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Data Management,


Why Data Ownership is Hard!

|Chief Scientist

When it comes to keeping your database running smoothly, data ownership is a missing piece that’s too often overlooked. Even if your organization knows what data ownership is, implementing it can be a struggle. 

Data owners shoulder a lot of responsibility, and many individuals shy away from this task because of the liability. After all, if anything were to happen to the part of the database you oversee, it’s your head on the chopping block.

But for the organization, the benefits outweigh the costs and ignoring data ownership causes many more issues. Overall liability doesn’t disappear just because accountability is shunned – and not knowing who’s in charge of what is a recipe for disaster.

With that in mind, let’s examine what data ownership is exactly, some common points of failure, and what you can do to fix them.

What is Data Ownership?

Data ownership can refer to one of two things:

  • Consumer data privacy and GDPR/CCPA compliance – the data owner is the consumer who is the subject of the collected data.
  • Data management, security, and other internal operations – the data owner is an organization member who understands the value of the collected data and can ensure it’s kept safe, updated, and useful.

We’ll be using the second definition of data ownership in this article.

Data ownership is important because the owner enforces accountability, database stability, security, and – tied to the first definition – can be required for legal compliance. The data owner ensures the accuracy and quality of the data, through workflows and audits. 

But if it’s something your organization must do to function well, why is it so hard?

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1. Not Understanding Data Ownership, Data Governance, Data Stewardship, and Data Security

One of the most common issues with data management is a misunderstanding of basic data concepts. While distinguishing between data ownership’s two definitions can be difficult on its own, understanding how ownership fits in with other important concepts like governance, stewardship, and security can further complicate things.

Here’s how all these pieces fit together:

  • Data Governance determines policies, procedures, and structures to keep the database functioning.
  • Data Security is how an organization enacts those policies relating to the safekeeping of its data.
  • Data Ownership is the individual(s) an organization designates as responsible for that data.
  • Data Stewardship is the set standards an organization expects its users to follow to keep the data accurate and hygienic.

Without governance or security, ownership is a lost cause; without stewardship, ownership becomes much more difficult than necessary.

By creating clear policies, keeping data safe, and encouraging organizational users to keep data accurate, data ownership is no longer this scary behemoth that is too often ignored.

2. Failure to Find the Right Data Owner

To diversify risk, organizations may either choose not to have data owners at all or expect everyone to take on the role. Neither option is sustainable in the long- or short-term.

By not assigning a data owner, the quality and accuracy of the data suffers over time – not to mention any security issues that pop up. Assigning the wrong data owner results in those issues occurring more frequently, faster, and with greater intensity.

These issues can be further compounded when there are co-owners. In some cases more than one individual may appear as the necessary data owners; however, they may not agree on how to store and ensure the quality of data.

To find the right data owner, look to your senior users: the team leaders, department heads, and other executives who know the data intimately. These experts will not only keep the data safe and accurate but then delegate these same principles to their teams.

3. Lack of Accountability

As mentioned before, one of the main reasons organizations foregoes data ownership is a fear of accountability. After all, no one wants to carry the blame for a data breach that compromised thousands (if not millions) of consumer records. Even if you do everything right, a data breach may still occur. 

But just because the possibility of a breach exists isn’t a good excuse to avoid accountability. Arguably, enforcing accountability through data ownership makes data breaches less likely. And when a breach does happen, it’s dealt with quickly and effectively since experts and fail-safes are already in place to minimize the damage.

4. Failure to Keep Data Clean and Effective

Once a record is created, it can be all too easy to let it go stale. Unless your team knows how to keep their assigned data clean, organized, and accurate, your database’s value begins to erode at its core. 

Proper data ownership mitigates these problems by creating policies to keep data useful and up-to-date. This can include establishing rules on how often data should be updated, what data is relevant, what data can be purged, and how long to keep records that have become dormant (i.e. a former customer hasn’t engaged with your organization for years).

5. Lack of Stewardship Culture

Even if your organization has effective data owners, it shouldn’t only rely on them to keep the database running smoothly. Organizations often neglect the flip side – which includes training ordinary database users to interact with, safeguard, and update data properly.

These rules can include date formatting, which metadata to use, and which data points are needed to keep a record relevant, among many others. While it is the data owner’s job to determine what makes the data valuable, it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure it stays that way.

Improving Data Ownership with Satori

Data ownership is an important step in developing overall data governance. Satori helps organizations improve data ownership across all data stores (databases, data warehouses and data lakes). A big part of that is due to enablement of data owners to manage access and security policies to their datasets without needing data engineering interventions.

Read more about how Satori can improve data management by:

If you want to learn more about how Satori can help you streamline and ease the process of implementing data ownership, book a meeting with one of our specialists.

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About the author
|Chief Scientist

Ben is an experienced tech leader and book author with a background in endpoint security, analytics, and application & data security. Ben filled roles such as the CTO of Cynet, and Director of Threat Research at Imperva. Ben is the Chief Scientist for Satori, the DataSecOps platform.

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