Data Governance Roles and Responsibilities: A Round-Up

Updated February 29th, 2024
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Most organizations adopt a control-centric approach to data governance. However, they soon find that this top-down philosophy alienates users and gives data governance a bad name. Even worse, it can’t scale to meet the data demands of today’s enterprises.

A modern approach to data governance requires trusting your users. In this article, we’ll outline the various data governance roles and how they work together in a democratized and scalable data governance framework.

Various data governance roles and their responsibilities

A robust data governance team consists of data admins, stewards, custodians, and users.

The following table summarizes each of the data governance roles: Data Administrator, Data Steward, Data Custodian, and Data User.

AspectData AdminData StewardData CustodianData User
DefinitionOversees the implementation of the data governance programAct as a bridge between business and IT so that business users can access the right dataDeals with the movement, security, storage, and use of dataUses data to draw insights from it for business decision-making
Top responsibility- 1. Processes and transforms data for modeling while ensuring its integrity and usability - 2. Serves as the escalation points for resolving all data-related conflicts- 1. Helps standardize data definitions, rules, and descriptions - 2. Helps define access policies and optimize data-related workflows and communication- 1. Oversees data access and storage - 2. Identifies data stewards for various data domains and collaborates with them on data quality issues- 1. Understand the data governance policies, standards, rules, and definitions - 2. Use tools from the modern data stack to extract value from data
Technical or business?BothBusinessTechnicalBusiness
The ideal fitA seasoned or veteran data team member with a good grasp of both business and technical aspectsA senior data team member with deep domain knowledge and familiarity with the data stackA senior engineer or scientist within the data team who can navigate through the modern data stackMarketers, salespeople, researchers, senior executives, and business managers

Table of contents

  1. Various data governance roles and their responsibilities
  2. Data governance roles: Who does what?
  3. Data admin
  4. Data steward
  5. Data custodian
  6. Data users
  7. Data governance roles and responsibilities: What’s next?
  8. Related reads

Modern data stack requires a paradigm shift in thinking about data governance.

Modern data stack requires a paradigm shift in thinking about data governance. Source: Towards Data Science.

In a similar vein, Saul Judah at Gartner states,

“Responding to varying levels of uncertainty in today’s world requires speed and agility, and traditional approaches to data governance are becoming obsolete. A typical ‘one-size-fits-all,’ command-and-control-based IT governance capability has neither the scope nor the agility to meet the needs of digital business.”

Modern data stack requires a paradigm shift in thinking about data governance.

Modern business and data analytics teams require adaptive data governance. Source: Gartner

That means data governance, as we traditionally understand it, needs a paradigm shift. A major part of that shift is setting up the right data governance roles.

Data governance roles: Who does what?

A data governance team has several roles, each playing a key part in leading your businesses toward a data-centric culture.

While every organization has unique goals, needs, and structure, here are the four most common data governance roles:

  1. Data admin
  2. Data steward
  3. Data custodian
  4. Data user

Let’s explore the key facets of each data governance role and its part in shaping the data governance policy, standards, and functions.

Data admin

Who is a data admin?

Data administrators oversee the implementation of the entire data governance program and serve as the escalation points for resolving all data-related conflicts.

Functionally, a data admin is responsible for processing and transforming data into the best data models.

Roles and responsibilities of a data admin

The data governance responsibilities of a data admin are:

  • Ensure the usefulness of data: This includes overseeing data transformations, monitoring data flow within the organization, and designing data models. It also requires planning, implementing, and maintaining data repositories such as databases, warehouses, and lakes.
  • Enable data analytics for decision-making: This involves handling all training and onboarding requirements for technical and business users.
  • Ensure data integrity: This requires tracking data lineage throughout the organization to make sure that the data is credible, relevant, and updated.

Depending on the organization, data admins may also be responsible for database administration tasks, such as maintaining the data dictionary, choosing the right tools — software and hardware — and monitoring database performance.

Because data admins operationalize the entire data governance program, they should be seasoned members of the data team with a firm grasp of the business.

Data steward

Who is a data steward?

Data stewards make sure that business users can consistently access high-quality data. Here’s how the author of Disrupting Data Governance, Laura Madsen, puts it:

“Data stewards were meant to help solidify the squishy… They speak the language of IT and translate that back to the business. The role requires the patience of a kindergarten teacher and the ability to negotiate a hostage situation successfully.”

Data stewards are the bridge between business and IT. Their core function is to enable collaboration and data democratization.

Moreover, they help organizations comply with the ever-changing regulations by assessing the data governance policy, processes, and implementation.

Roles and responsibilities of a data steward

The responsibilities of data stewards vary depending on their organizations.

However, some of their primary responsibilities include:

  • Creating data assets: Data stewards own data asset creation, policies, and security.
  • Ensuring data quality: Data stewards help standardize data definitions, rules, and descriptions. This provides context to data assets. Data stewards also work with the rest of the data governance team to evaluate, manage, and monitor data quality throughout the organization.
  • Protecting the data assets: Data stewards are crucial in establishing data security protocols that align with the organization’s data governance goals, policies, standards, and compliance requirements. They also assess potential threats to data security and consult with the IT team to alleviate them.
  • Defining access policies: Access policies dictate which data users can access specific data assets. Data stewards help set them up so that the right users have access to all the data they need instantly.
  • Optimizing workflows and communications: Data stewards help data users — technical and business — search, discover, trust, and use the data they need. That’s why they play a crucial role in data collaboration and sharing.

When hiring data stewards for data governance roles, you should look for a senior data team member who blends engineering or analytics skills with their business acumen and deep domain knowledge.

Also, read -> Data steward vs. data owner

Data custodian

Who is a data custodian?

Another crucial data governance role is that of the data custodian. A data custodian deals with the movement, security, storage, and use of data.

There’s no difference between a data steward and a data custodian for most businesses. However, with the growing sophistication of data governance, we’re seeing the two roles diverge.

Roles and responsibilities of a data custodian

Unlike data stewards, the role of a data custodian is more on the technical side.

Some of their data governance responsibilities include:

  • Controlling data access: Data custodians authorize and control access to data. They’re responsible for managing the technical aspects of setting up and implementing permission controls.
  • Collaborating with data stewards: Custodians identify data stewards for each data asset or domain. They also work with data stewards to fix any data quality or integrity issues.
  • Overseeing data storage: Data custodians handle the technical aspects of data storage, versioning master data, and setting up system backups and a disaster recovery plan. They also handle staffing requirements for data governance teams.

While hiring, you should look for a senior engineer or scientist within the data team capable of navigating seamlessly through the modern data stack.

Data users

Who is a data user?

The goal of data democratization is to enable the use of data within an organization. Neglecting user’s needs will doom your data democratization plans from the start. That’s why you must treat the data user as a distinct data governance role.

A data user is anyone within the organization who extracts value from data. Data users include marketers, researchers, executives, business managers, senior executives, and more.

Data users often aren’t considered in a data governance framework. But without data users, data governance is meaningless. All the other data governance team roles — data admins, data stewards, and data custodians — exist to help data users with data-driven decision-making.

Roles and responsibilities of a data user

The main role of a data user is to drive use-case implementation of data assets within the organization and champion data-driven decision-making.

The responsibilities of data users are:

  • Attend training and educational sessions on data governance, access, and use
  • Use tools such as data dictionaries, catalogs, and knowledge bases to find and extract value from data sets
  • Interact with the other members of the data governance team, such as data stewards and data custodians, to understand and use data
  • Bring the data governance team’s attention to data sets with quality or credibility issues
  • Ensure that they follow appropriate security measures to protect sensitive data

Data governance roles and responsibilities

Data governance roles and responsibilities: What’s next?

While each team member has a distinct role, these data governance roles depend on each other. Everyone must collaborate effectively to help their organization achieve its business and data goals.

Despite their unique skill sets, these roles within the data governance team achieve the best results through collaboration, sharing, and transparent communication.

Setting the right team is just one of many steps in effectively employing data governance in your organization. Want to know more?

Learn more → 6 commonly referenced data governance frameworks in 2024

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