In Search of the Empowered Data Steward

May 21, 2014 Nate LaFerle

Image_Searching for the Empowered and Effective Data Steward

Perhaps more than any other individual role, data stewards are the lynchpins of a successful enterprise information governance ground game. As organizations embark on information governance initiatives, it’s crucial to identify the right people to fill these positions, and to equip them with the tools, responsibilities and authority to be successful. Well-rounded data stewards combine business and technical understanding with a healthy dose of communications savvy to empower the enterprise with relevant, accurate and business-ready data.

Finding the right candidate

Data quality is a business imperative, not an IT issue. Effective data stewards are for, by and from the business. But in order to thrive, they need to bring a technical, data-driven mindset to the role – a combination that can be challenging to find.

Most crucially, an effective data steward:

  • Understands the business as a whole and knows its processes and challenges within their responsibility area. Candidates with an IT background should demonstrate a keen understanding and ability to learn the nuances of business drivers for the organization.
  • Knows the systems and data that power the business. Modern ERP systems contain vast quantities of data, and rock-star data stewards understand key tables and how they drive critical business processes. They recognize that the mere presence of data doesn’t make it relevant — they possess the discernment to present the information that matters efficiently and clearly.
  • Promotes executive priorities by focusing their efforts on visible, high-impact initiatives that establish the governance organization’s credibility and authority. Data governance organizations gain lasting influence in the enterprise by tangibly furthering leadership priorities and developing a reputation for responding effectively to business pain points.
  • Executes with authority as a responsible party for the communication and enforcement of data standards, policies and procedures. Effective data stewards must be masters of the message, encouraging responsible parties to understand business drivers behind every standard and to view effort as an investment in the business and their future maintenance workload.

In some organizations, the data steward already exists by another name. They’re the buyer in sourcing operations that’s been maintaining the vendor master for years. They’re in Shared Services maintaining employee records and payroll. These individuals often surface during ERP implementations as subject-matter experts. They’re deeply embedded in their departments, and they understand firsthand their data management challenges.

If the enterprise has taken on a large-scale systems implementation, those who worked on legacy data migration are excellent candidates for data stewardship. Often coming from an IT background, they gain a deep business process understanding through facilitating the transition from legacy realities to new processes and systems.

Ultimately, the sponsor of the governance initiative carries the responsibility to build and encourage an environment where effective data governance can take root. The most qualified and motivated data stewards will be rendered ineffective by bureaucratic obstacles and politics that get in the way of transparency and enforcement.

The enterprise, starting with the C-suite, must recognize data as a core enterprise asset, and data stewardship is front and center in that effort. Identifying and empowering individuals with the right skills and talents to succeed in the stewardship role is absolutely critical in ensuring a successful information governance initiative and moving your enterprise toward Business-Ready Data Every Day™.

The Road to SAPPHIRE NOW Blog Series features a series of blog posts on data quality, information governance and master data management from BackOffice Associates industry experts. Check back weekly for new content related to the 2014 SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference and join us at the event from June 3-5 in Orlando, FL at Booth #224.

Join the conversation #SAPPHIRENOW.


About the Author

Nate LaFerle

Nate LaFerle brings extensive enterprise data management experience through large-scale global data strategy and migration engagements in retail, manufacturing, finance, pharmaceuticals and the public sector. Based in Chicago, he currently leads a multi-year BackOffice engagement at a Fortune 500 life sciences organization.

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