Are you asking the right questions?
Many discussions took place during the morning, the longest of which was about how you find the right people to be the data owners in your organisation. Anyone who has ever tried to implement data governance understands how important it is to have the correct people in these roles, but it can be hard to actually find them. I like to start by looking at the various departments and their relationship with a particular dataset. For example, if I was trying to find the data owner for customer data, I would start by finding out which business area feels the most pain when customer data is wrong. I ask lots of questions like:
“Who cares when the data is wrong?”
“Which team is likely to be the first to identify data quality issues with customer data?”
Some people believe that the data owner should always represent the area that captures or enters the data. In my experience, this is often the case, but you should not rule out the possibility that the owner may sit somewhere else within the organisation. Wherever they are, they must have an interest in the data, but this can be either as a data producer or as a data consumer. If they are neither of these, it is unlikely that they have sufficient interest in the quality of that data to undertake the role properly.
Will your data owner deliver what you need?
Once you have identified the department that seems to have the most interest in the data, you then can identify the individual best suited to take on the role of data owner. Remember that for them to be able to improve the quality of data, the candidate data owner needs to be suitably senior and have resources at their disposal. So select the individual in that area who has:
- The authority to change business processes and IT systems to improve data quality
- Access to budget and resources to be able to resolve data quality issues
- The ability to instigate data cleansing activities
If you find the person who fits these criteria, they are very likely to be the right person. This approach has always worked for me, although sometimes it can take you in unexpected directions. For example, when I was working with an insurance company recently I attempted to identify the data owner for customer data and I ended up following this surprising route:
- First I approached the underwriters – after all they decide who gets an insurance policy and what data is needed on the customers for that decision to be made. However, they explained to me that as their company was a high volume personal lines firm, they did not get involved with individual policies and had no interest in specific data about individual customers.
- Next, I tried the service department. These were the teams of people who speak to customers on the telephone and enter their details on the system. But again they had no real interest in the quality of the data. They did not decide what gets captured, nor did they use the data so did not feel any pain if it was wrong.
- Finally, after asking lots of people who used customer data and who cared if it was wrong, I found myself meeting one of the marketing directors. I didn’t hold out much hope that they would be the data owner of customer data, but it turns out I was wrong. In that particular company, the marketing department was responsible for sending out renewal letters to customers. If the customer data was wrong the renewals did not reach the customers and there was a strong possibility that business would be lost. As soon as I explained that I was trying to identify the data owner for customer data, they immediately agreed it was them as they had such an interest in the quality of that data.
I hope this will help you identify the correct data owners for your organisation, but remember that just because you have worked out who it should be, it does not mean that they will necessarily agree. Your next activity will be to practice your influencing and communication skills!
To find out more about how assigning the right data owners supports your wider governance framework, download my paper, ‘Squaring the circle’.