Who Owns the Data?

Over the past 12 months, more businesses began re-evaluating how they view and use data. Finding ways to exploit and make use of the information they’ve had in their company all along means they gain insights to improve everything from operations, to staff deployment through to customer service. As we continue into 2014, although it seems hard to believe, data will continue to take even more prominence – and there’s going to be far more of it.

In fact, the International Committee for Weights and Measures thinks there is soon going to be so much data in the world that we’re going to run out of ways to quantify it. But, as data begins to take more prominence in organizations, who is going to take ownership of it? Traditionally data has fallen within the remit of the IT team to manage and control, but as it’s now being seen as central to gaining competitive advantage, does that mean it falls to the CEO? Who owns the data?

Information itself has value; it’s a business asset, but isn’t measured in the way that employees, laptops, tables or even lights are. Therefore, ownership within the business has always been slightly vague, especially when we question what ownership actually means. Is it simply knowing that data is yours? Is it having access to it? Or is it having control or governance over who can use it?

Naturally, you’d be forgiven for thinking that ultimate ownership of any business’s data belongs to its CEO – they are after all in charge of the company as a whole. And yet, until now, data has typically fallen into the remit of IT, as do the business intelligence and data analysis systems that exploit it. To this end, employees have had to turn to the IT team when they want information on anything, such as a particular project or sales period for example, rather than getting answers directly for themselves. However, if the data comes from IT, then is it owned by the CIO?

Interestingly, in its predictions of technology trends for 2014, Forbes thinks we’re likely to see a change here as the slew of data leads to the business needing to take more ownership over process and intelligence – most often due to the IT team’s inability to provide systems and information at the speed the business needs them.

While IT has control of the data at present, we’re fast becoming more data-driven and business users are pushing for systems that are easy to navigate themselves. They’re expecting to have information in their own hands, rather than it belonging to IT teams and being “on loan” to analyze. Employees now want data accessible at their fingertips whenever they need it. Many businesses are adopting this “data for all” approach, with the IT team sourcing systems that can help them to share information with the rest of the business in order for all employees to get their own insights from company information. This enables employees to make decisions on the spot without having to go to the IT team, ultimately the guardians of the data. A business-wide approach to data would, therefore, surely put the ownership back in the hands of the CEO, wouldn’t it?

With the rise of data in use across businesses, there is also the question of governance. It is necessary to consider how to adhere to regulations, particularly in financial, pharmaceutical, health care or government-driven industries, while ensuring companies are running on the most accurate and up-to-date information available to them. Could this mean that the Chief Financial Officer becomes responsible for the data? Or will we see more weight and accountability being given to governance and regulatory roles?

Either way, data ownership is still a very complicated matter and one that needs to be addressed, whether it’s the CIO or the CEO, or even another high level executive, it’s important that businesses establish data roles and responsibilities soon. The data we store will only going continue to grow and accumulate, so it’s important everyone knows who has ownership of it.

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