SharePoint Office 365: Data Governance Changes

Are you ready to implement the new Office 365 Data Governance Policies for your SharePoint documents, Exchange email messages, and more?

By Cathy Dew

In April, Microsoft rolled out a series of advanced data governance features for Office 365. Enterprises using Office 365 and SharePoint for document management will be able to use these features to archive and preserve their files in a reliable and secure fashion. The new features can be found in Office 365’s Security & Compliance Center and include tools for document retention, archiving, importing, and labeling.

For a deep dive into document management, from content types to workflows and document centers, check out our topic page "SharePoint Document Management: Document retention and collaborative tools for teams."

What Are the New Data Governance Features in Office 365?

Businesses in some industries are required to follow strict retention and archival processes for files involving their clients, employees, or projects. Others just prefer to preserve their documents for posterity or reference. Either way, SharePoint’s data governance features provide a new way to retain Office 365 or SharePoint documents that are no longer in use or immediately relevant. These features include:

Document Retention

A document retention policy is a policy that outlines what should happen to files, emails, or other documents at the end of their lifecycle. Your organization may be legally obligated to retain records for a certain number of months or years. On the other hand, keeping documents when they are no longer relevant or usable can create a legal liability risk—particularly if the documents include sensitive information.

Office 365’s new data governance changes include a document retention tool, which organizations can use to establish retention rules for documents, emails, and other content. Once set, these retention rules will be active across the entire Office 365 environment—including in SharePoint, Exchange, OneDrive, and Groups.

For instance, if you are creating a retention policy for your business email, you can assign retention policies to your mailboxes when you create them so that all email messages older than a specified age are archived or deleted. In SharePoint, you can set retention rules for site collections so that all documents in a SharePoint site or SharePoint library delete or archive after a certain amount of time. You can arrange your retention rules so that every new site collection has to follow the same policy, or you can create a few policies and let site owners choose the one that best applies to them. If you need to preserve content across your SharePoint/Office 365 environment, you can also create preservation rules that use date ranges or keywords to prevent certain files from being deleted.


The Archive data governance feature only applies to mailboxes. Each user’s mailbox in Exchange or Outlook will have an archive mailbox, which you can either enable or disable from the Security & Compliance Center. Once enabled, archive mailboxes will enable a default archival policy, which will move messages from the primary inbox to the archive mailbox two years after the message was received.

Intelligent Import

With the Intelligent Import feature, enterprises have a smarter and more effective way to import files or data into Exchange mailboxes or SharePoint sites. For instance, if you were to upload a PST file into Exchange, you could use Intelligent Import to filter out data that is unusable or irrelevant. This screening process saves you from having to import all the data into Exchange and then sorting through it later to trim it down to what you can actually use. Once you have imported the data, you can use Microsoft’s data governance features to apply the same archive or document retention policies that you would use on Exchange emails or original SharePoint documents.


The labeling feature allows you to classify content across Office 365, SharePoint, OneDrive, Exchange, and Groups—all with data governance in mind. Managing a document retention policy can be incredibly difficult if one or two managers have to go through every piece of content, decide how to classify it, and then apply retention, archival, or preservation policies based on those classifications. With labels, users can categorize the content they are working on so that the system knows how to handle that content in accordance with data governance policies. You can then create data governance practices around these classifications, using labels to decide how long certain pieces of content are retained, when they are deleted or archived, and more. Microsoft has an excellent overview on how Office 365 labels work.

Implementing Data Governance Policies for Your SharePoint Documents, Exchange Email Messages, and More

Whether you use SharePoint for document management or just want to have more control over how long email messages sit around after they are received, Office 365’s new data governance features can help. To access and activate the new features, you will need to go to the Security & Compliance Center within Office 365, which you can find at Once you’ve signed in, you will be able to see the data governance features in the left pane of the page.

In the meantime, see how a SharePoint Document Center can elevate the level of your document managment.

If you need help enabling the new data governance features in Office 365, or if you are wondering about what the best practices might be for creating a retention policy for your SharePoint documents or libraries, 2Plus2 can help. Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.

Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.
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