What does it mean to delete something?

12 Jun 2018

When you delete a picture or piece of information within a Cloud based system, like a CRM, what actually happens to it?

Most people think that the picture, document, record, or other piece of data is gone forever. They believe that clicking “delete” removes it entirely from their system.

As anyone who has ever accidentally deleted something and needed to retrieve it will tell you, that simply isn’t the case.

The summary

Clicking “delete” in a Cloud based system will often only mark that record as “deleted” without actually removing it from your database. This is done to preserve the integrity of your database (and to give you a fall back in case you delete something accidentally).

You will need to set up or agree data retention periods that will allow you to fully wipe the contents of that record in the database.

If you aren’t sure what this means for your data, just keep reading.

A short database lesson

Before we jump into what deleting means in your Cloud based system, we need to do a short (and really non-technical) explanation of how these systems work.

These systems pull all the information you put into them from a database before presenting it to you in a nice, clean format that you can then read and manipulate.

The database is basically, at a very simplified level, a series of inter-connected spreadsheets. Each piece of your data is a single line on that spreadsheet. (Our technical director will be cringing at this oversimplification, but it does work.)

Deleting in a database

But in terms of deleting a record, the important thing to know is that you often can’t just delete a row the way you can with a spreadsheet. The database needs to keep a space where that record to make sure everything else keeps linking up as it is supposed to.

This means that some of the time, instead of removing the row, when you click to delete something, a little mark is made in a column that says “deleted”. This lets the database know not to show it in the front end of your system…unless you need to restore it.

So the record isn’t actually gone from your Cloud based system, it is still in your database, lurking around in one form or another.

But what about GDPR? How do you fully get rid of data that you no longer need in your system?

Obliterating the data

Some systems will automatically clear a “deleted” row in your database after a certain amount of time has passed. This means that the data is removed from your system (at least on that individual record).

In OpenCRM, we prefer to give you the control. You can set up your Data Retention Rules (or Right to be Forgotten Rules) to clear some fields or clear all field after a time set by you, i.e. 3 years after deleting it or maybe as little as 2 days! You can then also wipe the audit log to make sure nothing is lingering around in your system when it shouldn’t be there.

Database management, both from the front end (that’s you) and from the back end (that’s us), is complicated. There are a lot of variables and contingencies that need to be thought out.

This is why we recommend writing out your data management and retention policies and circulating them with your team. Having these policies understood and agreed by everyone is your best chance at keeping your database clean, tidy, and compliant.