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Data Ownership – “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

by Jodee Hale-Schmid

July 2, 2010

Jim Whyte, Director of Solutions Consulting, Utopia, Inc.

I have been following the various conversations on my last blog ("Who Owns the Data") with quite of bit of interest. It appears I struck a chord with many of you who are struggling either to determine or explain what it means to be entrusted with the care of data, a corporate asset. A number of the contributors used terms like ownership, accountable, responsible and stewardship interchangeably – else one respondent would use one term and then the next reply would use another…

Additionally, many of the comments are starting to focus on various exceptions that exist and must be addressed regarding pure data ownership, especially around data privacy and various statutory regulations that require companies to collect information on behalf of one government agency or another. I don’t mean to discount any of the statements being made in this regard, but I am attempting to address the 80/20 rule here.

My concern is that we are losing sight of the real reason this is such a concern for so many of us and I realized that the use of the word ownership is really getting in the way of our ultimate objective. The ti tle quote for this blog is a line from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, 1600. Its meaning can be taken to be: what matters is what something is, not what it is called.

As a consultant and enterprise data architect I am often required to attempt to boil down complicated thoughts and ideas into simple non-technical terms for clients who are starting to grapple with MDM and data governance. It is one reason I use analogies and metaphors so liberally in my presentations and communications.

In light of all dialogue regarding data ownership I thought it time to go to an authoritative source regarding definitions to clear the air and gain acceptance on common terms and usage. The following terms and definitions are from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
  • own 1a: to have or hold as property: possess . Owner \ noun

  • accountable 1: subject to giving an account: answerable

  • responsible 1a: liable to be called on to answer b (1): liable to be called to account as the primary cause, motive, or agent

  • stewardship 2: the conducting, supervising, or managing of something, especially :the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care
In light of the above terms, I suggest the following:
  • The legal entity that owns the asset (data) is the corporation.

  • Within the organization, functional boundaries are established to limit and restrict authority. Each function can and will beaccountable for specific data objects.

  • Assignment of any responsibilities to individuals within a function for the care and maintenance of the aligned data can be deemed ada ta steward.
  • Each data steward will be given one or more responsibilities (tasks) to perform that they can and should be held accountable for.

  • All data stewards are not created equal, some will have more responsibilities than others and will be more accountable than most, therefore, there is a need for a data organization model that depicts the flow of control and communications within the organization.
When I am assisting a client with establishing data governance, I focus on the roles and responsibilities to be defined and establishing accountability for the various data objects and stewardship activities. I leave the titles for each of the stewardship positions to the client to determine as they know best what will resonate and be accepted within their culture and organizational structure. After all, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…

What do you think?

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