Who Is A Data Steward And What Are Their Roles And Responsibilities?

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One of the simplest definitions of data steward comes from the problem statement posed by authors Tom Davenport and Jill Dyché in their 2013 research study, ‘Big Data in Big Companies’:

“Several companies mentioned the need for combining data scientist skills with traditional data management virtues. Solid knowledge of data architectures, metadata, data quality and correction processes, data stewardship and administration, master data management hubs, matching algorithms, and a host of other data-specific topics are important for firms pursuing big data as a long-term strategic differentiator.”

A Data Steward is responsible for the management and proficiency of data stored in an organization. Big organisations expect data stewards to expertly handle all things related to data processing, data policies, data guidelines and administer the organisation’s valuable information in compliance with policy and regulatory obligations.

What is the role of a Data Steward?

Simply put, the data steward is called as the “go to” guy for everyone who works with data in the organisation. The data steward knows how the data is collected, maintained, and interpreted in and out. The job revolves around, but is not limited to, the following questions:

  • Why is this particular data important to the organisation?
  • How long should the particular records (data) be stored or kept?
  • Measurements to improve the quality of that analysis

In chaotic environments with highly distributed systems and projects, a data steward becomes a central point of contact for increasingly complex and growing data volumes. In companies where roles are vague, data stewardship assigns decision rights around data, that is, enforcing accountability.

Sort of like Alfred.

What are the responsibilities of a Data Steward?

Data stewards’ responsibilities can be grouped into the following four main areas:

  • Operational Oversight

One of the key duties of a data stewards their role in overseeing the life cycle of a particular set of data. Specifically, data stewards are responsible for defining and implementing policies and procedures for the day-to-day operational and administrative management of systems and data — including the intake, storage, processing, and transmission of data to internal and external systems. As a part of the oversight for institutional data, the data steward must be accountable to define and document data and terminology in a relevant glossary. This includes ensuring that each critical data element has a clear definition and is still in use.

  • Data Quality

Data stewards are ultimately responsible for establishing data-quality metrics and requirements, including defining the values, ranges, and parameters that are acceptable for each data element. They also work with the team to establish procedures for detection and correction of data-quality issues and collaborate to establish policies, procedures, and internal controls affecting the quality of data. In addition, data stewards engage in the ongoing and detailed evaluation of data quality, the identification of anomalies and discrepancies, and the contribution of expertise to understand the root cause and implement corrective measures.

  • Privacy, Security, and Risk Management

One of the more challenging aspects for data stewards is the protection of data. They must establish guidelines and protocols that govern the proliferation of data to ensure that privacy controls are enforced in all processes. To be effective, the data steward must compile retention, archival, and disposal requirements and ensure compliance with institutional policy and regulations. Accordingly, the data steward will establish and implement data curation practices to ensure that the life span of data is commensurate with requirements. However, data stewards must protect data while striking a balance between transparency and privacy.

  • Policies and Procedures

Data stewards define policies and procedures for access to data, including the criteria for authorization based on role and/or the individual. Working closely with data custodians to establish controls, stewards evaluate any suspected or actual breaches or vulnerabilities in confidentiality, integrity, or availability and report them to management or information security personnel.

What does it take to be a Data Steward?

With a crucial but inconspicuous role to play in organisation, a professional attempting to the role of a data steward must have the following qualifications:

  • Programming expertise
  • Rational database proficiency
  • Data modelling
  • Data warehousing concepts
  • Technical writing
  • Formal technical education
  • Business acumen
  • Foresight

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Prajakta Hebbar
Prajakta is a Writer/Editor/Social Media diva. Lover of all that is 'quaint', her favourite things include dogs, Starbucks, butter popcorn, Jane Austen novels and neo-noir films. She has previously worked for HuffPost, CNN IBN, The Indian Express and Bose.

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