What's a Data Steward? And Why Would I Ever Want to Be One?

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datastewardblog.pngIn a recent discussion with an industry peer, I asked about how his customer population dealt with certain stewardship responsibilities. His response was “Steward is really an esoteric term that our users don’t really identify with even though that’s what they do.” He put words to observations we have shared internally. There is a growing concern about the title “data steward” and the expectations of responsibility for the role. A recent Forrester research paper titled “Data Stewards are Set Up to Fail" even puts some legit research facts behind it.

We have learned with our customers that organizations can generate data governance results and build data stewardship discipline without any of the titles you would expect. In fact, we see the title “data steward” can be obstructive to value added activities when the governance and stewardship use case is centered on analytics and process improvement. The title of “data steward” appears to be most relevant and necessary when risk and escalation are the focus of the stewardship process. So, is it possible there are more data stewards out there working within public and private enterprises without the title than with? Yes, and that is a good thing.

The introduction of a new role in an organization requires serious messaging and change management, and data stewards don’t seem to be getting that attention. How is the role of a data steward explained within most companies? “Oh, that’s the person that fixes your data. They know how the data is supposed to be.” Ok, big problem. How do you get the business to “own” the data when they now have a data steward on call for clean-up duty? They don’t, and saying the data steward is “in the business” doesn’t change that.

Changing behavior within the business to become more culturally centered on data as the work product and stewardship as a naturally occurring QA process means getting the entire team to focus on decision integrity as the outcome. My industry peer was right. We don’t count our product’s success by the number of “stewards.” We have developed a very careful view of the hierarchy of needs for data governance and stewardship within the enterprise (more to follow in another blog). The roles that tap into capabilities in this hierarchy are wide and deep because they all bring an ownership view of the business to the table in supporting decision integrity, process excellence, customer service, environmental health & safety, security and compliance.

Stewardship occurs in many ways both subtle and obvious. What we have engineered is a method and a platform (Information Value Management®) for assembling people within the enterprise who have shared values about data and an emerging discipline for governing said data. We wouldn’t have this insight without a deep bench of talented people who have lived these challenges on all sides of the table. Our vision is a community with both formal and informal elements all working to preserve the integrity of corporate decision-making, processes, partner-networks and reputational value. For us, stewardship exists whether you brand a role as a steward or not.

We model our customer experience and success from a few simple principals. Our customers need to succeed and get promoted at all levels. We provide a force multiplication that enables a small dedicated team to mobilize the masses within the enterprise to generate a change in data outcomes. We provide a person performing the role of a steward the capability and education to leverage their private spreadsheet of metadata into a business case and a movement of contribution with very short cycles for payback. We make data governance and stewardship a respected part of building the business and not just controlling the business. 

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