Records Management in SharePoint: How Does It Work?

Most organizations today use Microsoft SharePoint to manage their everyday collaborative project and team content because it is an easy-to-use collaboration and document management solution that replaces network drives. Many of the documents in your SharePoint libraries are actually records that you need to properly govern and protect.

This article explains the records management functionality that Microsoft provides to help you manage records within SharePoint and explains what you need to use it most effectively.

Traditional Approaches to Records Management in SharePoint

Traditional SharePoint offers two approaches to records management:

  • In-place records management — Records live in the document libraries where people create them. The advantage of this approach is that users are able to do their work without worrying about where records reside. However, in-place records management puts an enormous burden on the records administrator, since records are spread throughout multiple sites and site collection Maintaining proper auditing and control, including managing retention periods, requires a coordinated effort by all site collection administrators. The larger your organization, the greater the challenge.
  • SharePoint Records Center — Records are moved to a central location for storage and management. This option makes governance and compliance dramatically easier for administrators. However, moving records out of their original libraries can make it hard for users to find the data they need. The solution is to configure SharePoint to leave a stub behind when content is declared to be a record and is moved to the Records Center site; the stub acts as a link for users to follow to access the document, minimizing the impact on their user experience.

Both of these traditional approaches have important drawbacks. First, they require staff to be properly trained and disciplined about declaring records, especially as the enterprise grows over time and accumulates more electronic data and fewer physical records. Since most people do not want to spend any part of their day declaring records, it’s often very hard to ensure proper information management. Moreover, if you choose to use the Records Center to manage records, people often delay declaration of a record out of fear that they might lose access to information they need.

There are additional challenges if you implement records management after having used SharePoint for years. Records management in SharePoint requires well-structured document libraries with accurate metadata — something most SharePoint environments lack. And of course, there is the enormous backlog of files in SharePoint; who has the time and inclination to review all of them in order to determine which ones should be declared records?

A Modern Approach

A better approach is to have the SharePoint Records Center take ownership of records while allowing files to remain in place in their original sites. This federated approach is quickly becoming the preferred strategy for organizations that use SharePoint as part of their Office365 implementation. The Office365 solution includes a Security and Compliance Center that enables this modern approach to managing information management policies. Organizations can create retention policies that they can apply at the site or email address level. In addition, they can apply retention labels against any item or content type in Office365, from emails to documents, to meet the requirements of compliance regulations or internal policies.

Moving Forward with Records Management in SharePoint

The Records Center and the Security and Compliance Center can meet the legal needs of most organizations — once records are collected and classified. That’s the challenge: Organizations need a way to make the identification and declaration of records easy. Placing that burden on users is a good way to ensure that your system is not used.

Automatic classification of records will relieve your knowledge workers of the burden of having to declare records while also increasing the accuracy and consistency of your records classification. Over time, as you better train your tool, you can reevaluate previously classified content in Microsoft SharePoint to correct misclassifications and find content that was overlooked, ensuring that your organization’s records policies are properly followed.

Tools like Netwrix Data Classification can identify, classify and declare records automatically. While auto-classification tools do not eliminate the need for user training or manual record declaration, they do help you achieve the necessary level of compliance and demonstrate it to auditors and your legal staff.


The best approach to implementing records management is to use a Records Center site, being sure to plan and organize the site carefully. Train your staff on the importance of records management and the processes they need to follow, but rely on an auto-classification tool to accurately and consistently classify records throughout your SharePoint deployment, and gain control over the chaos.

Jeff is a Director of Global Solutions Engineering at Netwrix. He is a long-time Netwrix blogger, speaker, and presenter. In the Netwrix blog, Jeff shares lifehacks, tips and tricks that can dramatically improve your system administration experience.