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Data – The Gold No One Wants to Own?

In any organization you can find various ownership roles. Business Owners are responsible for profit and loss, Process Owners ensure their business processes perform and develop, Application Owners make sure their applications serve the business needs, and Service Owners keep their customers of a helpdesk satisfied, for example.

But then there is the Data Owner. What does she do?

Plenty of consultants and solution providers are happy to tell you that such role is needed. The Data Owner is in demand when data cleaning projects are started, when master data requires reorganizing, or when data needs to be migrated to a new business system.

This ownership role seems difficult to implement in many organizations. Sometimes the role is defined in too abstract terms and becomes a turf war between the “Business” and the “IT” organizations.  Often, no good candidates can be found because nobody can really answer their “What’s in it for me?” question.

This might lead to a summer worker, who got hired to do some data cleaning for an ERP rollout, becoming a de facto Data Owner.


Make Data worth owning

This avoidance of the Data Owner role a bit strange. Everyone says “Data is the new gold” – so why does nobody want to own this gold?

In fact, there is plenty to take care of for a Data Owner. Companies investing in new Data & Analytics capabilities soon discover that by setting up data catalogues and lakes, several governance challenges emerge. Who is responsible for data quality, who grants access rights to data sets, and who is the gatekeeper on compliance and security issues?

So, how to attract a candidate to become Data Owner? Simple: make it a position that reflects the value the data represents to your company.

Is “Data Owner” even the right title for the role? Information Steward, Data Governor, or what about Data Value Leader? Ultimately their title may become Data Midas – everything they touch becomes gold!


What is the real value of data?

Some companies have thought about the value data holds for them. They state on their balance sheet the value of their customer data as an intangible asset. But it is not always easy to set an exact value, so it is more important to develop a common perception in which direction the value is changing over time and what the expected return is.

By doing this, defining the mission for a Data Owner becomes simply finding answers to the question: What should be done to increase the value of our data? And the “What’s in it for me?” question gets a concrete answer with an incentive scheme related to the data value increase and/or the return on the data assets.


How to measure data value?

A qualitative data value framework could be used with indicators in four areas, described here with some example questions:


  1. The basics: Do we have basic data management in place? How well is our data usable? How easy is it to access for analytical purposes? What is the quality?
  2. Dynamics: How real-time is our data? How up-to-date is it? Are new aspects and data points systematically collected? How many new data sets have been created?
  3. Insights: Can new insights be generated from our data? How many new insights were derived since the last comparison period?
  4. Innovations: What innovations have been generated from our data? How many?


So, next time you are looking for Data Owners or Data Value Leaders in your organization, show them the gold!

About the author:

Menno Huijben is a Senior Executive at Sofigate and a concept owner of Business Technology Transformations and Data Leadership.

Menno is interested in the realm of decision-making in business, especially where data-driven meets intuition and experience. His motto is ” Don’t forget the Human Factor “