The Role of Data Stewards: Advocates, Not Police

data stewardsMany organizations that jumped on the big data bandwagon have struggled to turn their new, boundless collection of data into actionable business information. As consultant Rich Sherman of Athena IT Solutions puts it, today’s businesses are struggling with “the transformation of data into information that is comprehensive, consistent, correct and current.”

Enter data governance programs, and, consequently, the data steward. Technology cannot always extract the most useful data, but the data stewards can, meaning the success of the data governance program rests to a large degree on their shoulders. But data stewards can be viewed with suspicion by other employees and nothing can kill the spirit of hard work more than distrust or a feeling that management is snooping and ready to pounce at the sign of even the slightest misstep.

Some business users are under the impression data stewards have been tasked to play dual roles, championing the organization’s data governance program while also using their position to crack down on anyone stepping out of line. To some, the data steward is really a data cop who “police” rather than manage the organization’s critical data elements. They believe anyone can be caught in the net cast by the data stewards as they fish for out-of-compliance data and bring it into line with policy or regulatory obligations. This can create needless friction within the organization and threaten the effectiveness of data efforts altogether. We can’t ignore concerns caused by the growing presence of data stewards at many organizations; in fact, it makes it even more important to show why such concerns are generally unfounded.

While it is true data stewards are indeed tasked with ensuring compliance with the policies and processes of the data governance program, critics need to bear the end goal in mind – to turn massive amounts of data into a useable corporate asset. And data stewards themselves can actually play a role in the effort to help “to take the view of data governance from police action to harmonious collaboration,” as another expert, Anne Marie Smith of Alabama Yankee Systems, LLC, put it. It won’t hurt for the data stewards – or the data governance managers – to acknowledge some employees will initially question their intentions. However, by reaching out to each business unit and explaining how data governance works and why improved data management will benefit the organization, the distrust can dissipate. Similarly, if the data steward is recruited from within the organization, it will alleviate some concerns since business users are more likely to trust a familiar face.

The complexity of data governance comes with a host of pitfalls – fears of data cops shouldn’t be one of them. What’s been your experience with data stewards in the supply chain? Do they play an important role in your organization?

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