If Everyone Owns Data, No One Owns It


When I start with a new client, I almost always ask, "who owns the data?" The range of answers goes from corporate ownership to IT ownership to Data Management ownership to Sales ownership. When I clarify my question as who is accountable (ie head is on a stick) when there is a data related disaster, like a financial misstatement, the sound of people retreating from ownership is deafening -- and one is left. In a lot of organizations, Sales owns the 'core' customer, with Finance owning some specific financial customer attributes.


I want to clarify that I'm using owner interchangeably with Data Steward, whose responsibilities include:
- Clear business definition of entities and attributes within their domain/subdomain.
- Clear definition of contextual usage patterns.
- Definition of valid domain values (sometimes referred to as canonical data set).
- Understanding of full lifecycle of the data in their domain (ie data lineage), including business impacts of changes to data maintenance and/or mutation.


The reason for these responsibilities is because obsolete, incorrect, or inconsistent data could be passed to enterprise personnel and adversely affect decisions across the enterprise.


The responsibilities of the Data Steward are very different than those of the Data Custodian. The custodian is responsponsible for the safe custody, transport and storage of the data and the implementation of business rules. The steward is responsible for what is stored, how it is accessed (from a contextual perspective), and how it is mutated. The custodian is responsible for the technical environment and physical structure.


So it's pretty interesting when IT insists that it or some subset "owns" the data. I maintain that one, and mostly only one 'business' leader is accountable (as in head on a stick, accountable) when a data related disaster happens (not a server going down or a database getting corrupted, but inconsistent definitions of the same data, or data being modified without understanding downstream consequences).


As shareholders demand accountability from the board and the CEO, or the CEO demands accountability of his C-level reports, there needs to be the same accountability for data as a corporate asset.

If everyone owns the data, no one owns it, as there is no accountability.



For Additional Blog Post please check out NVISIA's Enterprise Data Management Page

Topics: Data Management

Written by Mike Vogt

Mike Vogt is a Director on NVISIA's data management team.

Leave a Comment