Virtually every organization aspires to be data-driven. But harvesting and using data brings with it great responsibilities. Organizations that embrace the role of data stewards can gain competitive advantage in achieving maximum value from data.

Good data is arguably the most important factor in generating profits and identifying new opportunities. Conversely, the misuse of data can upend corporate and brand reputations, and tarnish employee and customer relations, especially as organizations leverage AI. Good data stewardship is therefore essential, including creating and overseeing data policies, reviewing data usage, enforcing rules, and ensuring long-term preservation.

Responsible data management drives customer trust

A data steward ensures that an organization excels in managing and protecting data, is transparent in its use, and communicates effectively with employees and customers as to how its data usage impacts their digital interactions.

Data stewardship provides organizations with the framework and context to be good digital citizens, upholding and promoting the responsible use of technology. It’s becoming increasingly critical as business transformation focuses on digital customer acquisition and retention, and the continually changing expectations of what good experiences should look like.

When used properly, data can help organizations deliver relevant, personalized, and innovative experiences. It is important for consumers and employees to have a degree of choice and control around what data they entrust to companies. Ultimately, data drives customer experiences and retention, as well as boosts company trust, revenue and brand longevity.

The EU’s General Privacy Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has increased the need for effective data stewardship and has inspired similar efforts around the globe, including the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), along with industry efforts to enforce privacy, such as by phasing out third-party tracking cookies. Particularly as the use of cloud computing grows, companies need awareness policies and control over where their data will be stored in order to avoid sanctions, penalties, and reputational damage. Organizations must understand and follow data collection and storage regulations for each country in which they do business.

Meanwhile, companies are trying to derive intrinsic value from new sources of data, including unstructured data such as social media and image files, but utilizing these sources can be a double-edged sword, extending into unchartered territory. The sheer growth of the enterprise data landscape can result in greater complexity, missed opportunities and greater organizational  risk from regulatory fines.

Beware of gaping data silos

Data silos can disrupt data stewardship. Often, an organization’s multiple business units have little understanding of what data is held in the other divisions and units. resulting in disparate data management. Data stewardship entails more than just imposing data governance regimes — it’s also about ensuring the business  can extract maximum value and utility from information.

“Organizations should use modern technologies and data stewardship practices to make governance effective but enforcement less obtrusive,” writes David Stodder, director of TDWI Research for business intelligence.

“Good stewardship requires careful and responsible management,” adds Scott Schlesinger, senior vice president and global data practice leader at technology integration firm Ness Digital Engineering. “A good steward manages and controls data while granting access where, when and by whom it’s needed.”

Central repositories and customer experience data platforms make it easier for enterprises to combine data from multiple channels and harness it across the business. That’s essential for ensuring adequate data visibility so the business stays within its governance framework. Employees need to be kept informed regarding how data management is affected by new and updated technology, regulatory changes, and consumer perceptions. At minimum, organizations should be reviewing how customer data is being managed across their enterprises, how often data management policies are updated, and how those policies are enforced.

Any qualified person within an organization can be appointed as a data steward. But it is incumbent on CIOs and their C-suite peers to ensure that stewardship is a fundamental underpinning of each organization’s business strategy. Achieving maximum value from data and affirming the expectations of customers and employees is essential for competing in the digital era.

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