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Data Stewards Define Data Quality--Who's in Charge Here?
The importance of having a data steward and how to go about finding and appointing one.
Posted Apr 1, 2005
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Companies traditionally place data management tasks with the Information Technology department. After all, IT "owns" the systems that accumulate, transfer and store information. Any activity related to the data within these applications is usually an IT project. However, any company that has tried--and struggled--to implement a CRM system knows that an IT-centric approach is risky. The reason is simple. Installing and implementing the system is typically not the root cause of failure. Inconsistent, inaccurate, duplicate, and incomplete data can cause chaos even after the smoothest implementations.

Why do data quality problems mean the difference between success or failure of CRM projects? Oftentimes, the answer is found in the role, or lack thereof, that business users have in the ongoing management of data. After all, business users know what the data should look like; IT knows where it is and how to access it. Without cooperation and support of both the business staff and IT, the data tends not to meet the needs of the company.

The Emergence of Data Stewards
Successful CRM implementations use data stewards to bring "business sense" to the customer data quandary. Data stewards blend elements of both business and IT to build more effective and useful CRM systems. They understand the technical requirements of different applications. But, more importantly, they also recognize the business value and characteristics of data.

Data stewards assume the primary responsibility for managing the accuracy and reliability of a corporation's data. Fostering cooperation between IT and business users, data stewards can resolve disagreements between the two factions and find common ground for a CRM initiative. Data stewards are responsible for:

  • Establishing a "partnership" between business and IT
  • Analyzing and documenting existing data sources that populate a CRM system
  • Creating and documenting the business rules of a corporation during the data integration phase of a CRM project
  • Creating standards and procedures for data governance
  • Monitoring data quality over time and resolving problems

    Finding Data Stewards
    Because data stewards bridge the gap between business users and IT, employees who fill these roles need a diverse skill set. Data stewards have a basic understanding of database systems and how data is represented within different applications. They utilize data management tools to analyze data sources and find areas that need improvement.

    Data stewards complement their technical skills with a pragmatic, business-focused approach to data integrity issues. They define the appropriate business rules that insure data quality. For example:

  • Standardizing organization fields using full legal names ( e.g., "DataFlux Corporation" instead of "Dataflux"),
  • Identifying duplicate customers across systems (e.g., "Tony Fisher at 100 Main St." is the same as "Anthony Fisher at 100 East Main.)

    Data stewards build those business rules into a data management application to guide the capture and integration of data. Data stewardship programs allow companies to effectively close the gap between IT and business functions in a CRM initiative by creating and maintaining reliable data. As a result, the data steward is a critical member of any successful CRM effort.

    About the Author
    Tony Fisher is the president and general manager of DataFlux Corporation, the leading provider of end-to-end data management solutions that help companies analyze, improve and control business-critical information. Tony can be reached at tony.fisher@dataflux.com. For more information on DataFlux, visit www.dataflux.com

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