A Rose By Any Other Name – Titles In Data Governance

By Anne Smith

For many organizations, titles are one of the ways that performance is distinguished or acknowledged, while in other organizations there is no coherence in how different people’s activities are classified.  In many efforts, a title does not “mean” anything outside the particular environment, but in the world of data governance, a title can convey deep meanings.

In a search for the various titles found in different data governance programs, one may discover the following list: data steward, business data steward, technical data steward, data owner, data custodian, data manager, chief data steward, etc…  Do these titles mean anything in the realm of data management and are they being used correctly by organizations?  The answers to these questions is “Yes, they do mean something specific”, and “No, many organizations do not use them correctly.”

The titles “data steward”, “data owner”, “data manager” are often considered to be synonyms, but they are in fact different roles.  They denote very different responsibilities, skills and expectations for performance.

Data Stewards are business people who have been charged with the formation and execution of policies for the management of data and meta data – usually in a particular focus area: finance, operations, marketing, human resources, underwriting, etc.  Depending on the level of the individual steward, he or she may be responsible for advising the organization on governance of categories of data, on definition of data and its usage, and on the implementation of governance policies through the activities of stewards and data managers.  The stewards are responsible for the quality of data and meta data that is part of their functional area, and work to ensure that the governance policies are focused at the enterprise level.  Most organizations have several data stewards for each major functional area, while some smaller functional areas may share one steward.

Data Managers are often referred to as “data custodians” and they play a role that is different from a steward.  A data manager or custodian is the person who implements the data delivery process in concert with the business representatives (the stewards).  Data custodians / managers advise on the technologies used in data management and enable the user community to access and manipulate (“use”) the data.  In many organizations they reside in the data administration / data management / database management departments and have developed deep skills in technologies that support enterprise data management.

Data Owners are usually those business people who have direct line responsibility for a functional area.  They are not stewards, but they work with the appointed stewards to ensure the correct definition and use of data and assist in the identification and management of data quality for their area.  As leaders in the user community, they are part of the team that drives the governance process since the need for governance should originate and be maintained in the business community.

Chief Data Stewards are those data stewards who are given responsibility for the overall management of the stewardship function for a particular area.  They manage the stewardship activities of the data stewards in their area; frequently they are also responsible for the stewardship of one or more sections of that area.  Unlike line management, data stewards and their chief data steward do not have a direct reporting relationship, rather the chief stewards serve as leaders of the stewardship team for that functional area.  Together, all the chief data stewards of an organization comprise the data stewardship coordinating group, where decisions that affect the data management of more than one functional area (but not the entire enterprise) are made.

Who leads the chief data stewards?  Many organizations have called the leader of the chief stewards another chief data steward, but that use can cloud the understanding of the chief stewards’ role.  One client recently chose a title for this leadership role that seems to resonate: “Practice Manager”.  A Practice Manager is responsible for the operation of the governance practice and its implementation in stewardship.  He or she has operational oversight of all activities associated with governance and stewardship: the governance council, the data stewardship coordinating group, the governance and stewardship budget, the training and education of involved members of the organization concerning governance and stewardship, etc.  A good Practice Manager can make a practice effective, and the absence of a good Practice Manager can doom an effort.

Despite Shakespeare’s famous line, “a rose by any other name does not smell as sweet”, in governance and stewardship, developing and implementing the proper titles can demonstrate to the entire organization that governance and stewardship have brought a new culture to the landscape, and the use of the right titles can assist in developing a sustainable appreciation for the beneficial nature of enterprise data management.

About the Author

Anne Marie Smith is a leading consultant in Information Management and is a frequent contributor to various IS publications. Anne Marie has over 20 years experience in information management for several corporate entities and has successfully led the development of data resource management departments within corporations and consulting organizations. Anne Marie is active in the local chapter of DAMA and serves on the board of directors of DAMA International, and is an advisor to the DM Forum. She has been an instructor of Management Information Systems (MIS) with Philadelphia, PA area colleges and universities. Anne Marie has taught topics such as: data stewardship and governance, data warehousing, business requirements gathering and analysis, metadata management and metadata strategy, information systems and data warehouse project management. Anne Marie’s areas of consulting expertise include metadata management including data stewardship and governance, information systems planning, systems analysis and design, project management, data warehouse systems assessment and development, information systems process improvement and information resource management/data resource management. Anne Marie holds the degrees Bachelor of Arts and a Master's of Business Administration in Management Information Systems from La Salle University; she has earned a PhD in MIS at Northcentral University. She is a certified logical data and process modeler and holds project management certification. Anne Marie can be reached at [email protected]

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