MAY 28, 2014 5:00am ET

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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)
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
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