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Data Stewardship Best Practices:
A Quick Guide

Data stewardship is the collection of practices that ensure an organization’s data is accessible, usable, safe, and trusted. It’s about taking care of data: knowing where it is, making sure it is trustworthy, safeguarding data lineage, enforcing the rules about how data can be used, and promoting its value. For more on data stewardship and why you need it, click here.

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The standard-bearers of this effort are data stewards—the “data ambassadors” between the data team and the user community. Data stewards have the ultimate goal of empowering users with trusted data. These are people that have a true passion for data and increasing its use across an organization. They may wear multiple hats, from helping to ensure data quality and creating standard definitions to improve collaboration to serving as data advocates and thought leaders for data governance best practices.

 

Data Stewardship Principles for Success

Here are seven data stewardship principles that guide data stewards to successfully perform their roles.

Be accountable. Data stewards take responsibility for ensuring that data is managed and used as per both internal and external rules. They must take into account industry guidelines as well as federal and even international regulations, including PCI, FOIA, IFRS17, as well as GDPR and CCPA when overseeing how data is used, and should raise an alarm if they identify an issue.

Be enthusiastic. Evangelizing safe—and creative—uses of data is a prime aspect of the data steward’s job. Data stewards should maintain a positive attitude as the ambassadors of the data group’s governance function, inspiring users to see data as a valued and strategic enterprise asset capable of driving business competitiveness.

Be strategic. Data stewardship also involves high-level strategic thinking. Data stewards should keep their eyes open for innovative ways that data can better serve their organizations. They should ensure that data remains relevant and valuable for decision-making beyond its initial use. They should also recognize when multiple different requests or complaints can be traced to a single issue, so that they can resolve their root cause.

Be rigorous. Data should be held to the highest standards of accuracy and quality. Data stewards should routinely perform audits to ensure these standards hold. They must maintain quality of the data by responding to feedback from users—whether concerns, complaints, or questions—establishing metrics, identifying and escalating issues, and coordinating and implementing fixes.

Be collaborative. Data stewards should make it easy for users to ask questions about data and its proper use. They should hold seminars (or webinars) to educate users, and make themselves available through various communications channels. They should share best practices of data use. They add value by providing insight into how and where teams can use data to help in day-to-day decision-making. And, ultimately, they need to ensure that information meets users’ needs by frequently checking in with their constituents and asking the right questions.

Be transparent. Anyone should be able to get answers about who is involved in collecting, storing, or using any personal data that is being collected.

Be respectful of organizational culture. Often, data stewards are attempting to change the very way people do their jobs. Considering corporate culture across the data governance spectrum means considering factors such as people, existing processes, and shared values, beliefs, and norms when applying data stewardship principles.

 

Data Stewardship Best Practices

Here are nine best practices for data stewards to follow to achieve success.

Make data stewards essential members of the data team

Data stewards typically are scattered throughout distributed business units. They’re also frequently acting in that role only part-time—on top of other formal job responsibilities. They can thus be left out of the loop when the chief data officer’s (CDO’s) team makes decisions or takes action. This will not work. Data stewards must be full members of the data team, with frequent communications, briefings, and invitations to collaborate on policy or procedures for an organization’s data governance function to succeed—even if they remain as informal members, they must constantly be informed.

Set incentives for data stewards to promote effective job performance

In addition to clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of data stewards, the CDO should create quantitative as well as qualitative metrics that measure results of data stewards’ activities as key performance indicators (KPIs). They should then build achievement of those KPIs into data stewards’ compensation schemes; for example, setting specific data quality targets for the data elements managed by each steward. Working together with their managers and business leaders, the CDO can and should pursue having their data-related responsibilities added to the data steward’s job description.

Establish executive support for data stewardship

To give data stewards necessary credibility and authority when overseeing how data is used, senior executives must publicly support them, and actively promote them and their goals to the rest of the organization.

Nurture a data-driven corporate data culture

Although traditionally data stewards have been viewed primarily as enforcers of governance policies, they should now strive to be advocates for data and promote the effective use of data throughout the organization. By encouraging users to infuse data into every discussion and decision, they can be prime drivers of a data-driven culture that can lead to competitive advantage. Showcasing successful projects that incorporate data-driven decision-making with measurable results will help data stewards to overcome the perception that they represent only control and enforcement.

Maintain complete documentation

All data stewardship decisions about data—including data elements and business rules—need to be clearly documented, published, and made available to users, data professionals, and other stakeholders. They should also use tools such as metadata repositories, business glossaries, central issue logs, and data profiling and quality tools to ensure that everything is properly recorded. Benchmarks are particularly important to document and illustrate positive performance.

Thoroughly grasp data and business environments alike

Because data stewards act as ambassadors between their chief data officers’ teams and the rest of the organization, they need to have deep knowledge of core datasets as well as a deep understanding of the business unit they’re assigned to. That way, they are positioned to identify places where data can be best used for competitive advantage.

Make data policies transparent

All policies that involve data—no matter where it is in its lifecycle—should be clearly and transparently defined and described, and those written policies should be easily accessible and understood by everyone both inside and outside the organization. When establishing new policies, data stewards should strive for collaboration between team members, ensuring the greatest number of people are in agreement with new or updated policies.

Create a data stewardship community

Again, because data stewards are typically distributed throughout the organization, they need a way to connect, communicate, and collaborate with each other and the data team. One way to do this is to promote a data stewardship community. This is an internal, informal group that enables data stewards to put their heads together on issues such as data standards, policies, business terminology, empowering users, and brainstorming opportunities to get more value out of data and align shared best practices. Externally, data stewards should be encouraged to view their roles in a broader context, and to seek out professional associations, speaking, and development opportunities. 

Form a data stewardship working group

Because data stewards are typically distributed throughout the organization, they need a way to connect, communicate, and collaborate with each other and with the data team. One way to do this is to organize a data stewardship working group. It should be an informal group that gives data stewards a chance to put their heads together on issues such as data standards, policies, business terminology, empowering users, and brainstorming opportunities to get more value out of data and align on shared best practices.

 

Why You Should Implement Data Stewardship

Ensuring that your data is accessible, usable, safe, and trusted is the single most important step in your journey to be data driven. Data stewardship covers all those attributes, as well as protecting data and promoting its strategic use across your organization.

 

Learn More about Data Stewardship

Check out our Data Empowerment Experts webinar series for up-close-and-personal conversations with companies who implemented data governance programs and are sharing the lessons they’ve learned. Data stewardship and managing culture change are a big part of these programs, and you’ll get real-world perspectives and a wealth of first-hand knowledge in these webinars. See the full lineup here.

Also, don’t miss our blogs on intelligent data governance with useful information for data stewards, including driving adoption: