The search for better data management practices has led to data stewardship and data governance efforts, but confusion over roles and disconnects between IT and the business have led to gaps in cooperation. The next wave will bring customer data integration and master data management initiatives that promise to relieve business experts from the drudgery of defining and maintaining customer data, while developers will dodge the chaos of point-to-point integration.
Both business and IT executives have come to realize that well-meaning policies like, "Everyone is a data steward" do little to address significant reconciliation, semantic and integration challenges that can make or break customer-facing programs. Having someone accountable for the definition, quality and traceability of customer data is no longer a luxury, but a legal and competitive mandate.
But many companies that rushed to embrace data stewardship never defined the role, thereby introducing a set of roving linebackers into an organization already weary of protracted data modeling and requirements-gathering sessions. The question, "Who should own the data?" lives on in companies that have institutionalized data stewardship, but have nevertheless failed to established its boundaries.
Companies that have implemented, and later retracted, the role of data steward usually have three prevailing conditions:
• Poorly defined job descriptions. The absence of formal job descriptions conveys a lack of institutional commitment to the role of data steward. Companies serious about the role should establish a formal job description, lay out a reporting structure, delimit its business and process domains, understand its key performance indicators (KPIs) and deliverables, define the necessary skill sets and work with HR to sanction the position.
• Reluctant business stakeholders. It would be ideal for the data steward to work on the business side--after all, he or she understands why the business needs the data and how it will be used--but business managers are reluctant to fund the head count until they see the results. Though this may sound like heresy, the data stewardship position should start in IT and migrate to the business only after it's proven its worth. This puts the burden on IT both establish the role of data steward and to detail the tactics and work involved.
• Operational systems off the hook. Some IT departments have been successful convincing business users to climb aboard as subject matter experts--a duty added to an already long list of job responsibilities. Nevertheless they willingly begin establishing data definitions and quality improvement metrics. Meanwhile, the operational systems, typically measured on operational uptime, functional accuracy and response time, continue business as usual, and the owners of these systems aren't responsible for addressing data sharing, accuracy or correction. Thus, subject matter experts, recruited by IT to initial data stewardship processes, lose patience with the lack of change resulting from their efforts and subsequently renege on their duties.
The foundation of data stewardship is to help IT do its job. IT practitioners can't (and shouldn't) understand the content and meaning of customer data elements across the enterprise. IT should enlist business people who are intimate with the desired outcomes of improved customer data to help in these efforts. If executives truly believe--and most insist they do--that data is a corporate asset, they must drive the cultural, investment and organizational changes necessary to make data stewardship work.
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