5 main data roles in data governance

I’ve previously wrote about more obscure, though intriguing, data roles I’ve encountered, but I’ve been asked several times to go over the main data roles found in a data governance program. I’ll skip the sometimes dreaded introduction and get straight to it. The 5 main data roles found in data governance programs are:

1. Data executive

Within organizations and data governance programs, the data executive function is treated differently. Traditionally, this role is sitting under the IT department and tended to be the responsibility of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or even the Chief Technology Officer (CTO). There are still quite a few organizations where this is still occurring, but it’s not recommended – that’s another topic for another day. In some other instances, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or another C-level position, such as the CEO, may be designated as having executive responsibility for data. In the past years, the data executive role had its own data specific designate, usually aptly named the Chief Data Officer. Luckily, that is a trend that picked up steam and is continue to grow – yet another topic for yet another day.

Depending on the size of the organization, its culture, needs, goals, as well as the operating model, the role could also fall onto the following:

Whomever the role is given to, its main responsibility is to provide support, sponsorship, and understanding of data governance.

2. Data owner

A data owner has the authority to make decisions about business term definitions, data quality, accessibility and retention requirements as they tie to the business needs.

You want a data owner that:

  • Knows the data they own
  • Knows or at least is aware of the regulations, policies, laws governing data privacy
  • Understands the business needs and business rules, procedures, constraints

Data owners are usually senior managers from different business functional areas. In turn, these business areas are the main stakeholders of specific data domains. When a data domain crosses multiple business areas, such as is the case with “customer”, the data ownership could fall on the plate of the data governance council. Though often, a single individual can be selected as the data owner.

Checkout these 5 data roles you might not know about (BUT SHOULD)!

3. Data custodian

Data custodians are typically part of IT departments. They are usually divided further in their areas of expertise, such as: data modeling, data architecture, database administration, etc. They are mainly responsible for maintaining, archiving, recovering, backing up data, preventing data loss/ corruption, etc.

You want a data custodian that:

  • Possesses the necessary technical knowledge, skill and experience
  • Follows good data management best practices
  • Is aware of regulations, policies, and standards governing the data they interact with

4. Data steward

Most data stewards come from their respective business departments, not IT. In fact, besides the System Data Steward, the rest tend to come from non-IT departments. Checkout the 4 different types of data stewards for more details. For organizations in the early stages of their data governance program, the data steward does not have its distinct role, but it is an added responsibility to an existing business role. In organizations at higher data governance maturity levels, data stewardship can be a duty assigned to all employees interacting with data or a distinct role. Checkout “What is data stewardship?” for some clarification on what this discipline is about.

You want a data steward that:

  • Knows the data and the business needs and rules that govern it
  • Is good facilitator
  • Has an analytical mind

5. Data stakeholder

In a sense, all employees are data stakeholders. Even if they don’t work with it, they can be impacted by it, directly or indirectly. The main data stakeholders, though, are those that are directly affected by the data in question.  They include those who create, manage and use the data.  They need to be identified accordingly (usually by data stewards) and included in data-related decisions that impact their world or sometimes only keep them informed.

You want a data stakeholder that:

  • Understands the importance of data and its impacts
  • Is collaborative and wants to be engaged
  • Is a champion in their area of expertise


For all these roles, communication skills are important, especially for the data steward. All roles need to be able to communicate their own ideas, pain points, identified risks and issues, business requirements, and goals. Of course, there will always be conflicting priorities and even different interpretations on business terms, various uses of data, and so on, but that’s where data governance and stewardship come in to help.

What data governance roles have you encountered in your program or other’s so far?

  • Suzanne Slegers says:

    Hi George, doing some data governance work for a non government organisation that spans several jurisdictions. I really like the simplicity of this article for defining clear roles for smaller organisations.
    Thank you,

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    About the author 

    George Firican

    George Firican is the Director of Data Governance and Business Intelligence at the University of British Columbia, which is ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world. His passion for data led him towards award-winning program implementations in the data governance, data quality, and business intelligence fields. Due to his desire for continuous improvement and knowledge sharing, he founded LightsOnData, a website which offers free templates, definitions, best practices, articles and other useful resources to help with data governance and data management questions and challenges. He also has over twelve years of project management and business/technical analysis experience in the higher education, fundraising, software and web development, and e-commerce industries.

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