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How a data steward can enable data governance, without 'police' tag

A data governance program doesn't have to be a police action. Instead, advises expert Anne Marie Smith, data stewards should help bring about cultural change in a collaborative way.

We're worried that the people taking on the data steward role in our organization will be viewed as the data police...

by business users. What can we do to avoid that, while still engaging in effective data governance?

Many organizations think data governance means data police. An effective data governance plan is just the opposite: It's a cultural change for the organization, in which the business leaders and staff members assume responsibility for the proper definition, usage and management of the data and information contained within the enterprise.

In a highly functioning organization that has an enterprise data governance strategy, workers from the business teams are empowered to serve as business data stewards. These team members are responsible for the care and custody of the data for their business units, supported by the IT department and authorized by the organization's leadership to make data-related decisions on definitions and data usage. It is a cultural change, and the members of the data governance program office team who guide the business units' data stewards should lead in the adoption of this new cultural approach -- ideally helping to take the view of data governance from police action to harmonious collaboration.

Data governance can be an enabling effort that allows business users to manage data more effectively and understand it better.

How can that be accomplished? Start with the selection of the right people for the organization's data governance program office. Those people must understand that, yes, many in the organization will initially think of data governance managers and data stewards as the data police -- and they must develop an outreach and education plan that conveys what governance really is, and how it can benefit the business.

In the governance trenches, a data steward must understand that his role, in part, is also to help change that view and demonstrate that data governance can be an enabling effort that allows business users to manage data more effectively and understand it better. The data steward must teach others in the organization that this cultural change won't happen overnight, but that it is necessary and will be beneficial in the long run. Meanwhile, business leadership must support the data governance program actively and consistently, in various ways that resonate within the enterprise.

Next Steps

Part-time data stewards can make an impact, as well

Quiz: How to improve your data governance and stewardship processes

Tips on building a data stewardship program

This was last published in April 2015

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