Key skills to look out for when hiring a data steward

A data steward supervises the collection, maintenance, and interpretation of the data within an organization.

The role of a data steward can be vast. However, it mainly revolves around managing the data assets and establishing proficiency in the stored data. Recently, the formal position of a data steward is becoming widely accepted and crucial for organizations, especially with the amount of data available.

The job title and responsibilities may vary from company to company. For example, a small organization may assign stewardship duties to some of its existing employees who have an understanding of the subject. On the other hand, enterprise teams may hire dedicated data stewards for their data lifecycle management activities.

What does a data steward do?

A data steward works as a coordinator to track the movement and storage of data inside an organization, as well as a corrector who knows and executes the internal rules and defines data usage contexts. The role of a data steward may include (and is not limited to) the following:

  • Understanding the data possessed by an organization and managing different data collection sources and interpretation processes 
  • Maintaining the quality of the data collected, stored, and used within the organization
  • Understanding, documenting, and enforcing the organization’s rules for data collection, storage, and analysis
  • Execution of the policies and ensuring adherence of business users to specified data standards under the data governance program of the organization
  • Managing several assets and metadata to ensure the correct data access to the right users at the right time
  • Understanding current processes and creating & implementing better procedures for the collection of appropriate data, storage, usage, security, and disposal
  • Helping the organization to identify ways to utilize business data to drive enterprise objectives and gain a competitive advantage
  • Becoming the focal point of contact between the technical and business sides of an organization

Why is a data steward key to business success?

In the current times, there is no limit to the amount of data you can have. But, simultaneously, as it continues to be a vital asset, managing and compiling massive information is becoming more and more intricate.

The relevance, consistency, and quality are some challenges that organizations face with the data they have, in addition to the storage of the data. In some cases, the safety of data becomes an essential requirement when an institution is dealing with sensitive information that should not slip into the wrong hands.

Mishandling data can backfire on a company’s performance and reputation. If you are unable to maintain credible sources of data collection and poorly analyze, interpret, or store the data, it can cause disastrous results to your business.

So, there has to be someone who takes care of all the aspects of the organizational data. It is where data stewardship becomes a crucial job. A data steward helps in managing almost every data-related function, and his roles and responsibilities include bringing accountability to the table.

The authority and ownership of the organizational data that the data steward brings avoid any unwanted event. No one can access or retrieve protected information without permission from the data steward. Besides, data stewards act as a link between those who acquire data and those who use it. It is a position of trust that requires both technical and business skills.

In addition to managing and protecting data from reputational threats, a data steward enforces the regulations to keep every bit of information relevant to the company and use it for strategic advantage. He is also responsible for regularly familiarizing data users to exploit the most out of available information and make better decisions.

So, for the sake of business growth, prestige, and efficiency, data stewardship is vital across all levels of a company. But the main question is, who can be a data steward? Before you hire anyone, let’s take a look at the must-have technical & business skills for data stewardship.

Technical skills

Programming expertise

The job of a data steward is all about data. But a steward must have some programming expertise to grasp the minor details associated with data. Thorough knowledge of at least some primary programming languages is necessary. Before hiring a data steward, check if he knows Python, Perl, PHP, C/C++, Java, or other languages.

Database knowledge

Data is the lifeline of a data steward’s work. He functions with a company’s data and the governing policies regarding database use. So, he must be highly familiar with database structures. He should be able to construct and control databases for analytics and use the understanding to navigate through the data and find errors in it. A data steward needs to understand how the database works and fix it if corrupted or compromised.

Relational database proficiency

Even though we have non-relational database management systems, a data steward must know the relational databases. They are still in use within many corporations. However, superficial knowledge of SQL may not be enough. Before hiring, make sure the candidate has a proven experience with SQL-based systems like Oracle RDBMS, Informix, Sybase, IBM DB2, MS SQL Server, PostgreSQL, etc.

Data modeling

Data modeling analyses and defines relationships between the data your business collects and uses. In general, data modeling is a different skill. However, a broad understanding of data modeling with some experience is a plus for data stewards as they interact with data modelers often.

Data warehousing concepts

Data warehousing is the center of accumulated information businesses use to make better decisions. Therefore, for data stewards, it is necessary to have data warehousing skills. In general, an experience with OLAP, data integrity, ETL platforms, ODS, OLTP, schema, bottom-up versus top-down designs, etc., is essential.

Technical writing

Sound writing skills help a person deliver explicit expressions and invoke interest. A data steward acts as an intermediary between the technical (IT) and business staff. So, the ability to communicate an accurate message on both ends becomes crucial for a data steward. The next time you interview a candidate, make sure he can write technically correct messages.

Business Skills

Business acumen

Although you might classify data steward as a technical job, its main focus is always on the business side. It’s always beneficial for your company to hire someone who already possesses some business acumen. Industries are evolving exponentially. And to stay relevant, a data steward must focus on the quality, consistency, and proficiency of collected data. It can only happen if he understands the concepts of the business world.

Foresight

Data, mostly, give you a hint of what will happen in the future. An intelligent leader always stays proactive and makes changes before it’s too late. A data steward plays 24*7 with data. And he can’t overlook any signal that proves irrelevance or incorrectness of the data. Being able to see what can happen in the future is a soft skill that data stewards should have. 

Communication skills

One of the duties of a data steward is to make people aware of data protection procedures and data governing policies. Although communication skills are among the primary skills to have, they become vital for data stewards because, most of the time, data stewards have to lead training sessions and write regulations that all coworkers can understand easily. It is where verbal and written communication skills become handy.

Problem-solving skills

Data stewards utilize their problem-solving skills to catch the errors present, correct them, and dispose-off irrelevant data. Besides, a data steward must also create policies and procedures that optimize the data collection and analysis activities. A problem-solver candidate can help your company ensure the inflow of correct data and improve its overall efficiency.

Departmental knowledge

Understanding departmental needs can help data stewards formulate processes that can benefit the company as a whole. If you hire a person who understands the needs of the departments in your company, the data collection becomes accessible and more applicable. He can plan what type of data to collect and share to fulfill the needs of his coworkers. This full understanding helps your employees improve their productivity.

Relationship Management

A data steward deals with multiple stakeholders across the institution. He must manage and maintain healthy relationships with all of them. Since data stewards are responsible for handling a company’s information, its quality, and security, trust becomes a crucial factor in this job. Building relationships with different departments, users, and even customers develop that trust and eventually helps in the company’s growth.

Final thoughts

A data steward is one of the most influential persons in an organization that takes on high responsibilities. As the data continues to be the lifeline for businesses, its maintenance and storage are becoming a serious concern, especially when security is necessary.

An institution can use data stewards for its overall data lifecycle management efforts. The job of data stewards requires both technical and management skills. And in the last decade, the sharp rise in the demand for data stewards has shown us the importance of this post.

If you’re looking for top-class data stewards, check out our database of expert-vetted, global technical talent that can easily integrate with your existing team and help you grow.

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