Data stewardship is one of the prime positions in any data management organization. The business and technical stewards are the conduit between the organizing functions in the management structure (which determine policies and processes for data management) and the data management functions that perform the actual work, such as data quality, data profiling, architecture and administration.
The position of the data steward in the organization assumes certain characteristics that define the ideal person or staff for the job. Here are a few terms that define a good data steward:
The successful data steward has a unique set of expertise, both in general and within the context of the organization. This person is the go-to person for all types of end users for data usage and definition, so they should be well-versed in the business uses of information, and the definition of key terms used by the organization.
A data steward also has knowledge of the physical implementation of these key terms. They know where to find data elements within the computing infrastructure and how they relate to other data concepts. Business and technical stewards focus on the areas related to their titles, but have a working knowledge of the other discipline as well.
The data steward occupies a position of exception management – he or she only really cares about the large majority of data that flows through the organization when reporting on its characteristics, such as quality measures and error rates. When things go awry, the issues are usually very detailed and complex. The competent data steward will have the tenacity to tackle these issues and see them through to their conclusion, marshalling additional resources as needed.
The successful data steward is rarely, if ever, satisfied with the status quo of data management in his organization. This person is always looking for ways to improve policies and procedures – and provide better service to downstream customers.
The successful data steward has the ability to motivate other members of the organization to understand and support data management policies and procedures. By doing this, a steward can demonstrate cost savings and efficiency gains from those procedures. The data steward also has the ability to communicate effectively with upper management to show the value of the data management function.
The successful data steward must be an effective leader and advocate for the data management organization. These individuals must practice the traits of effective data management even if they are not specifically documented in the organization’s policies and procedures, and therefore leads by example. A steward should also be an effective teacher and mentor to others who need direction in their roles as they relate to data management.
Data stewards have contact with a large number of individuals and groups in all levels of the data management organization. As a result, these employees serve as critical “diplomats” in brokering agreements across these groups.
Most of these people and groups are supportive of the overall data management mission and the procedures for its operation, but there are some individuals and groups that can view data management efforts as a threat to their organizations, whether these reasons are real or imagined. The data steward needs diplomatic skills to successfully negotiate the varying needs of these constituencies and produce the best answer for all concerned.
As you can see, the ideal data steward is an individual with a rare combination of skills, from technical acumen to well-developed leadership and communication skills. This person (or staff) is an invaluable asset to the organization, whether cultivated from existing staff or hired from outside the organization. They are the keystones of any effective data management program.
If you know of a good example of a data steward, submit them for a Stewie at the Data Stewards Day website.