Data is one of the most important assets in a corporation. In order for data to have value, it must be delivered quickly in the proper format, be concise, accurate and, most importantly, understood. The meta data repository has become the key enabling technology that has allowed corporations to manage their meta data (knowledge about their data). Keep in mind that the technology (a meta data repository) is just one part of the knowledge management equation. The other part is business ownership and active participation. These factors are dependent on the people responsible for the data to define and manage that information (meta data). As a result, the role of the data steward has grown considerably.

In this series of columns, I will present the data stewardship framework. Having had the opportunity to form several data stewardship organizations, I can attest that no two data stewardship groups are exactly the same. As a result, this column is meant to provide guidelines for group formation. This framework is designed to provide corporations and government entities with the strategies and guidelines necessary to implement a highly successful data stewardship organization.

Understanding Data Stewardship

The data steward acts as the conduit between information technology (IT) and the business portion of a company. These people align the business needs with the IT systems supporting them (both decision support and operational). 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. As this column continues, I will further discuss the specific data stewardship activities.

Some people may say that their company does not have any data stewards – but this is not true. Every company has data stewards. There are always people within our companies that we approach when there is a question about data definitions. These people are the data stewards, even if they don't officially hold the title.

Based on your company's size, organization and industry will dictate how much effort you will need to place in data stewardship. In my experience, the industries that tend to have greater data stewardship needs include the pharmaceutical, certain governmental organizations (e.g., military, energy, etc.), insurance, banking and security brokers/investment industries as well as any firm with great knowledge requirements.

I will use the term "data steward" to generically refer to the four types of data stewardship committee roles:

  • Executive Sponsor
  • Chief Steward
  • Business Steward
  • Data Steward

While it is important to identify who is going to fill these four roles, keep in mind that, with few exceptions, these roles are not full-time roles.

Executive Sponsor

Any initiative that cuts across a company's lines of business must have executive management support. Executive management involvement is imperative in breaking down the barriers and the "ivory towers" that exist in all of our companies. Do not underestimate the obstacle that these political challenges present. These political issues are the greatest challenge that any data stewardship committee faces.

Good executive sponsors do not need to attend every data stewardship meeting, nor do they need to participate in tasks such as finalizing data definitions. Instead, executive sponsors need to provide the appropriate level of support for their business or technical stewards.

It has been my experience that it can be more difficult to find a business executive sponsor than it is to find a technical executive sponsor. In looking for an executive sponsor, I look for five key qualities:

  • Willingness to be an executive sponsor
  • Executive ranking
  • High creditability
  • Knowledge of the problems within the company
  • Willingness to challenge the company's status quo

A large financial institution was looking to implement an enterprise-level data stewardship committee. They had a technical executive sponsor; however, they had not identified a business executive sponsor. As part of our engagement with this client, we were conducting a readiness assessment of their meta data repository initiative. During this assessment, I interviewed a member of the company's executive management team who had worked at the company for more than 20 years and was a very bright individual. He had a strong belief in his company's need for data stewardship and he clearly understood how the lack of data stewardship had cost his company significant dollars. After this meeting, I returned to my client counterpart and informed them that I found our business executive sponsor.

Chief Steward

The chief steward is responsible for the day-to-day organization and management of the data stewardship committee. Like any other organization, the data stewardship committee needs a leader (project manager) that is the chief steward. Typically, the chief steward will be a senior-level, as opposed to executive-level, individual with an organization.

The chief steward must be a highly creditable person within your organization. In addition, the chief steward needs to have a sound knowledge of both the technical and the business sides of the corporation. This knowledge is vital as some stewards are from the business and some are from the technical side. The chief stewards need to understand the politics within their organizations and have the insight concerning how to navigate around those challenges. Most importantly, the chief steward must have very good leadership and communication skills to help guide the data stewardship committee as this person will need to attain consensus across disparate groups.

Business Steward

The business steward is responsible for defining the procedures, policies, data meanings and requirements of the enterprise. Keep in mind that the business stewards can be organized by departmental level or by subject matter.

Business stewards need to have a strong knowledge of the business requirements and policies of the corporation. These stewards will need to be able to make sound decisions and work with key members of their business in order to gain consensus on their organization's business policies and requirements.

Technical Steward

The technical steward is a member of the organization's IT department. The technical steward is a technical resource that will focus on the technical meta data and data that needs to be captured by the data stewardship committee.

Next month, I will continue to discuss the data stewardship framework.

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