovation.  There are still a few obvious kinks to work out like the metadata editing of records, but for the most part I feel that records are being handled very well.

In my next post, I will cover the steps to creating a record label, deploying it and utilizing it within a tenant.

Thanks for reading!