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A Missing Data Role That May Be Holding You Back

It’s a well-worn lament that the rental housing industry is years behind many other industries in technology, particularly data-related applications. While true to a degree, I have found that the industry has been making great strides in this area over the past few years.

That fact is what motivated my partners and me to start REBA. I had the idea back in 2012 when I left Holiday Retirement and started consulting; but I knew then the industry wasn’t ready for it. Fast forward to our start in late 2019, and the story was very different. And the traction we’re getting is proof of how the industry is hungry to advance its data platforms.

As we’ve been talking with prospects and implementing business intelligence (BI) with our clients, it’s become a clear theme that we frequently introduce the concept of a role that has otherwise been missing in rental housing org charts…a role that is absolutely critical to the success of any data analytics implementation.

That role…drum roll please…is “Data Steward.”

What exactly is a data steward?

A quick look at Wikipedia gives as good a definition as any: “A data steward is an oversight or data governance role within an organization and is responsible for ensuring the quality and fitness for the purpose of the organization's data assets, including the metadata for those data assets.”

As data governance gets inevitably more complex, a data steward can help manage “the 3 Vs” of data—volume, velocity, and variety. Data stewards perform a number of critical tasks:

  • Serve as the “go to experts” within the company for anything data related
  • Create standard definitions
  • Manage critical information that may not always be in a system of record
  • Ensure consistent use of data across the organization
  • Are familiar with data laws and regulations and continually educate others on data responsibility

“Data steward” may not be their actual title (in fact, it rarely is). Instead, data stewardship is a role that one or more people take on to ensure the data platform meets the business’s needs. Their work is often out of the limelight but without them, data analysis takes longer and may result in incorrect conclusions.

So, what exactly do data stewards do? A Dun & Bradstreet blog I found listed 6 key responsibilities:

  1. Data stewards define the data. They ensure the BI platform is getting data from THE system of record for each element ensuring that there isn’t conflicting data within the platform
  2. They create processes and procedures including establishing data standards and policies
  3. They use (typically internal) customer feedback to maintain quality of data
  4. Data stewards communicate capabilities and work to optimize reports and dashboards
  5. The role monitors data usage to identify best practices that can be spread and pockets of “data deserts” where more attention can be brought
  6. Data stewards ensure compliance and security thus managing the organization’s data risks

As one example, when implementing REBA, we find that our clients need a data steward to manage several critical dimensions that are frequently kept in spreadsheets or pdfs rather than systems of record from which we can automatically pull the information. These are typically “slowly changing variables” like market, sub-market, loan information, fund or partner information, etc. Keeping those dimensions up to date when they do change brings extra value to the platform.

At the end of the day, data stewards allow for faster analysis, consistent application of data, increased use of dashboards, lower running costs, and reduced risk of errors around data privacy.

As our industry leverages data more often and in better ways, the role of data stewards will continue to grow. Whether it evolves accidentally or is part of a purposeful approach to better data is up to you!

Featured image by Bob Jansen on Unsplash.