David Marco wishes to thank Anne Marie Smith, director of Education at EWSolutions, for her invaluable contribution to this month's column.

Data stewardship is the function that instantiates and controls the execution of a data governance program. Data stewards are those individuals charged with the careful and responsible management of metadata and data entrusted to their care. Stewards are not the owners of the data; they are responsible for ensuring that the data and its metadata are accurate, accessible, usable and current.

The data steward acts as the conduit between IT and the business. The data steward (which is often not just one person, but a collection of people) aligns the business needs with the IT systems providing both decision and operational support. 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.

Some people may say that their company does not have any data stewards, but this is not true. There is always someone within the company whom people turn to with questions about what the data means. This person is the data steward, even if he or she doesn't have the title. Your company's size, organization and industry dictate how much effort you will need to place in data stewardship. Industries that require greater data stewardship include pharmaceutical, government organizations (e.g., military, energy), insurance, banking, security brokers and investment advisers.

No two data stewardship groups are exactly the same. However, four common roles are seen in almost all data stewardship organizations: executive sponsor, chief steward, business steward and technical steward.

Executive sponsor. Any initiative that cuts across a company's lines of business must have executive management support and funding. It is imperative in breaking down the barriers and the "ivory towers" that exist in all companies. Do not underestimate the obstacles that political challenges present; they are the greatest challenge that any data stewardship committee faces. It can be more difficult to find a business executive sponsor than it is to find a technical executive steward. Look for: someone willing to be an executive sponsor, a person with executive ranking, someone with high credibility, someone knowledgeable about problems within the company and a person willing to challenge the company status quo.

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 or project manager. 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 credible person within your organization. He or she should have a sound knowledge of both the technical and the business sides of the corporation. The chief steward needs to understand the politics within the organization and have the insight on how to navigate around those challenges. Most importantly, the chief steward must have strong leadership and communication skills to help guide the data stewardship committee. This is most evident when this person needs to attain consensus across disparate groups.

Business steward. The business steward is responsible for defining the procedures, policies, data definitions and requirements of the enterprise. Keep in mind that the business stewards can be organized from a departmental level (e.g., consumer lending, military branch, pharmacology) or by subject matter (e.g., logistics, shipping). Business stewards need to have a strong knowledge of the business requirements and policies of the corporation. They must 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 IT department. These people focus on the technical metadata and data that needs to be captured by the data stewardship committee.

The specific activities of the data stewardship committee will vary from one organization to another and from industry to industry. However, there are some common activities: define data domain values; establish data quality rules, validate and resolve them; set up business rules and security requirements; create business metadata definitions; and create technical data definitions.

Sometimes there are people who are highly knowledgeable about the data and the business policies around the data even though they do not belong to the particular stewardship group that I mention for the activity. For example, some technical stewards may be as knowledgeable on the business policies and data values as any of the official business stewards. So even though business stewards should be creating the business metadata definitions, you would want these technical stewards working with the business stewards to help with the business metadata definitions.

The chief steward will play a critical role in ensuring all of these activities are properly completed. A good chief steward ensures that the technical and business stewards work thoroughly and expediently, understanding how easy it is for a group to fall into analysis paralysis. The chief steward will act as a project manager or guide in each of these activities. Most importantly, the chief steward aids committee members in resolving any conflicts - and there will be conflicts.

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