How To Find The Right Data Owners

One of the items on my free Data Governance Checklist is “Define roles and assign responsibilities”. Now that is a generic statement that covers a number of different roles, but the role which I always start with (and believe that you should too) is that of Data Owner. By that, I mean the senior individuals in your organization who are accountable for the quality of one or more data sets. And don’t get worried if you have decided to call that role something else – that is perfectly acceptable and the naming of roles is something that I covered in this old blog: A Rose By Any Other Name.

At the Data Governance Clinics that I run one of the most frequent questions is how you find the right people to be the Data Owners in your organization. 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 identify them. So I thought I would share a simple approach that I use for identifying the correct data owners:

I like to start by looking at the various departments and their relationship with a particular dataset. 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 sometimes the case, but you should not rule out the possibility that the owner may sit somewhere else within the organization.

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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.

Once you have identified the department that seems to have the most interest in the data, you can then 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 the data, the candidate Data Owner needs to be suitably senior and have resources at their disposal. So identify 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 Data Owner. This approach has always worked for me, although sometimes it can take you in unexpected directions. For example, in one Personal Lines Insurance Company when I was trying to identify the Data Owner for Customer Data I ended up following this 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.

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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 organization, 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!

Remember that finding the right Data Owners is only one of the items on my free Data Governance Checklist, you can download the checklist here to see what other activities you need to be doing to implement Data Governance successfully.

Originally published on

Nicola Askham

I am an independent data management consultant. My experience in coaching both regulatory and non-regulatory organisations to design and implement full data governance frameworks, is unique within the Data Governance field. The coaching approach enables organisations to self manage the process beyond initial implementation, leaving them with a sustainable data governance framework. My coaching and Data Governance training workshops ensures that your data governance framework is embedded as an integral part of your business as usual policy. The benefit for you is that once the framework is in place your organisation will be confident, competent and compliant. I have worked in Data Management for twelve years, initially for a leading UK Bank, before becoming a consultant at the beginning of 2009. Most recently I have spent most of my time delivering data governance for Solvency II, but I also run Data Governance Training courses and coach organisations to implement data governance themselves. I am a Director and Committee Member of DAMA UK (I lead Phase 1 of the Data Quality Dimensions Working Group), on the Expert Panel of and regularly write and present internationally on data governance best practice. I regularly present both at home and internationally. I presented at the MDM Summit, the Business Analysis Conference and the Collibra European User Group in London and Enterprise Data World, Enterprise Dataversity and the IDQ Summit in the US in 2014. I presented at the Experian Data Quality Insurance Summit in March, deliverd tutorials and presentations at the Data Governance Conference in London in May, at DGIQ in San Diego in June and presenting at the Stibo MDM event in Berlin in October. I will be presenting next at the IRMUK EDBI Conference in London in November. Specialties: Data Governance, Master Data Management, Data Quality

3 Responses

  1. Robin Smith says:

    This is excellent guidance but how do I resolve conflicts where individuals will not accept responsibility? Theres a lot of buck passing in large organizations and pinning people down is a headache.

  2. Hi Robin, Thanks for your comment. What you describe is common and there are lots of different techniques/tactics I use depending on the circumstances. The easiest one is to make sure that the target Data Owner is the one who feels the most pain if that data is wrong and then ask them if they would be happy for someone else to be making decisions about that data.

    Hope that helps.

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