The Data Steward And The Pain

Identifying Data Stewards Data Governance Data Owners

While researching for my Data Governance fairy story blogs, I enlisted the help of one of my god daughters and when riffling through one of her fairy tale books I came across a story for which it is easy to see the analogy with the real world activity of identifying the correct people to be Data Stewards or Data Owners. Anyone who has tried to do this knows that it is rarely an easy task. When reading the Princess and The Pea, by Hans Christian Andersen, I was struck as to how the solution to the problem is the same. It’s all a question of sensitivity….

For those of you who have forgotten the story (or have never come across it before) the premise of the story is as follows (summarised from Wikipedia):

A prince wants to marry a princess, but is having difficulty finding a suitable wife. Something is always wrong with those he meets, and he cannot be certain they are real princesses. One stormy night a young woman drenched with rain seeks shelter in the prince's castle. She claims to be a princess, so the prince's mother decides to test their unexpected guest by placing a pea in the bed she is offered for the night, covered by 20 mattresses and 20 featherbeds. In the morning the guest tells her hosts that she endured a sleepless night, kept awake by something hard in the bed; which she is certain has bruised her. The prince rejoices. Only a real princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through such a quantity of bedding. The two are married.

This story has been retold many times with additional details added to the original. In many versions there is a list of identifying characteristics of real princesses and these are embodied in the "real princess test":

 A real princess must possess:

- Politeness to one and all

- Kindness to rich and poor

- Very sensitive skin 


In the story it is very hard to find a true princess, but easy to identify imposters because it is very easy to act the first two characteristics but hard to fake the third. This is not too dissimilar to finding the correct data steward with the test to find a true data steward reading something like this: 

A Data Steward must:

  • Be a subject matter expert for the data in question
  • Have the authority to make changes to that data
  • Feel the pain if the that data is wrong or of poor quality 

There may be many people in your organisation who have varying degrees of knowledge about various subsets of data. Many people may believe that they can (and do) change the data (and that is certainly true before a data governance framework has been implemented), but if you don’t feel the pain if that is data wrong – do you really care about fixing it?

Many people make the mistake of assuming that “IT” should own the data since it resides on systems which they provide – but they have no interest in what the data is, they build and support systems to meet business requirements. Alternatively there is a widely held view that data stewardship should reside within the area that captures the data. Depending on how your company operates, this could work well but you also may find that the people who capture the data have no understanding of actually what the data is used for. If this is the case they are unlikely to have an appreciation of the impact of capturing data incorrectly.

However, if you find the person who is sensitive to poor quality data (for example, in my experience the Marketing Department rarely capture customer contact details, but have the most problems when customer emails and telephone numbers are missing or incorrect) they are usually the correct person to be a Data Steward.

With my pragmatic hat on, I have to say that this Data Steward test is not infallible and is not true one hundred percent of the time, but the vast majority of the time you will find that in your quest to find Data Stewards it’s all a matter of sensitivity.

So remember when talking to potential Data Stewards to ask if they feel the pain!


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