Data stewards are vital to the management and use of an organization's data operations.
A data steward helps guarantee data quality, accuracy and consistency. They oversee governance policies, monitor compliance and maintain data documentation. They also drive collaboration and solve data-related challenges.
"By facilitating data sharing and championing data-driven decision-making, data stewards contribute to organizational success while safeguarding trust, security and compliance in the data system," said Srujan Akula, CEO of The Modern Data Company, a data management software developer.
This article will look at the different types of data stewards and the responsibilities they handle, from data quality to security. Stewards also share similarities with data pipeline managers, but one does not make the other redundant.
Who is a data steward?
Depending on the size of the company and its approach to data management, there can be multiple data stewards. Organizations can employ different types of data stewards based on their specific needs and data management goals, Akula said.
"Domain data stewards focus on data quality and governance within specific domains. Technical data stewards focus on data quality and governance within technology infrastructure," Akula said. "Additionally, organizations may benefit from employing master data stewards to oversee organization-wide data governance policies and practices."
Organizations may have data stewardship practices under other titles as well: department heads, systems operations, business analysts, data engineers, data scientists and analytics engineers.
Irrespective of their roles, the data stewards' primary responsibility is the same: to manage data as an enterprise asset. The positions listed often align with departments like security, governance, compliance, IT, finance, marketing and human resources, said Emre Saglam, senior director of security and compliance at open data lakehouse provider Dremio.
"In the end, a business's data needs can only be synthesized by interacting efficiently within these departments to deliver value to the organization," he said.
A data steward's responsibilities
Smaller data-driven companies may have a single data steward, while in larger organizations the role may be split across several people and departments. The most common types of data stewards are data governance, data security, data integration, data quality and data domain stewards, Saglam said.
Responsibilities may vary depending on the organization, but the core focus on managing quality, accuracy and consistency of data is the same.
"In order to perform these [responsibilities] efficiently, a data steward should be able to dive deep into topics like defining data policies and procedures, data quality management, data governance and security, and most of the time, the analysis of the data assets," Saglam said.
A data steward's responsibilities include the following:
Data cataloging. Data stewards maintain dictionaries and documentation and ensure data assets are accurately described and discoverable.
Data stewards are crucial to streamline data access, promote data sharing and foster data-driven decision-making across the organization. Facilitating a comprehensive, well-organized and easily navigable data catalog achieves these goals.
Monitoring data usage. They oversee data quality, ensure data compliance with data governance policies and track data-related usage patterns.
By vigilantly monitoring data, data stewards identify and address potential data-related issues, maintain security and privacy standards, and contribute to the organization's data-driven culture and decision-making process.
Optimizing workflow. This responsibility involves collaboration with stakeholders to identify data-related bottlenecks and streamline data access and sharing.
Data stewards develop efficient data management practices and governance policies, which fosters a data-driven culture.
Srujan AkulaCEO, The Modern Data Company
Ensuring data security and compliance. To adhere to privacy regulations and safeguard sensitive information, data stewards implement and monitor data governance policies.
Data stewards collaborate with stakeholders to identify and mitigate potential security risks and maintain a high standard of data protection. This is a crucial role to preserve an organization's reputation and trustworthiness.
Overlap with data pipeline management
The focus on data quality, compliance and security intersects with data pipeline management.
"Both roles collaborate to streamline data access and sharing, and establish governance policies, fostering a data-driven culture," Akula said. "By working in unison, data stewards and pipeline managers contribute to a robust, efficient and compliant data ecosystem that bolsters informed decision-making and maximizes business value."
Whether data stewardship is a standalone role or folded into business analyst, analytics engineer or other jobs, it is not a substitute for data pipeline management. However, the fact the two roles overlap can be mistaken for redundancy and duplication of effort. Proper alignment of these positions ensures data flow management connects to business needs.
The analytics engineer is key to helping the business analyst and their stakeholders get their data in the right shape, frequency and volume, said a former director of technology at an enterprise content and management services provider. This enables them to make critical decisions and drive the business forward.
Best practice advice
Data stewards should review their practices regularly so they can adapt as business needs evolve, and benefit from lessons learned. The right tools ensure that all benchmarks for data quality and data-driven decision-making are met.
"You must take the time to ensure your data steward strategy aligns with the organization's overall goals and objectives," Akula said. "It's a constant iterative cycle: Regularly review and refine your data stewardship practices."
Along the way, be careful not to control data in a way that stymies usage.
Avoid locking down data, limiting sources and restricting access to data, said the former director of technology. Otherwise, it can lead to data silos, gaps in understanding and a lack of collaboration between teams and departments. Organizations should build a data stewardship strategy around what insights and outcomes they desire from the data.
The data steward role often does not include a data steward title because the individual has a broader scope of responsibilities, such as marketing oversight and being the steward of marketing data.
Jenny Moshea, CIO of Sellen Construction recruited many types of individuals for data steward roles in her tenures at larger companies. Since Sellen Construction, a construction company in Seattle, is a much smaller entity that has not yet appointed data stewards, Moshea created a data squad of technical data-minded people. This group includes anyone in the organization interested in data. Moshea can monitor how members want to use data.
This strategy helps her ensure everyone is doing what they're supposed to do and they have best practices to guide them. This group showcases what it does and creates quick proofs of concept. While there is no data steward title here, Moshea said the data squad functions as the expert in the data domains of HR, marketing, business or accounting as the company grows its data operations.
"We're exploring how we form around data governance and data policies so that we can make tradeoff and investment decisions for the future state of our data system," Moshea said.
Data stewards help ensure that data gets the treatment that an important company asset should. They're concerned about data access, governance, quality and sharing. Collectively, the different types of data stewards advance business goals through good data use.
There's no one-size-fits-all data steward role -- which is a good thing. Organizations need the flexibility to ensure they have the right people, processes and technology in place to succeed as an insight-driven organization.