Ascent on data governance and the importance of trusted data

By Branka Subotic, Principal Data Consultant, Ascent
Data is one of the biggest assets an organisation owns. Branka Subotic, Principal Data Consultant at software experts Ascent, explains who looks after it

Branka Subotic, Principal Data Consultant at Ascent, is passionate strategic thinker, technical and people leader, with over 15 years in roles helping people focused on inspiring businesses to make sense out of data and create value. By turning data into insights, she helps executives, leaders, and customers make informed operational and business decisions.

Who owns the data? 

Data is one of the biggest assets an organisation owns - perhaps second in importance only to its people. But who looks after it? According to Subotic: "Data ownership is vital to the success of any business to ensure that accurate data is available to inform intelligent decision-making for teams at all levels.


"And even if you have some of the answers at your fingertips, getting these quickly - and consistently from a single source of truth - is typically a struggle for most businesses. If a company needs to make tough decisions around cost cutting for example, they might want to look at productivity or product performance per location or sector," she says.


But what if multiple sources of data contribute to building this overall picture - how trustable is each source? And do they offer conflicting perspectives? Cutting to the chase, Subotic says: "There is no single source of truth that can be relied on for critical decisions without proper data governance and clear data ownership.

The delineation of responsibilities around data are important for three reasons, as per Gartner’s trust-based data governance model: to support a distributed ecosystem of data and analytics assets, to acknowledge the different lineage and curation of assets, and to assist business leaders in making on textually relevant decisions with confidence", said Subotic.


When creating a data governance model

Subotic insists it’s critical for organisations to create a governance model with clearly assigned Data Owners, Data Stewards and Data Custodians, as each of these roles holds real significance:

  • A Data Owner is accountable for the specific and logical groups of data assets (for instance, data sets which constitute ‘people’ data), whether generated by the company or 3rd party. This person can be in the executive team or a senior manager with delegated authority who has a vested interest in ensuring appropriate data management.
  • A Data Steward maintains specialist knowledge in their data area, deciding appropriate use of this data, keeping records (metadata), and are the go-to person for any changes about its acquisition, transformation, storage, and consumption. They implement data strategy across the enterprise for this specific data area and carry out transformations required for these data assets.
  • A Data Custodian is responsible for a set of data, essentially as an administrator who focuses on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’ of data management. They must collaborate with the Data Steward on any technical activities that impact the data within the Steward’s scope.

She adds: "Data governance ensures an organisation assigns the right people the right data responsibilities within clear boundaries. Deciding strategy, roles, organisation, and policies around this is no different to any other element of the business. The Data Steward will execute and operationalise policies to benefit the entire organisation, not only the business function within which the Data Steward happens to sit. The Data Steward for the ‘customer’ data could easily sit in the commercial department, for instance, even though their remit is to manage customer data company-wide, benefiting everyone from Finance, Sales to Commercial".


The value of trusted data

The value of governance is immeasurable in delivering trusted data: possibly as important as the formulation of the data strategy itself, according to Subotic.

"Otherwise, a business may be creating multiple versions of truth, managing datasets in silos without coordination or consistency. Only by ensuring that data assets are formally managed will digital leaders have clarity about the business and trusted information which can be used to make rapid and meaningful business decisions," she said.

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