Who's in charge of data quality?


business man at laptopIn this post I'll address two fundamental data quality questions:

  • Who’s in charge of data quality?
  • Who should be in charge of data quality?

Before I answer these questions, permit me a brief diversion.

The parallel with communication

At your organization, who's in charge of communication? Sure, someone at your company may sport the title "Head of Communications," but that person probably isn't involved in an internal harassment case. That's the job of the HR department and/or a union issue. And many organizations hire bigwigs to address investor relations, a job with communication all over it.

If you send an inappropriate e-mail, tweet something offensive or tell a racist joke, you'd better be prepared to pay the consequences. These types of actions often stem from immature employees and cultures that permit this type of behavior. Brass tacks: Every employee is responsible for his/her own actions in the workplace.

And I don't see why data quality is any different.

Now, back to the questions driving this post.

Who has been in charge of data quality?

Historically, the data quality responsibilities have, almost always, either formally or informally fallen to one of the following:

  • The CIO/the IT department.
  • Data governance council.
  • Data governance internal center of excellence.

This was particularly true at large, mature organizations.

Allow me to simplify why this was so often the case. While rationales varied, in many cases "the data" lay in a data warehouse, datamart and/or relational database. To this end, your garden-variety line-of-business employee did not possess the technical chops to fix data-oriented issues. How many accounting or HR clerks know how to write SQL statements?

Beyond that, an error could be downright catastrophic. We're not just talking about a single inaccurate employee or vendor check; we're talking about transposed records, deleted tables, inaccurate financial statements and all other sorts of data disasters.

Finally, with requirements stemming from the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002 and other legislation, even technically proficient employees capable of fixing data quality issues could not do so in many cases. Legally speaking, IT needed to be involved.

Simon Says: Data quality should be every employee's responsibility.

The aforementioned reasons are all totally understandable. Still, they harken back to a bureaucratic era not remotely close to today's environment. Like it or not, business today moves faster than ever. Even though chief data officers (CDOs) are gaining in importance, I've never encountered a chief data quality officer in my travels. I hope I never do.

Today, the most progressive organizations have moved beyond adopting conventional approaches to data governance and data quality. Their management realizes that, much like communication, every employee should be responsible for data quality. Even though IT may possess the tools as well as the legal authority to correct these kinds of issues after a certain point, employees need to care about what they are entering into enterprise applications in the first place.


What say you?

How big of a deal is big data quality?



About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. His ninth will be Slack For Dummies (April, 2020, Wiley) He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. He teaches information systems and analytics at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.

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