Data Governance – Do Job Titles Matter?

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by Janine Joseph


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We all know the model – the industry standard enterprise Data Governance model. We’ve seen different flavors of this framework and we’ve probably tried to tailor this to fit our own company’s culture. We know we need a Data Governance Council, Data Stewards, etc., but have we aligned job titles to this model? Do we have industry standard job families that ensure we have long-term career growth? Or, as I suspect, do we need to build job families specific to Data Governance?

You may be wondering why I started asking myself these questions. It started rather simply – somebody asked me how I would set up an enterprise Data Governance organization. After 15+ years working in the discipline I knew the approach I’d recommend. However, when I searched for information, I could not find the supporting collateral for my recommendation.

I then sought out information from my peers and mentors. Having worked in Data Governance for so long, I had plenty of people to reach out to and query. Unfortunately, in most cases I felt they were bumping up against the same issues I was facing. When I saw Tony Shaw’s post last week on “Job Titles in Transition”, I finally decided to commit my own thoughts to writing.

I believe this is an important conversation to take forward to the Data Governance community. I believe we have a responsibility to grapple with these types of questions and see how our collective experiences, successes, and challenges mold our discussions and decisions. To help start the conversation I will ask you to first think about how your organization defines a Data Steward. What does your company’s job description look like? Do you even have a job description for a Data Steward? Are your Data Stewards in leadership positions or are they individual contributors?

Now that you are thinking about your organization’s practice, let me offer what I believe are some of the common thoughts about Data Stewards:

A Data Steward is

  • A federated role
  • Responsible to organize and run domain working groups
  • An expert on a specific data domain
  • Responsible for business metadata and ensuring data quality
  • A role only 1, at most 2, people have per domain

A Data Steward is not

  • Centralized
  • A full time job
  • A business, data or process analyst
  • A job description
  • A job family

These are only a sampling of statements, but I believe these provide the context for this discussion. With this in mind, I want to learn what industry standard job title is available for the centralized role responsible for the development and maintenance of your Data Governance efforts? I believe many of us have adopted the idea of a Data Governance Office (DGO) to help with this type of work, but what job titles are the individual contributors given in this type of team? If not Data Steward, then what is the job title? Without an industry standard I can certainly create something unique to my company, but then my human resources department cannot perform any type of market analysis.

These are the people responsible to build the governance foundations for the enterprise and are critical to managing the effort over time – clearly a key position for success. But what job title has the industry adopted? How does a person intentionally start their path toward a career in Data Governance without this type of job family? How do we build a career in this discipline without this information?

But even within the accepted role of a Data Steward there seem to be several definitions adopted. Most frequently this role is defined as a leader – a high level decision maker. However, there is also a type of Data Steward that is a SME – an individual contributor. Even within this industry accepted role, we do not seem to have consistency on the definition or how it is positioned within organizations. Also, most of the time Data Stewardship is seen as a hat a person wears, not a job title. Therefore, if one of these roles is correctly defined as the Data Steward, then what is the correct name for the other role? And when we consider all the tasks and responsibilities we expect from a Data Steward, is it time to re-think how we position this within a Data Governance organization?

I chose to use Data Steward as an example in this conversation because it is one of the only industry standard job titles available, but this discussion extends beyond this role. How many job titles do we have? How many do we need? I believe these are great questions for us to tackle.

While I wouldn’t recommend we have a plethora of Data Governance job titles, I do see room for improvement. Without the appropriate job families I believe we will often be stymied. I also believe we need to consider how these job titles mature as we execute through the many phases of standing up successful Data Governance. I feel our discipline has matured to the point where we should consider enhancing our job titles to reflect the important and unique work we truly perform.

I believe that once we start looking at job titles, it will also help us understand what a Data Governance organization looks like in its infancy vs. a mature state.  Are there different job titles an emerging Data Governance effort should have that are not needed in a mature state? Should this type of growth be reflected in a job family?

If you believe as I do that our discipline is specialized enough to deserve its own job families then it seems to me that tackling these question would be a valuable endeavor. I also believe we owe it to ourselves to solve this challenge. While Java is Java no matter where you live or work, data is not data and we need to capture the distinct skills required for our discipline in order to build our future.

I will now ask my question again, what job title is available for the individual contributors within Data Governance? Do we need to redefine existing roles or do we need to create something new? Does a job title matter? I believe it does.

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