Blog > December 2019 > Time to Retire the “Data Steward”?

Time to Retire the “Data Steward”?

At EVOLVE19, ASG’s annual customer event, I was involved in several interesting discussions that started me thinking about the role—and the title—of the people managing the intersection of data and business in the information economy. Is the role the same as it was a few years ago, and does the title reflect what the task should be?

The first conversation was triggered by a comment from one of our customer speakers: “Data stewards have responsibilities, but data curators have passion.” It’s an interesting idea. Data stewards are responsible for data assets and for managing problems that might arise with the collection and use of data. On the other hand, data curators are responsible for linking data assets to users and ensuring that all the value of data is discovered and accessible.

The second conversation sprang from a comment by one of our EVOLVE19 keynote speakers, who suggested that perhaps we needed data product managers, rather than data stewards. Product Management implies a structured approach to how data assets are collected, managed and used. Perhaps that is needed, as data has evolved from being a business by-product, to then being a vital resource, to now being a product in its own right.

So, what makes sense? How should you organize the function that’s responsible for making sure you get the most value out of data, with the least risk?

Defining the Data Roles

There’s a lifecycle for data assets, from the idea that triggers a need, through usage and (in a well-ordered world) to disposition. There’s a strategic portfolio management aspect for the entire inventory and a tactical lifecycle management aspect for individual data assets.

The answer may not be to pick just one role—data steward, data curator or data product manager. Perhaps you need all three roles. Depending on the size of your organization, perhaps one or more of the roles can be combined—but then it will be important to maintain a conscious awareness of which role is being exercised at any given time.
These three data roles are interesting in other ways, too. For example, in addition to interacting with each other, they interact with different parts of the business. While each role works with line of business managers, data stewards will work closely with legal and compliance teams to maintain an understanding of legal requirements and provide necessary support for audit and compliance projects. Data curators work with a wider group, but especially perhaps with marketing teams, and data product managers with other product managers.

ASG Data Intelligence includes capabilities to support all three roles. Each depends on a solid data inventory. The data steward is supported by data governance capabilities including model management and role and workflow management. A data catalog supports the data curator. Data collection, categorization and other capabilities support the emerging data product manager role.

The data roles also tend to be placed in different parts of the organization. While it’s not universally true, data stewards are often part of a team responding to the CDO or CIO. Data curators often respond to line of business leadership, and data product managers can be found in data management or product teams.]

Data Management Roles and Maturity

The emergence of the role in any given organization is related to the maturity of data management in the enterprise. First to emerge is the data steward, responsible for protecting existing data value. Next is the data curator, concerned with advocating for new uses of existing data to add to existing value. Last to arrive—and there are very few as of yet—is the data product manager, chartered with creating new value from data.

While I started writing this blog thinking that the data steward role might be in for a shakeup, I’ve come to a more fundamental conclusion. In the information economy, the role of data has changed. As a result, the organization managing the data portfolio is undergoing a major transition. The office of the Chief Data Officer is gaining influence (even the U.S. Federal Government will have a CDO Council in the next 12 months, following the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act). It will continue to be critical that enterprises focus on not only evolving technologies, but also on how people evolve in the organization.

For more about our thoughts on data maturity, download “The Journey to Realizing Value from Your Data” infographic or the “ASG Data Intelligence Maturity Model” whitepaper.