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Data Stewards: Catalysts for Data Citizenship or Data Janitors?

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Data Stewards: Catalysts for Data Citizenship or Data Janitors?

There’s no denying that data governance is a hot topic. Companies of all shapes and sizes – from data quality and big data firms to analytics and data management vendors – are jumping on the data governance bandwagon. They are “buzzword compliant.” But even though it’s a hot topic, it’s a challenging one as well. And not all organizations are currently enabling their data stewards to establish data citizenship.

So what exactly is a data citizen? The answer is actually quite simple. A data citizen is anybody who uses data to do their job. And being a data citizen comes with rights and privileges, like being able to use trusted data. But just like any other legitimate citizenship, it also comes with responsibilities, like making sure you and others are able to trust the information. Many organizations are implementing data governance programs that cultivate data citizenship. One of the components of such a program is an execution-oriented data stewardship workstream. Good data stewards are true information advocates, and actively educate, communicate, and promote data citizenship. I’ve met these types of data stewards, and I’ve seen how they’ve made a strong impact on the goal of making data a strategic asset.

Sadly, I’ve also seen naïve data governance strategies reduce data stewardship to cleaning up somebody else’s data, effectively reducing the responsibility to a sort of data janitorship. While this may have an immediate, positive outcome (some of the data is now clean for a specific usage) it is inevitably akin to mopping up the floor while the tap is still running: it works, but it is very costly, highly ineffective, and incredibly frustrating.

See, a data janitor doesn’t actually solve the governance problem at hand. They spend their time doing very basic tasks: matching, merging, and de-duping the data. They create the “golden records.” But what they are really doing is cleaning up someone else’s mess after the fact. And, they have no authority to make the actual data owners take responsibility for their data. They are not empowered to teach data owners how to clean up the mess or avoid creating the mess in the first place.

A data steward, on the other hand, is empowered. They hold a senior role in the organization. They are held accountable for owning the data – and ensuring it is accurate, trustworthy, and accessible. And they assume responsibility for educating, communicating, and promoting data citizenship throughout the organization.

At Collibra, we want all data users to become data citizens. And to achieve that vision – to really make data governance business as usual – you need to empower your data stewards with a centralized, purpose-built data governance platform. We believe this platform should deliver:

  1. Collaboration and automation so data stewards can leave firefighting through Excel, email, and meetings
  2. An out-of-the-box operating model that is based on proven best practices and supported by a Center of Excellence
  3. A platform for change that facilitates the delivery of governance at scale

As you may have guessed, Collibra checks all the boxes.  And if you don’t believe us, read the Gartner Market Guide for Information Stewardship Applications.

So as your data governance initiative continues to gain momentum, keep an eye out for data janitors who turn off the running tap before starting to clean up the mess. And when you see these people, promote them. Because they are the ones who get it. They are the ones who will help your data users become data citizens.

How do you empower your data stewards?

Stan is the co-founder and CTO at Collibra and leads the global product organization. He’s responsible for product management and UX, Collibra’s Center of Excellence, and Collibra University, Collibra’s online learning platform. Prior to founding the company he was a senior researcher at the Vrije Universiteit of Brussels, a leading semantic research center in Europe, performing application-oriented research in semantics.