From time-to-time, TDAN.com will share oldie but goodie articles as Features that are relevant for the times. This article, written by the Publisher of TDAN.com, was made available in early 2013. This article was popular then and hopefully it will be of interest to people now. The article has been freshened for 2016 but not rewritten.
- A Data Steward Can Be Absolutely Anybody
- Being a Data Steward Describes a Relationship to Data and is Not a Position
- A Data Steward is Not Hired to be a Data Steward
- A Data Steward Does Not Need to have the Title of “Data Steward”
- A Data Steward Does Not Have to be Told How to Do His/Her Job
- Public or Industry Data Steward Certification is a Load of Bunk (IMHO)
- There is More Than One Data Steward for Each Type of Data
- Data Steward Training Should be Focused on “Formalizing Accountability”
In this article I will speak my piece on each of these core principles and let you know that there is more than one way to look at everything. I know that some of my thoughts go against the grain and may be considered unconventional. I hope you agree with most of what I say; but in case you do not, please feel free to write to me and let me know your thoughts.
1. A Data Steward Can Be Absolutely Anybody
If you follow or believe in Non-Invasive Data Governance™, you may have heard me say that you cannot tag each Data Steward and say “You are it.” And then expect them to start doing “steward stuff.” That is not the way it works.
2. Being a Data Steward Describes a Relationship to Data and is Not a Position
If you ask me, being a Data Steward is not a position and being a Data Steward is not a title. Being a Data Steward describes a relationship between a person and some data, whether that data is a data element, data set, subject area, application, database – however granular you want to get with your association of Steward to data.
Go back to Rule 1 and you will see that anybody can be a steward. That is because anybody and everybody does something with data.
In the Operating Model of Roles and Responsibilities that I use, I distinguish between Data Definition Stewards, Data Production Stewards and Data Usage Stewards. Honestly, most organizations I work with do not go as far as differentiating between types of Operational Data Stewards. However, it is a good thing to consider.
Those who define data as part of their job should have formal accountability for making certain that they record and make available a sound business description of the data they are defining. Or perhaps they should have accountability for identifying and using data that already exists somewhere else. Or they should have accountability to get the appropriate people involved in the efforts to define the data. This person can be associated with a BI, CRM, ERP, MDM, big data, package implementation, data in the cloud – any effort where new data is defined for the organization. Non-Invasive Data Governance calls for the data definition stewards becoming formally accountable for the quality of data definition.
Those who produce data as part of their job should have formal accountability for making certain that the data is produced following the business rules (hopefully recorded) for that data. Or perhaps they should have accountability for making certain that the data they produce is entered into the system (or wherever) in a timely manner. Or they should have accountability for making certain that the appropriate people are notified when data is updated, when data accuracy provides low levels of confidence, or when data has not been received. This person can be a data entry person, a data integrator, a data analyst, a report generator, or a person involved in any of the efforts described in the above paragraph. Non-Invasive Data Governance calls for the data production stewards becoming formally accountable for the production of data.
And that leaves the data usage stewards. Everyone that uses data in their job should be held accountable for how they use that data. That means that the Data Governance program should focus early on the recording and making available the rules (regulatory, compliance, classification – any risk management effort) associated with the usage of data. The data usage steward should be held formally accountable for with whom data is shared. The data usage steward should be accountable for securing and protecting the data per, again, the recorded and available rules. This person could be anybody in the organization that uses data for his/her job. That could be anybody.
Does that mean that we need to physically record every single individual in the organization that has a relationship to data? Well, probably not. Do we need to know every division, department, and group that defines, produces and uses the data? Well, probably so. Reach out to me for a copy of a Common Data Matrix (spreadsheet) tool that I developed and have used repeatedly at organizations to help them to formally record who does what with specific data across the organization.
Being a Data Steward, whether that is a definer, producer or user of data, and the formal accountabilities inherent with being a Data Steward, all comes down to each individual’s relationship to the data. A Data Steward can have two or three of the three relationships to the data and may then have greater levels of formal accountability. Again, anybody (or should I say everybody) can be a Data Steward.
3. A Data Steward is Not Hired to be a Data Steward
I have seen organizations post FTE (full time equivalent) jobs of Data Stewards. I think this is a mistake for most organizations. As you can tell from my rules thus far, it is my thought that Data Stewards already exist in your organization and they can be anybody.
The reason I make this a rule is that the people that exist in your environment are already the stewards of the data even though they may not formally consider themselves as much. Stewards are not hired unless you are hiring into other positions, and the mere fact is that any position probably defines, produces or uses data as part of its responsibilities.
In my Operating Model of Roles & Responsibilities I differentiate between Operation Data Stewards (described in the previous rule) and Data Domain Stewards at the tactical level. The Data Domain Steward typically has a level of formal accountability or authority (sometimes) to make decisions for a specific domain (subject area of data) for the entire organization or whatever part of the organization is falls under the auspices of the Data Governance program. The Data Domain Steward is also typically not a position that an organization will hire somebody into.
In fact, some organizations designate the Data Domain Stewards through formal guidelines and policies. An organization (Big Ten University) I recently worked with focused on data classification as the primary driver of their Data Governance program. The Classification Policy spelled out that the Registrar was the Data Trustee (another name for Data Domain Steward?) of student data, that the Controller was the Trustee of financial data, and the VP of Human Resources was the trustee of employee (staff) data. This is becoming more typical then we may think.
It makes sense for organizations to spell out, by position in the organization, the person that holds the responsibilities of the Data Domain Steward. In some organizations, this position is not the know-all and be-all authority on that subject matter of data, yet this person is held in high enough regard across the organization to make certain that the data in his/her subject matter is governed properly. In the case where the Data Domain Steward is not the authority (person who can make decisions for the organization), it becomes the responsibility of the Data Governance Council (at the strategic level) to make those decisions. Rarely are decisions regarding data escalated above the Council and to the executive level. That has been my experience.
So then again, and just like with the Operational Data Stewards, the Data Domain Steward is not a role that we hire someone to fill.
4. A Data Steward Does Not Need to have the Title of “Data Steward”
For the same reason I mentioned in the previous rules, Data Stewards do not need to have the title of Data Steward. There are lots of people that agree with me. You should read Janine Joseph’s article on Dataversity.net. She makes a good case for this statement.
If everybody is a steward of data, then there really is no reason to change people’s job titles. Wouldn’t that get kind of confusing? As I stated earlier, any person with any title may be a steward of data. Therefore, and in order to stay less invasive (always a good thing), we should allow people to retain their original titles and educate them on the formal accountabilities that go along with their relationship to the data. In most cases this will not mean a major work shift for the data stewards. That doesn’t mean that there will be no work shift, just that it will not be a redefinition of their position or what they do.
The same probably holds true for the Data Domain Steward. The Controller does not need to be called the Finance Data Domain Steward and the Registrar does not have to be called the Student Data Domain Steward. It is most important that this person is recognized as the person filling the role of the Data Domain Steward.
5. A Data Steward Does Not Have to be Told How to Do His/Her Job
There is a great debate over whether or not Data Stewards need to be told how to be Data Stewards, and whether or not Data Stewards can be certified as Data Stewards. The answer to both questions is “it depends.” Well, what does it depend on?
In my experience Data Stewards do not have to be taught how to be Data Stewards. Rather Data Stewards can be educated on the formalities of their existing relationship to the data. A person who uses data must be educated on what the data means, where it came from, how the data can/cannot be used, how the data can/cannot be shared, etc. A person that produces data must be educated on the impact of how data is entered and the guidelines for the production of that data. A person that defines the data, … You get my point.
In some ways I guess you say that Data Stewards need to be told what this formality means and how to be the best Data Steward they can be. Then the question becomes, “Do we need to tell the Data Stewards how to do their job. And to that, I say “No.” We do not have to teach the Data Stewards how to do their jobs.
6. Public or Industry Data Steward Certification is a Load of Bunk (IMHO)
This is the second half of the answer to the questions raised by the previous rule. I firmly believe that Data Stewards cannot be certified. Every data steward has a different relationship with the data and, therefore, different responsibility, some with formal accountability and some without.
I know that there are Industry organizations that are focusing with coming up with the credentials to become a certified Data Steward. However, I am against this idea. Not that anybody asked me or anything. They did not.
7. There is More Than One Data Steward for Each Type of Data
I cannot tell you how many times I have begun working with an organization where they draw a number of people into a room and point their fingers at individuals and say, “Jim, he is our Customer Data Steward” and “Mary, over there, is our Product Data Steward” and “Mike is our Employee Data Steward.”
No, no, no people. That is not right. At least not if you follow any of the rules I have outlined above.
This idea that there is only one Data Steward per type or category or subject matter is invalid in the Non-Invasive Data Governance™ approach. That is, unless you are talking about Data Domain Stewards in which these people could be given the role of the Customer Data Domain Steward, Product Data Domain Steward and so on. These people have accountability across business areas. Do not forget to insert the word “Domain” or “Subject Area” into the role, just for clearer definition of the responsibilities of the role.
8. Data Steward Training Should be Focused on “Formalizing Accountability”
This is kind of related to the Certification rule so I apologize if I am repeating myself. However, sometimes repetition is the best method to learn something. Rather than certifying individuals as Data Stewards, the Data Governance program should focus on educating the Data Stewards in your specific organization as to the formal accountabilities of their specific relationship to the data. The definers get education on the accountabilities that go along with defining data, the producers get education on the accountabilities that go with data production and, perhaps most importantly (maybe not), the users get education on the accountabilities that go with using data. And people that actively have two of the three relationships or three of the three relationships get Data Governance education on all relationships that apply to them.
And not just general education about what Data Stewards do. I am talking about education that specifically pertains to the definition, production and use of the data THEY use or the data THEY steward as part of their every day job.
This may be scary to some organizations since they may not have the accountabilities of each relationship for each type of data defined in a way that can be shared with the Data Stewards. Well, this gives you a place to start with your Data Governance program. If you (as the Data Governance program definer) have not defined what these relationships mean and the formal accountabilities that go along with the relationships, or the specific rules associated with how specific data domains can be defined, produced and used, how do you expect the Data Stewards to know what to do. Again, it gives you a good place to start.
In this article I have shared with you Seiner’s Rules for Becoming a Data Steward. You may not agree with all of them. You may not agree with any of them. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I may be a non-conformist when it comes to how I define Data Steward and the role of the Data Steward. Please let me know if you would like to discuss this article or any particular rule in further detail.
And the idea for the content of this article comes from a single slide in my April 2013 Real-World Data Governance webinar session. The webinar was hosted by DATAVERSITY and information can be found at http://www.dataversity.net/category/education/webinars/upcoming-webinars/rwdg/. I hope to see you there.
Non-Invasive Data Governance™ is a trademark of Robert S. Seiner and KIK Consulting.