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Data Stewardship Roles: A Complete Guide

Every organization needs to understand the industry best and proven practices concerning the various roles in data stewardship to ensure an effective enterprise program

Data Stewardship is the process of having data stewards work with the data and metadata of an organization to ensure its quality, accuracy, formats, domain values, and that it is properly defined and understood across the enterprise. Data Stewardship’s role is to ensure organizational data and metadata meet quality, accuracy, format and value criteria; ensuring that data is properly defined and understood (standardized) across the enterprise

A Data Steward is a person(s) responsible for working with the data and metadata to meet the requirements of the data governance program. Data stewards are responsible for a host of activities including:

The data steward (often not just one person, but a collection of people) aligns the IT systems (analytics and operational) with the business’ requirements. An individual data steward can be responsible for multiple domains. The data steward has the challenge of guaranteeing that one of the corporation’s most critical assets–its data–is used to its fullest capacity

Data Stewardship Roles

There are 9 different types of data stewards including:

  • Executive Sponsor
  • Data Governance Program Manager
  • Data Governance Specialist
  • Business Steward
  • Lead / Domain / Subject-Area Steward
  • Chief Steward
  • Technical Steward
  • Data Custodian
  • Data Owner

Executive Sponsor

Traditionally the greatest obstacles a data stewardship initiative experiences involve organizational change management. Data governance programs cut across departments and lines of business changing the status quo of an organization. It is an industry best practice to have a strong group of executive sponsors to help ensure that the organization adheres to the data policies, standards and rules.

Executive sponsors do not need to attend every data stewardship meeting, nor do they need to participate in detailed tasks like defining data definitions. They are responsible for communicating the value of data and its impact on the organization’s behavior and performance. Most importantly, executive sponsors ensure that the data governance program is funded. Key qualities in an executive sponsor include:

  • Someone willing to be an executive sponsor
  • Someone with an understanding of the value of data as a corporate asset
  • Excellent communications skills
  • A person with executive ranking
  • Someone with high credibility
  • Someone knowledgeable about information problems within the company
  • A person willing to challenge the company status quo and promote change for improved information management

Data Governance Program Manager

The Data Governance Program Manager (DGPM) is responsible for the day-to-day organization and management of the data governance council and the entire data governance program. Typically, the DGPM will be a senior level person as opposed to executive level.

The DGPM must have a sound knowledge of both the technical and the business sides of the organization, but most importantly, have an expert level of knowledge on data governance, its best practices and have experience implementing successful, enterprise data governance programs.

They must be politically savvy to coordinate and guide the data governance council, lead the data governance specialists and be able to lead the data governance council to consensus across disparate groups within the organization. Also, the DGPM needs strong leadership and communication skills to maintain the data governance program’s focus and organizational contacts.

Data Governance Specialist

The data governance specialist is a data governance professional and has experience building enterprise data governance programs. They report to the DGPM and a large data governance program may need multiple specialists to meet their requirements.

Data governance specialist play a key role in many activities, including:

  • Develops data policies, standards, and rules that the enterprise will follow
  • Directly work with data stewardship domain groups to ensure that they are adhering to the industry business practices and data governance procedures that have been implemented
  • Build key data governance documents and artifacts like, Data Governance Socialization Plan, Data Governance Communications Plan, Domain / Subject-Area Model, data stewardship workflows, meeting notes, etc.

Business Steward

Key individuals from the business will be asked to serve as business stewards. The business steward is responsible for defining the procedures, policies, data meanings, data definitions and requirements of the domains assigned to them. Business stewards must have a strong knowledge of the business requirements and policies / processes of the organization and work on a day-to-day basis with an organization’s data.

Domain / Lead / Subject-Area Steward

From the business stewards within a domain (or subject-area), there should be a Domain (Lead / Subject-Area) Steward. The Domain Steward is the central point of responsibility for their domain (e.g. Customer, Product, Location, Supplier, etc.). Lead Stewards are usually “first among equals” on their domain’s stewardship team.

Domain Stewards serve on the Data Stewardship Coordination Group as representatives of their domain. In additional they attend all of the Data Governance Council meetings to ensure that the requirements from the meetings are fully understood since the domain steward’s teams will be responsible for fulfilling them.

Chief Steward

From the pool of domain stewards, a Chief Steward is elected. The Chief Steward is the leader of the domain stewards on the Data Stewardship Coordination Group. Chief Stewards are usually “first among equals” of the domain stewards on the coordination group.

Technical Steward

Technical stewards typically come from the IT side of the organization or an IT-like group within a business unit. Technical stewards assist business data stewards under the guidance of the Data Governance Program Manager with appropriate tools (repository, Metadata Management product, etc.) and the profiling of data in the applications. They do the technical system’s work needed to support the data governance program. Technical stewards do not need to possess the domain expertise of the business steward or domain steward.

Data Custodian

The data custodian ensures that the data and metadata in each application meet the standards and guidelines developed and implemented by the business stewards. They enter and maintain the correct data values in an application based on the requirements provided by the data stewards. They are typically under the guidance of the technical steward.

Data Owner and Data Ownership

The actual owner of the data can be a tricky question to answer and can differ based on your organization’s definition of ownership. Typically, there are two types of data ownership: legal and internal.

Legal Data Ownership

Regulations and law can differ based on industry; however, many industry statutes require that a C-Level executive or the company be the owner of the data or specific types of data.

Internal Data Ownership

Realistically, a C-Level executive will not be working on a day-to-day basis with the data of a company or large government agency. Therefore, an internal data owner will be defined. This will typically be a person (and data steward) who works with the data on a day-to-day basis.

Many times, we recommend that the main person, who works with the data element at an application level is the data owner and needs to follow the data standards, rules and policies of the data governance program which the data owners should have played a key role in defining. This implies that there are many data owners (one for each application).

A data steward and a data owner are not the same thing; however, they could be the same person. These comments are only for data ownership. There are many kinds of “owners”, Application Owner, Report Owner, Technology Owner, etc.

The responsibilities of a data owner vary based on the industry that the organization resides in. Examples of data owner responsibilities might be:

  • Compliance
  • Data Management oversight, including risk management, data security, data quality, etc.
  • Data Governance oversight, including data access policies, metadata oversight, etc.

Common Data Steward Activities

Data stewards work within a defined domain. Within that the context data stewards will:

  • Define / describe business data elements
  • Define data domain values
  • Establish and validate data quality rules
  • Identify and help resolve data quality issues
  • Translate regulatory rules into data polices, rules, and standards
  • Help develop data domain business rules (algorithms, calculations, processing requirements, etc.)
  • Define data security requirements
  • Promote the use of accepted data definitions, common reference data and sound data usage practices
  • Create and maintain business metadata definitions, domain values, business rules, etc.
  • Represent domain for the enterprise, site or project
  • Provide accountability for domain data, ensuring timely and consistent collection of data
  • Guide and advise others on meaning and use of data
  • Determine retention period of data
  • Provide data understanding and usage expertise to projects (development and enhancement)

Selecting a Data Steward

Selecting the right data steward is a very important job. Typically, data stewards come from an organization’s Subject Matter Experts (SME) and data analysts from the business community. Just because a person is expert on the data of an organization, does not mean that they have even a remedial level of data stewardship knowledge. Therefore, new data stewards require significant training and mentoring to be successful.

Technical Data Steward Skills

Data stewards need sound technical skills for their job. These skills include:

  • Basic understanding of data modeling (conceptual, logical and physical)
  • Basic understanding of DBMS used in organization
  • Basic understanding of data and information concepts
  • Facilitation skills
  • Tool usage as necessary
  • Technical writing and presentation skills

Non-Technical Data Steward Skills

The data steward, the non-technical skills are the most important to have. The need to have:

  • Solid understanding of the business
  • Excellent communications skills (written and oral)
  • Objectivity
  • Creativity
  • Diplomacy
  • Ability and willingness to work as part of a team
  • Ability to function independently
  • Well-respected knowledge of the domain
  • Well-respected knowledge of the overall organization

Conclusion

Knowing the industry best practices for building data stewardship roles can help any organization in developing its data stewardship program according to accepted and proven practices. Following these practices can help to ensure the success of a data governance program.

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David P. Marco, CDMP

David P. Marco, CDMP is an internationally recognized expert in the field of data warehousing, business intelligence, enterprise data management, data governance, and is the industry’s leading authority on metadata. Mr. Marco is founder and President of Enterprise Warehousing Solutions, Inc. (EWS), a Chicago-based enterprise data management consultancy dedicated to providing clients with best-in-class solutions. Author of several books and hundreds of articles and a Certified Data Management Professional, Mr. Marco is also a well-known speaker in his areas of expertise at conferences and symposia.

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