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Kimball University: Data Stewardship 101: First Step to Quality and Consistency

Data stewards are the liaisons between business users and the data warehouse team, and they ensure consistent, accurate, well-documented and timely insight on resources and requirements.

Data stewards should be well-respected, experienced subject-matter experts with a solid understanding of the business area supported and a commitment to working through the inevitable cross-functional challenges. Data stewards need strong communications skills to talk to the business users in their language while translating their requirements to the data warehouse team. Stewardship typically involves more cultural than technical challenges, so these individuals need to be organizationally and politically savvy. An effective data steward needs a mature attitude toward interpersonal relationships and organizational wrangling in order to deal with the inevitable conflict, and they should be comfortable with technologies and have a working knowledge of database concepts. Depending on the complexity of the source systems, the industry and the breadth of the data warehouse environment, it may take one or two years before a new data steward becomes truly productive.

Keys to Rewarding Relationships

Data stewards are an integral part of the data warehouse team. They need to take part in ETL design and development to make sure the transformation rules correctly interpret the business rules. Stewards interact with the data model design team to ensure that table designs support business requirements and are easy-to-use in terms of both efficient query performance and consistent data retrieval. They're work closely with the testing team to validate that the data being populated in the data warehouse is correct and meets users' requirements.

Data warehouses must be business-focused to be successful, so data stewards must interact with business constituents constantly. Data stewards who become too data- or IT-centric risk losing touch with the needs of their business users. At the same time, data stewards must get and keep business involved in the data warehouse effort. Depending on organizational and cultural considerations, this might mean participation in requirements definition and data model design sessions or simple validation of plans. The more involved users are, the more likely they will be to embrace the data warehouse environment and the more likely the warehouse will remain in sync with business objectives and strategies. Business-user expectations are a key input to the data warehouse team, and data stewards must communicate that vision.

Communication Tools and Techniques

Stewards need to foster an open, approachable atmosphere so business users are at ease approaching them for assistance in framing an analytic request to the data warehouse team. Stewards also need more formal communications approaches, such as maintaining an e-mail distribution list and relaying "the state of the data," including known issues and inconsistencies, to interested business users. Many data warehouse teams use Web sites to communicate with business constituencies, in which case stewards should help determine and provide the site content.

Data stewards should also participate and present at meetings and educational venues provided by peers in the business community, taking advantage of any chance to increase corporate awareness and knowledge of the data warehouse and its capabilities. They also can use these opportunities to gather feedback, including suggestions for warehouse improvement and requests for future warehouse iterations.

How To Get Started

Every organization, whether successful or not in their data warehousing efforts, has individuals fulfilling the roles and responsibilities of data stewardship. To develop a formal stewardship program, identify the individuals handling these responsibilities and organize their activities.

Establishing an effective stewardship program requires a strong leader with a solid vision of potential benefits. Gaining senior management support for the initiative is critical. In the early stages of the program, it may be necessary to involve senior management to help arbitrate and ensure consensus across the enterprise. Your organization's unique circumstances will drive the strategy; however you get there, your data warehousing efforts will be much more successful with a solid data stewardship program in place.

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