Businesses rely more than ever on data to improve processes, increase revenue, and make strategic decisions. But with bigger dependency comes bigger risk.
Poor data organization, low-quality data, and lack of data security can outbalance the opportunities data collection brings. On top of that, there is no point in gathering large sets of data if they’re not being put to action.
So how do you make sure your data works for you, not against you?
That’s where data stewardship comes in.
What is data stewardship?
Data stewardship is the practical management of a business’s data, from when it’s created to when it’s deleted. This practice makes and keeps data accessible, usable, and secure following the business’s data governance policies.
Data stewardship vs. data governance
Data governance refers to the rules a company sets for itself regarding the access, usage, and manipulation of its data, while data stewardship oversees and enforces the practical application of those rules. The person responsible for overseeing and enforcing these rules is called a data steward.
What is a data steward?
A data steward ensures that all data is handled according to the company’s data governance policies. They oversee and document:
- What data gets created or captured
- Where and how that data is stored
- Who can access it
- How it’s used and manipulated
- Identify and address data quality issues
- Enforce data policies
- Educate others within the company on data best practices
- Spot ways in which a business can use its data to gain competitive advantages
Because of their responsibilities, data stewards often act as intermediaries between IT and other departments. They must be technically skilled, and also need to be great communicators.
Smaller companies often don’t have a dedicated data steward. In this case, data stewardship is often divided among multiple people and/or (partly) outsourced.
On the contrary, bigger companies can have multiple data stewards. These can be assigned to either a specific type of data (vertical stewardship), or to a specific business unit or department (horizontal stewardship).
Why is data stewardship important?
It has become easier than ever for businesses to gather data. This ease comes with just as much responsibility as opportunities. For data to be of use, it needs to be quality-checked, organized, analyzed, made accessible, and kept easily consumable.
Aside from having a solid data management plan, companies need to keep their data safe. Data security is more important than ever, and not complying with data laws can get companies into serious trouble.
Data stewardship addresses all of these considerations and more. Let’s have a look.
Data stewards keep an eye on data lineage. They track where each piece of data comes from, where it’s stored, and how it’s used. This allows them to trace data issues back to the moment they originated, which can be helpful when problems arise.
Data stewardship also entails establishing and tracking data quality metrics, validating data, and making corrections where needed, as well as removing any possible duplicates.
All of these activities lead to higher-quality data, which means there is less risk of faulty decision-making and mistakes across the company, as everyone is working with better data.
CRM data is a good example of data that can quickly deteriorate in terms of quality. People move, sign up with email addresses they barely use, or have different accounts with different email addresses. Good data stewardship will spot these issues and solve them so your marketing team doesn’t, for example, send the same email campaign to the same customer twice.
Data security and privacy
Guaranteeing the quality of data is one thing. Keeping it safe is another. It’s rare for someone to require access to a company’s entire database. So, one of the responsibilities of data stewardship is to control data access.
Not only does this keep data as confidential as possible, it also limits the risk of data being mishandled and corrupted.
Lastly, data stewards monitor whether all necessary procedures are in place and followed to keep data within the company. This way, they can prevent security breaches and avoid incidents in which data is stolen or—less severe but still undesirable—shared with the wrong people.
Say your marketing manager hires a freelance email marketing specialist to improve your email funnels. That freelancer will need access to your existing marketing funnels, but they shouldn’t be able to export your entire email list and all the identifiable lead data it contains.
There are legal risks involved with owning data. Good data stewardship protects against those risks. Data stewards not only make sure their company complies with all relevant data-related laws, such as GDPR and CCPA, they also train others within the company to do the same.
Furthermore, data stewardship can help drive compliance conversations by communicating openly with regulators about data practices and challenges.
Improved processes and decision-making
Because data stewards have both technical insight into the creation, storage, and manipulation of data, and a solid understanding of the company’s workings, they can help different departments get the most out of the data available.
That includes helping teams streamline processes, improve workflows, and make better strategic decisions. Oftentimes, the insights gained from data stewardship can even lead to a competitive advantage as companies gain deeper knowledge of their markets and target audiences through data analysis.
Say you run a SaaS business, and your marketing team regularly runs surveys to gauge how satisfied your customers are with your product features on a scale of 1 to 10. That information is highly valuable to your development team as well, as it can help them determine what to prioritize. However, your development team might not pay attention to the surveys your marketers are conducting.
In this case, a data steward can build a bridge between the two departments and suggest your developers include this new type of data as part of their task prioritization process.
Data stewardship, non-negotiable
The importance of data stewardship can’t be overestimated. This practice oversees all ways in which data is handled within your company (including your CRM) and ensures that data is of the highest possible quality.
This enables companies to avoid errors, optimize processes, be innovative, and gain competitive advantages. It also helps businesses improve their strategic decisions, prevent data security issues, and stay on the right side of the law.
Regardless of company size and role divisions, it’s crucial that data stewardship is not just a function, but a company value that is understood and supported by everyone. Managing, monitoring, and safeguarding data becomes a lot easier when everyone follows best practices.
Protecting data hygiene is a key element of successful data stewardship. For a step-by-step guide to cleaning your CRM data, check out our eBook: “The Dirt on Data Quality.”
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