Records Lifecycle: Helping Organizations Govern Their Data

Learn how your organization can manage its data using records lifecycle.

What is Records Lifecycle?

The records lifecycle is the process that governs how records are created, used, and disposed of. In other words, it begins with the creation of a record and ends with its destruction. Record lifecycles vary depending on the record type, but all records must go through the same primary stages: creation, use, and disposition.

Organizations can ensure that their records are appropriately managed and comply with applicable laws and regulations using the records lifecycle. It also helps to ensure that records are accessible when needed and protected from unauthorized access or destruction.

Ultimately, the records lifecycle helps organizations meet their business needs while protecting the rights of individuals affected by the records.

What is its Importance?

Strong records management practices make an organization’s handling of records more efficient and effective and increase productivity company-wide. Improved efficiency leads to greater effectiveness.

Records management becomes much simpler when a records lifecycle is in place because it guarantees that all records are maintained and safeguarded correctly. Furthermore, the cycle outlines when to dispose of or archive certain records according to their retention plan, which helps an organization comply with various regulations.

Primary Phases of Records Lifecycle

The records lifecycle is the process that records go through from creation to disposal. It is a system used to manage records, so they are easily accessible, secure, and can be disposed of when they are no longer needed. 

The records lifecycle typically has five stages: creation, maintenance, retrieval, disposal, and archival. The stages in the lifecycle have distinct roles, and each must meet its goals for the lifecycle to continue. The following phases are described in more detail:

  • Create (Receive) – A record is required if you want to keep track of it yourself or obtain it from an external source. It might be in any form, including paper records, digital forms, emails, reports, etc. Learn the best practices for writing records and documentation.
  • Use (Modify) – Frequently used reports are kept on-site for rapid access to records. Other reports are stored off-site and utilized as needed.
  • Maintain (Protect) – This stage establishes the length of time a document must be kept and maintained. You need to make sure it is under data retention rules.
  • Dispose (Destroy) – When a record has served its function, it is either disposed of or archived. You can securely destroy a record once you’re sure you no longer need it.
  • Archive (Preserve) – After you’ve removed non-critical documents, you must decide which inactive records have permanent value and archive them.

Other Stages 

Your organization may require changes more than what the primary stages of the records lifecycle have to offer. For example, companies often want to add a phase to control how documents are stored electronically or on paper. 

Other stages that your organization might include in its records lifecycle are:


The way your organization stores its records is just as important as the act of storing them. This process will determine document preservation and electronic storage.


No matter how old, your firm can always access the records if appropriately maintained. So besides collecting and preserving records, only authorized individuals should evaluate their content.

Depending on the document’s format, there are different ways to keep it safe. Only cleared staff members should have access to paper documents stored in a cabinet.

Data Backup Procedures

Backing up and testing your company’s records is crucial to the lifecycle of those documents. You should have digital and physical copies stored off-site in a secure location. Backup levels should be labeled with frequency, retention period, and formal description.

For backed-up data, you’ll need inventory records that document the content and location of each item. In addition, it’s crucial to have a clear plan for restoring data to access the information when needed.

Electronic and Physical Records Transfers

If your company stores data on physical media, it should have security protocols for anyone handling the information during transit. It includes approving couriers and other personnel and having technical and physical security standards for the packaging of the media.

The company must encrypt and decrypt data electronically to prevent unwarranted access. It will be beneficial if the public network has a message content security system that requires authentication.

Information Exchange Agreements

Management should establish exchange policies and agreements for all individuals—external and internal—who are privy to confidential company information. These agreements should include guidelines on securely handling this type of sensitive data.

Also, the policy should explicitly state who is accountable for any possible security breach. When records management and data access policies are followed stringently, there will be little ambiguity surrounding handling company information. It ensures that all data is stored securely at each stage of its lifecycle.

Records Lifecycle Challenges

Records lifecycle management has three main categories of issues: data protection, storage, and capture.

  • Data Capture – The challenge here is that firms must manage the overwhelming amount of digital records produced daily. Many businesses struggle to balance storing digital records in an easily retrievable format and using traditional storage systems.
  • Data Storage – The company struggles to find an appropriate place to keep its digital records without using too much space on more traditional storage systems.
  • Data Protection – This is an area where enterprises often struggle. They want complete privacy and data protection but also need to use this data for business operations. The challenge is finding a way to balance both simultaneously.

FAQs About Records Lifecycle

One main factor determining how long a record lasts how relevant the content is. If an older record is no longer relevant or has been superseded by a newer one, it can be archived or deleted. 

Adding new data to a record at a constant pace can also affect how long the record lasts—if the record is constantly updated, it will last longer. However, if the information is only being added occasionally, the record may not be updated often and may be deleted or archived sooner.

Assessing the organization’s records requirements is the first step in the records life cycle. It includes understanding the organization’s legal and regulatory obligations and business needs.

Record management consists of eight fundamental principles:

  • Transparency
  • Protection
  • Integrity
  • Compliance
  • Accountability
  • Accessibility
  • Retention
  • Disposal.

According to ISO 15489, the standardization of records management has become globally essential in the business sphere.

Poor recordkeeping can be attributed to several reasons. Some of the reasons include the lack of data, resources, and training may be a contributing factor. Another reason may be that they do not have an adequate system to manage their records. It can often lead to data inaccuracy, fraud, and poor customer support.

Rob Paredes
Article by
Rob Paredes
SafetyCulture Content Contributor
Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. Before joining SafetyCulture, he worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade. Rob's diverse professional background allows him to provide well-rounded, engaging content that can help businesses transform the way they work.