Who Should Manage Big Data?

June 19, 2014

A few years ago, a new concept emerged in the business world: that of the so-called "data steward." These data stewards would make it their sole focus to organize, vet, manage, and update all the digital information that a company needs for its strategic planning and competition initiatives.

Fast-forward to the present: data stewards now have become an integral feature of companies the world over. Yet in the age of big data, data stewards are facing new and unanticipated challenges.

One such challenge is the question of who in the organization is in charge of big data. It is the company's management-level business operations staff? Is it the IT department? Is it the legal department?

By and large, the answer that's emerging is that the management of big data should be a cross-departmental undertaking.

Strategic Management

According to some business experts, up to one-third of Fortune 100 companies are on a collision course with an information crisis in the next few years. Many businesses are already suffering major revenue losses as a result of bad data and the mismanagement of good data.

Minimizing these consequences is a task that falls on the shoulders of a company's chief information officer. The CIO needs to be the one to take ownership of the answers to important questions:

  • What data does the company need that it doesn't currently have?
  • What data needs to be analyzed more thoroughly?
  • How should mature and important data be managed?
  • Which departments are going to manage which types of data?

Who Should Take the Lead?

There are differing opinions on that last question. When it comes to deciding who owns the company's data, cases can be made for the marketing, IT, and legal departments.

Data analysis can greatly bolster marketing efforts. It helps marketing professionals understand their consumers and target demographics with more depth and clarity. It also helps salespeople up-sell and cross-sell products and services to established customers.

IT's typical argument is that it has the expertise and dedicated resources for managing large volumes of digital information. However, most IT professionals lack the specialized training and knowledge to analyze data and uncover key insights from it. These insights could change the future of the company.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal suggested that from a big-picture standpoint, a company's legal department might be the best place to deposit big data. Legal professionals are in the best position to understand how data could potentially impact things like proprietary information, joint venture partnerships, and existing contracts.

However, there are risks involved with leaving the legal department in complete control of big data. It's quite possible that valuable information would forever remain inaccessible to the organization's members who are in the best position to mine it for critical insights.

Collaborative Management

Thus, a synergistic approach is favored by more and more companies. Use IT tools to manage, organize, and update data, while leaving the legal team in charge of information that could impact the company's obligations and responsibilities. Finally, be sure to give the marketing department full access to whatever information they need to analyze to make sound strategic decisions.

In the end, it's the CIO who has to take a leadership role in setting internal policies. Data shouldn't just be maintained; it should be managed.

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