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Microsoft's Records Management Tool Aims to Simplify Data Governance

Records Management is intended to help businesses manage security and data governance as more struggle to handle increased amounts of data and regulatory requirements.

Microsoft today announced the general availability of Records Management in Microsoft 365, a new tool built to help businesses protect and manage sensitive data. Many struggle to create strong security, privacy, and risk capabilities, especially as the pandemic shifts operations.

A new Harvard Business Review research report, commissioned by Microsoft, found 77% of organizations believe an effective security, risk, and compliance strategy is essential, but 61% face challenges in creating one. More than half (53%) have not developed a strong, business-wide data governance approach. The majority (82%) say protecting information has grown increasingly difficult due to new risks and complexities brought on by digital transformation.

"With many employees working remotely right now, one of the things we hear is security and risk management are arguably more important than ever," says Alym Rayani, senior director at Microsoft 365. TheHBR survey was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic, he notes, but its data is just as important at a time when businesses are relying on remote employees. 

A higher volume of information, transmitted through and stored in multiple collaboration systems, drives complexity for managing records with cost and risk implications. Companies facing increasing regulations often move data into different systems of record to comply. This can increase the risk of missing records or not properly declaring them, he says in a blog post.

Records Management, now accessible via the compliance center in Microsoft 365, aims to help ease the challenges of classifying, managing, and protecting critical data. Employees can use it to classify, retain, review, dispose of, and manage content while ensuring it remains protected.

"As customers move to the cloud and they're collaborating more, they need the ability to manage those records in a modern way," Rayani explains. This tool builds data life cycle management into a platform that companies are already using, and it helps them handle growing amounts of data as it scales.

Organizations using a separate tool for records management, as many do, are required to learn the ins and outs of an entirely different system. Microsoft hopes to eliminate this challenge with Records Management. "We built it right into the productivity stack so it's part of existing workflows," Rayani says.

Collaborators on a record can unlock and relock the file as needed, and view which versions of the file are saved as a record and which are not. This is important, Rayani notes, as some regulatory requirements mandate files are officially saved as records.

For example, consider your team is working to edit a contract. Because of the retention policies built into Records Management, a group of people can co-author and collaborate on a file that has been declared a record, using their mobile devices if necessary. The disposition process has been natively built into SharePoint and Outlook, tools that most employees already use daily.

The tool also comes with records versioning, which makes it easier for collaborators to track edits on a document. Members can unlock a document with a record label to make changes, with all records retained and an audit trail maintained. Records Management also lets users obtain proof of disposal, so they can see all content automatically disposed as part of a record label. This helps with defensibility, especially in meeting legal and regulatory requirements.

As data stores grow, Records Management aims to keep up by automatically classifying data. "Trainable classifiers" enable the classification engine to recognize data; once you create a record or retention label, you can apply that label to all content that matches a previously defined trainable classifier. Let's say you want to retain tax records for seven years, and records containing specific types of data are classified as tax records. The tool will recognize which records are tax records and classify them to be retained for seven years. 

"There's a lot of flexibility here," Rayani notes. "We support almost 100 sets of information types you can use as dependencies for classification … so really the customer chooses." Employees can keep track of templates and define how they want to classify certain records.

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