Who Owns the Data

Who Owns the Data

Who owns the data at higher education institutions? Information Technology (IT) Department or  the specific functional department like Admissions, Human Resources, Institutional Research or everyone at the institution? Of course, the answer is multiple departments and everyone at the institution. It is a shared ownership. From the top down there needs to be a data driven culture at the higher education institution. Everyone at the institution needs to understand their role regarding data. The responsibilities of the departments and the individuals should be clearly defined. Arguing about ownership is divisive, distractive, inefficient, ineffective, costly and destructive.



Policies and the tools used for data governance (such as the Data Cookbook by IData) should be aligned to the needs of the institution.  Data creation, import, export, maintenance and entering must align with business drivers.   Data must be managed over its life cycle.  To be effective, data needs to be standardized, organized and documented.  Data must be managed in a way that is transparent and intelligible to the institution.  It takes a team effort to be successful.

IT Department owns the tactical execution of how the institutions manages data.

Some of their data responsibilities could include:
  • Providing tools that are used to manage the data which includes a business glossary which is accessible containing functional and technical meta data as well as does lineage tracking and impact analysis
  • Backing up the data
  • Managing security access to the data
  • Creating reporting/dashboards on the data
  • Assisting with bulk imports and exports of data
  • Keeping servers running
  • Making sure software is functioning for day-to-day business transactions
  • Building, maintaining and understanding the institution’s data structures
  • Working with Functional Department on resolving data issues which could include fixing import scripts, modifying code and going into the database to make changes

IT staff play an important role in data governance at the institution but lacks the requisite knowledge of the data point definitions and uses of the data. IT Department should indeed be included on the data ownership team representing the institution’s technology focus, including the hardware and software considerations, data security and data integrity factors.

Functional Department consumes institutional data as a part of their day-to-day responsibilities and thus are in the best position to validate the data being reported and improve data collection practices. Each functional department needs to be the custodian of the data it generates and uses to conduct its business.

Functional department’s data responsibilities could include:

  • Setting data related priorities (new reports needed, changes to existing dashboards, new fields, etc.)
  • Reviewing reports/dashboards and distributes information to the appropriate individuals or organizations
  • Determining who has access to their data (work with IT Department on this)
  • Maintaining the integrity of the data they use
  • Ensuring that the data is viable for making decisions
  • Creating data quality rules and does data quality assessments
  • Working with IT Department on resolving data issues and determining root cause
  • Providing data stewards who can assist others with data issues

Functional Department staff play an important role in data governance at the institution but often lack the technology skills to maintain and provide access to the data. Functional Department should indeed be included on the data ownership team representing the institution’s information focus, including data validation.
Institutions need to avoid cleaning up the data every month without ever addressing the root cause of the poor data quality. This will take the efforts of the functional department (normally the official data steward) who knows the data and the IT Department that maintains the data. Reason for the issue could be anything such as lack of ownership, no clearly defined standards, no audits, no data validation, technical limitations, poor training, inaccurate definitions or incorrect business process.

Everyone is a data steward even if not officially assigned. Tools exist, such as the Data Cookbook, make it easy for all to be involved in the data stewardship of the data. Everyone at the institution needs to know who to contact (the appropriate data steward) and know the appropriate processes for data requests and reporting data quality issues.

Some examples:
  • If the CRM database has data quality issues, the marketing campaign to prospective students will be ineffective. The Admissions Department must work with the IT Department to resolve as the issues might be caused by incorrect integration or bad importing of contacts.
  • A new employee reviews a report and is unclear of the meaning of a field. They look at the definition of the field and it is still unclear. The new employee should make a request to their data steward for a better definition (even suggesting one if able to).
  • A staff member realizes that they could make better decisions if additional information was put on their daily dashboard. This person should make a data request via the appropriate process with clear information so that the IT Department who created the dashboard can make the appropriate change.
  • If a data quality issue is found it is everyone’s responsibility to inform the appropriate person (the official data steward) so that it can be resolved quickly (and possibly the root cause can be fixed).

Hope this blog helps in stating the benefits of a team effort regarding data governance at a higher education institution.

IData has a solution, the Data Cookbook, that can aid the employees and the institution in its data governance. IData also has experts that can assist with data governance, reporting, integration and other technology services on an as needed basis. Feel free to contact us and let us know how we can assist.

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(image credit StockSnap_KQHXTQZKGW_OwnData_BP #1038)

Jim Walery
About the Author

Jim Walery is a marketing professional who has been providing marketing services to technology companies for over 20 years and specifically those in higher education since 2010. Jim assists in getting the word out about the community via a variety of channels. Jim is knowledgeable in social media, blogging, collateral creation and website content. He is Inbound Marketing certified by HubSpot. Jim holds a B.A. from University of California, Irvine and a M.A. from Webster University. Jim can be reached at jwalery[at]idatainc.com.

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