What is a Data Steward and Do You Need One?
By Elliot King
The right answer is that nobody “owns” the data. Data is a resource that must be
shared across an organization. Data flows from the point of creation–perhaps
capturing contact information on a website or importing a third-party mailing
list–through staging, consumption, storage and archiving. At each step of the
way, a different functional group within an organization has to be able to use
the data in different ways.
To insure that data meets the standards needed by each stakeholder in the data
lifecycle, companies have to implement enterprise-wide data management policies
and procedures. A typical policy might say that all contact information must
conform to a specific format. Don’t assume that to be the case in your
organization. Unmonitored, your sales department, service organization and
billing department could easily capture names differently. Indeed, in larger
corporations, different sales organizations might have different formats for
names and addresses.
Data stewards both develop those policies and create mechanisms to insure that
the policies are enforced. On the flip side, the data steward should be
accountable for enterprise data quality and the advocate for data quality
Data stewardship is neither an easy job nor an easy job to fill. The
foundational technical skill is a deep understanding of specific business
functions, the data associated with those functions and the processes that rely
on the data.
Those technical skills have to be coupled with a strong set of interpersonal
skills as, by definition, data stewardship requires interacting with a wide
range of stakeholders (often including other data stewards). Finally, regardless
of the formal position they hold, data stewards need to be able to establish
their authority as the role sometimes calls for stepping on other people’s toes.
Stewardship is quite different than ownership. But if your organization has
data, it probably needs a data steward.