‘That Trick Never Works’: Time for New Tricks with Data Stewardship?

    “Why is it so hard for business users to get their head around ‘data stewardship’?” Gartner master data management analyst Andrew White asks in a recent post.

    I don’t know, but it’s not a new problem. Two years ago, I wrote data governance was as popular with business users as a root canal after an Initiate Systems (now owned by IBM) survey showed most companies do not have a formal, functioning data governance program.

    At the time, Forrester analyst Rob Karel, independent consultant Jim Harris of the Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality (OCDQ) blog and Information Difference President and CEO Andy Hayler said there were signs this was changing. Data governance is new and moving up the corporate agenda, they said.

    Well, it’s two years later, and while data governance is still important, one of the key components of a successful governance program — data stewardship — is apparently still very unpopular.

    “I hear all too often comments like these: Business users don’t see themselves as data stewards today; IT is having to sell the concept of data stewardship to the business,” White writes.

    He makes a very compelling argument for why data stewardship really shouldn’t be a struggle. It’s not data entry or data maintenance, he says. It’s solving business problems that are created by data issues.

    “As such, most organizations have MANY data stewards!” he states. “But they just don’t know it, or recognize it, or even talk about it. It just happens.”

    He also contends in a separate post that data stewardship should take a mere 13 minutes (more or less) a week.

    Absolutely! You’ve got to focus on the business process and the business problems they can solve. IT is like Jerry Maquire here — “Help me help you!”


    Here’s the thing: I’m not sure business users will buy it. And I’m definitely sure they’ll never buy the idea that this is not “new” work. I know I wouldn’t. I’m no semantics expert, but if I didn’t have to do it before, and now I do, well then, that’s new work.

    I have a few thoughts on why.

    I was recently talking to Rob Rowe, the senior marketing manager for MDM at Software AG. I write for, a vendor-neutral site that is, nonetheless, owned by Software AG, and I was asking him about MDM and manufacturing.

    In the course of the discussion, he made an interesting point that I think speaks to this very issue:

    “Salespeople don’t get commission by putting in data,” he said.

    Now, I know that data stewardship and data governance is not data entry. But I was around a lot of salespeople while working at newspapers, and they spent the day pounding the pavement, selling. They maybe spent an hour a day in the office, and that was for meetings or dropping off ad orders.

    That 13 minutes? Time they wouldn’t be selling. But if you think about it, they’re probably the front line for the data and have the most to lose if the data is causing problems, not just at newspapers, but at any sales-based business.

    And I know for certain salespeople aren’t the only ones busy with work that gets them paid.

    So I suspect trying to convince most business users about the virtues of data stewardship will make you feel like Bullwinkle the Moose Magician: Nothing up your sleeve, and presto! Bad results ensue.

    So maybe it’s time to revisit another tactic recommended by Steve Adler last year in, “Learn from My Mistakes.”

    He suggests you recruit a select group of business users to serve as internal compliance officers — a sort of data governance commando, if you will.

    “There are your local enablers that fix small problems every day and help business units get more value from their information,” Adler writes. “They are semantic experts and understand how glossaries are created and how politically challenging some definitions can be.”

    Failing that, I have a crazy suggestion. Granted, I have no experience whatsoever with establishing a data governance program or much else for that matter.

    But I was a temp slave for a lot of large companies, and I saw what went on and who was really in charge. So, if you ask me, you should recruit the departmental administrative assistants.

    They’re the real stewards of all the important information anyway. Plus, they’re very effective at accomplishing tasks no one else wants to do.

    I’m sure that’s just crazy talk. But it’s been years now — isn’t it time to try something new?

    Just make sure you give them a pay bump to compensate for that very valuable 13 minutes a week.

    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson is a freelance writer specializing in technology and business issues, including integration, health care IT, cloud and Big Data.

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