data governance roles and responsibilities

If you’re at the beginning of your data governance journey, one of the very first steps you’ll need to take is to identify who in your organization will be part of the data governance team.

Appointing the wrong people to key roles can cause the wheels to come off any well thought out initiative pretty quickly, so getting the basics right and the most effective and suitable team in place from the outset will stand you in good stead for successful data governance implementation.

In order to appoint the most appropriate people to these roles, it is important to understand what they involve and what their responsibilities will be. These are the data governance roles and responsibilities.

Executive sponsor

The executive sponsor is a senior employee who is charged with coordinating data governance activities and programs. The role of the executive sponsor is to serve as the conduit between the most senior stakeholders and the data governance lead or council and is authorized to make decisions and take actions.

The responsibilities of the executive sponsor can vary depending on the organizational culture and it depends if they take on a more passive role or a more active role. If they adopt a more active role, the responsibilities include working with the data governance team and taking responsibility for the implementation and ongoing data governance processes. It’s their job to make sure the program's goals, data governance plan and institution strategies are in alignment. Another important role is for them to create the:

  • Role of the data governance program lead (i.e. this could be the Chief Data Officer position)
  • The data governance council

It is also within their remit to secure funding for the program and ensure team members are given suitable time away from the daily duties in order to fulfil their roles within the data governance team. This means the executive sponsor need to be of relative seniority within your organization.

If they take a more passive role, their responsibilities generally only include securing funding and ensuring that the data governance’s deliverables are tied to the business priorities.

Data governance lead

The data governance lead is responsible for all aspects of defining and operating the data governance policies and supporting the multiple data domains. They are ultimately responsible for implementing the data governance program vision, promoting the role of governance and enforcing policy, while following data governance best practices.

Traditionally, this role sat under IT 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 no longer recommended.

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

  • Data governance director/ manager
  • Chief Data Officer
  • Information security and compliance lead

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

Data governance council

This is the sole role on this list that doesn't belong to an individual. It belongs to a group of individual. There are other groups as part of the data governance organizational hierarchy, but I'll cover these in a separate article.

So what is this data governance council? Simply put, it is a governing body which is responsible for the strategic guidance of the data governance program, prioritization for the data governance projects and initiatives, approval of organization-wide data policies and standards, as well as enabling ongoing support, understanding and awareness of the data governance program.

In essence, this body sets the strategic direction for WHAT the data governance program needs to accomplish and WHEN it needs to accomplish it. In contrast, the data governance leads decides how these items should be accomplished. 

Data owner

A data owner is a person within your organization that has the authority to make decisions about business term definitions, data quality, accessibility and retention requirements as they tie to the business needs.

Your data owner will also need to know, or at least be aware of, the regulations, policies, laws governing data privacy and understand the business needs and business rules, procedures, constraints, as these tie to their own area of data ownership. At least in an ideal world. More often they get advised on these things by the data governance office and data governance council

Generally speaking, when appointing a data owner, you’ll want someone that has an in-depth knowledge and a sound business understanding of the data they own. Now, we know that no one person can know everything about every bit of data from every department across a single organization. This means you are likely to have a number of data owners within your data governance program, with each responsible for the data within their own area of the business.

Data owners are usually senior managers from different business functional areas. In turn, these business areas are the main stakeholders of specific data domains. 

Data Steward

Most data stewards come from their respective business departments. You will want a data steward that knows the data and the business needs and rules that govern it, is good facilitator and has an analytical mind. Most importantly, your data stewards should be people with a working knowledge of the data and understand how it is used by the business on a day-to-day basis. Simply, your data stewards are invested in the data.

A data steward sits under a data owner and is generally appointed by the data owner to work with them or act as their representative in data stewardship domain group meetings. In the data governance hierarchy, they are part of at least one data stewardship domain group.

The data owner remains accountable, but they will delegate the day-to-day responsibility to a data steward. Data stewards often tend to be the subject matter experts but are still reasonably senior because they must be trusted by their data owner.

If you took, for example, a finance department, it is likely that the finance director or his deputy would be the data owner for all the finance data, then the head of each sub team within finance would be appointed as a data steward. 

There's also the concept of a Lead Data Steward, which are responsible for the outcomes of their data stewardship domain group and they are a conduit between data stewards and the data governance council.

Data Stakeholder

A stakeholder in any data governance program is an individual or group that could affect, or be affected by data governance decisions, processes, policies, standards, etc. The obvious examples of stakeholders are institutional researchers, data managers, data architects, and business intelligence staff.

Beyond those who are more closely related to data management roles, other groups need to be viewed as stakeholders as well. For example, a university provost who is looking at a dashboard report on the percent of faculty teaching online courses will need to know how “faculty” is defined and whether adjuncts or lecturers are being included. An effective data governance program has the right information and definitions embedded within the dashboard so that the provost can understand and correctly interpret the data.

Data governance programs need to be built to support data consumers in a wide range of groups within the institution.

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

Data Custodian

Data custodians are typically part of IT departments. This makes it fundamentally different from other roles - like data owners and data stewards - since those are all about the business.

Data custodians are usually divided further in their areas of expertise, such as: data modelling, data architecture and database administration and 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

Very simply, they're responsible for maintaining data on your systems in accordance with the businesses requirements. Being a data custodian is all about maintaining data and systems, moving data between systems, aggregating, and transforming data in accordance with the business requirements.

Data custodians tend to collaborate with data stewards and data stakeholders and can all be part of the same data stewardship domain group.

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Conclusion

From the top to the bottom of an organization, it is crucial to your data governance initiative that you identify fit a proper people to take on each of these important roles and that they also understand what role each other plays in the big picture.

Again, getting the basics right and the most effective and suitable team in place from the outset will stand you in good stead for successful data governance implementation.

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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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George Firican

11/22/2021

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