At what level should Data Owners and Data Stewards be?

In previous blogs we’ve discussed what Data Owners and Data Stewards are and during those discussions, I’ve given you hints as to what level of seniority within your organisation these people should be, but in this article, we’re going to address it directly.

First of all, to refresh your memory, data owners are a small number of people within your organisation (maybe between 15 and 20) who own all the data in your organisation and are accountable for the quality of that data.

Data stewards on the other hand are chosen by the data owners, who delegate the day-to-day responsibility of the data to the data stewards. In my experience data stewards often tend to be the subject matter experts.

 So, where do these two roles sit within the structure of an organisation?

Data Owners

I always say that data owners have to be suitably senior people. That generally means that they have to have appropriate authority and budget to be a data owner to be able to make the decisions and fund any changes needed.

Let’s look at an example of a finance department because it doesn’t matter what sector you work in; your organisation will have a finance department. And most finance departments are headed up by a finance director. If you follow my logic of having a really senior person being a data owner, then you might come to the conclusion that the finance director is going to be the best person for the role. And they may well be, but what I would encourage you to do is think very practically about this.

Is this going to work in practice? In my experience, for the vast majority of my clients, the finance director has just been a bit too senior.

They might well understand data governance and support it if you could find the time to talk to them, but I think that’s going to be your problem, they’re just not going to have the time to support you and to take on this role.

I have seen it work very successfully at that level, but only in a very small number of organisations which have either been very flat in hierarchical terms, or very small organisations.

So, if I’m saying maybe not the finance director, we need to find somebody still who is suitably senior, and I’ve seen it work very well with the Deputy Finance Director or maybe even the level below that, but they’ve got to be somebody that’s got that overarching view across all the finance data but who also has the authority to make decisions about that data.

Data Stewards

It’s not quite as easy to identify what seniority your data stewards should have, but actually in this can also make it easier to identify your data stewards because you don’t have to decide what level they should be. This is down to the data owner.

Your job when implementing Data Governance is to identify who the data owners are and engage them and get them to sign up to be the data owners. Once you’ve done that, it is their job to nominate their data stewards. And to make their own role ultimately easier, they’re going to want to nominate people who actually do understand the data and who they trust.

If we look again at the finance example, I would expect the Deputy Finance Director to choose a number of data stewards. Now, in my experience, most finance departments have multiple teams, each working in their own their own area of specialisation and what usually happens is the data owner will appoint the heads of each of those teams to be the data stewards for each of those subject matter areas or those subsets of finance data. And that works really well.

 Some advice

I would say to leave it to the data owner to appoint the data stewards because if you’ve explained well enough what they’re accountable for and their responsibilities, they will nominate and choose the right people who have the right knowledge and authority to be able to do that on their behalf.

Also, don’t be too worried if your data stewards are not all at the same level or grade within your organisation. This isn’t a problem. What’s more important is that the right person is chosen so you might find that the data owner chooses four people that all head up their own teams and then they choose one other person who’s a little bit more junior.

This could be because they are the subject matter expert and the only subject matter expert in some very specific data. So, always consider that and don’t argue back immediately. Try and find out why they chosen the different levels and you will usually find that there’s a very practical reason that they are the right person for the role.

Don’t forget if you have any questions, you’d like covered in future videos or blogs please email me – questions@nicolaaskham.com.

Originally published on https://www.nicolaaskham.com/