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Data Stewards versus Subject Matter Experts and Data Managers


Much discussion exists about the role of a data steward and what it entails, and in my experience it is quite unclear in many enterprises. A large part of this lack of clarity seems to arise from confusion with two other roles - subject matter experts and data managers. We need to understand how these three roles fit together. Either we should justify them as separate roles or recognize that they boil down to the same thing. The fact that many enterprises have only a fuzzy grasp of what these three roles involve is a major risk for the successful operationalization of data governance. This is because individuals will be assumed to have accountabilities that they have not been formally assigned, and which they are not equipped to carry out. To the extent that these accountabilities are assigned by a data governance program, it is data governance that will be blamed for lack of results.

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Comments (7)
Perhaps the CIO is in a position to think about the business implications and big picture questions related to data use. I've always viewed data stewardship as a practice, not a position. Every member of an enterprise bears some responsibility for data stewardship. Even a data manager could be a SME on topics related to data classification, retention, etc., so these two titles are not necessarily at odds with one another Your thoughts?

Shannon Harmon

Posted by Shannon H | Wednesday, May 28 2014 at 11:15AM ET
First of, I think differentiating these roles are great. And I agree with much of the spirit.

That said, realizing key part of Data Management is semantics, my view of Data Managers is different than the above. Yes, everyone has a defined charter, though I also believe if you are a data manager in charge of master and reference data, part of your role is understanding and prioritizing against the overall organizational needs and ensuring ongoing care and feeding of your own solution environment. I see this as an oversight and program management role, that includes stewardship or technology initiatives under its domain.

On the other hand, while I agree Data Governance takes a big picture role also, historically it has been definition and oversight vs. action oriented.

Last, I like the idea of data steward networks. I have been sharing the idea of Social Data Stewardship recently, where organizations really need to find effective ways of tapping tribal knowledge and funneling it to data management tools or processes, so dedicated stewards can be even more effective.

Cheers Malcolm. Always good to read and ponder your thoughts. Mehmet

Posted by Mehmet O | Wednesday, May 28 2014 at 11:17AM ET
Hi Shannon,

To provide my perspective: I think Data Stewardship needs to be a formal responsibility in any organization that wants to formally monitor and take care of whatever subset of its data asset it deems essential. The analogy I'd use it in a city with shared resources, everyone can keep the streets clean but we still have services that focus on providing a consistent experience with defined service level agreements, focusing on the trash bins, but not forgetting about what didn't make it in.

I do agree anyone can be a SME vs. formal position, since as Malcolm described, it is a knowledge/experience driven classification.


Posted by Mehmet O | Wednesday, May 28 2014 at 11:30AM ET

I agree that everyone in the enterprise has a responsibility for the data they manage, and that this could be termed "data stewardship". However, being formally designated as a "Data Steward" is quite different. And yes, a formally designated Data Steward could easily be an SME - but this does not mean the two roles can or should be conflated. I would argue that they are distinct, but this depends on your conception of what a Data Steward is and what an SME is. With respect the CIO, my experience is that most of them are concerned with technology acquisition, not data, which is unfortunate - and so I doubt most of them have a vision of Data Stewardship.


Thanks for your feedback, which, as always, I greatly value. I would agree that a Data Manager in Reference or Master Data Management has an accountability for the solution environment they are in charge of, and operationalizing prioritized organizational needs. However, I do differ somewhat in that I see Enterprise Architecture as accountable for aligning IT delivery - including technology - to business strategy. I do think that Data Governance is accountable for the Data Stewardship program. However, an RDM or MDM manager can be responsible for their technology and making the Data Stewards in their domain add business value. I tend to see a network of accountabilities / responsibilities as per a RACI matrix, rather than single "owners". I think you have a great point with the social aspects of Data Stewardship. We urgently need ways to harvest tribal knowledge. This is especially so given that very many SMEs are close to retirement. I have been thinking about the skills needed for a special cadre of knowledge engineers to do this work - and was thinking about calling them "Soul Hunters" after a race of aliens that did exactly this in the Babylon 5 series. However, I have been informed this is considered quite politically incorrect.

...Cheers, Malcolm

Posted by Malcolm C | Thursday, May 29 2014 at 9:51PM ET
Interesting perspective. I'm not sure Shannon's thought on the CIO being the arbiter for data and stewardship is likely - the CIO is almost always bothered with the technical infrastructure and doesn't have the first inkling about what data exists, why it's there or who needs to be responsible for it!

The questions of who's who vis-a-vis data is certainly now clearly identified as the area for Data Governance to be concerned (still an emerging discipline). Some further thoughts on this theme here: >

Posted by Alan D | Tuesday, June 03 2014 at 12:59AM ET
The title of CIO carries the very important element which they should be fundamentally responsible for - "Information", in all its forms, classes etc for the needs of the entire organization. If many real-world CIOs do not do justice to their titles, then we cannot reach a conclusion that the CIO role, per se, is not a good candidate for institutionalizing good Data Stewardship practices across the enterprise. After all, many organizations do also have staffed CTO positions - and the persons in these roles should be bothering about the technical infrastructure and technology implications for their organization's automation needs. In my view, the CIO role, manned by a capable & disciplined leader, can still provide much-needed data stewardship and governance structure for the organization.
Posted by Shiva Prasad K | Friday, June 06 2014 at 7:18AM ET
Thanks Malcolm, For me it is all new, matter of the fact, I have heard Data stewards role just now from your post ...............Instead of calling it data stewards network, I would recommend it be called upon data steward firewall or data wall members, which will help non IT to understand it better. I agree that non IT Organizations Lake in current age data governance issues, though I feel this gap even in IT organization as well. Finally I want to thank you for great insight which helped me to see bigger picture of data decisions and roles associated with it. As an developer we rarely get to see some meaning full and real life information on this. mahender
Posted by Mahender C | Sunday, August 17 2014 at 3:02AM ET
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