Data and Analytics

Data Stewards: The Experts Behind Data Perfection

Data Stewards: The Experts Behind Data Perfection

April 15, 2020 | Tha Vin

I interviewed Senior Business Analyst Jennifer Davis about the importance of what we call, data stewards. She manages a group of data analysts who primarily ensure the data sets reposed at Equifax are of strong predictive quality for customers with respect to internal governance standards. 

What is a data steward?

Jennifer:  Data comes into Equifax from numerous sources and is comprised of various informational elements. When we store that data, based on the terms of the license the data could be used to produce our own products or other purposes allowed by the license. A data steward oversees this raw data -- misspelled names, missing account numbers, small bits of information -- that matter a great deal in a consumer’s credit file.

What does a data steward do?

Jennifer:  At Equifax, a data steward makes sure all of the data loaded in production -- which is getting ready to be used by a product -- is of the highest data quality. While data quality is a major part of data stewardship, these data scientists work closely with customers to understand their business. In times of change, the close relationship between a data steward and a customer means that correcting data for consumers creates less friction.

Can you share an example of their work?

Jennifer:  We're all familiar with the idea of people misspelling our names in all types of interactions. Or maybe transposing a phone number. Data stewards work to ensure that the data reported makes sense and is accurate based on what is known at that time.  

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7 Best Practices for Being Successful

During our interview, Jennifer also shared with me the seven best practices that make her team successful.

1. Be a detective

Data stewards manage billions of rows of data. You can't look at each individual record when there's a billion of them and say, “Let me check that out every day.” You have to be a bit of a detective and trace the issues associated with the data back through all the different touch points. [playlist ids="19193"]  

2. Work in the aggregate

First, you have to trace the issue back through what may be a million records. Then work your way through 20,000 records, 1,000 records, 20 records.

3. Make sense of the data

Understand -- not just the data -- but ask yourself whether the data makes sense so you can apply the appropriate business concept. Ultimately, data stewards must be detail-oriented and understand the customer's business.

4. Act with integrity

Data stewards work across highly sensitive data. Therefore, they must bring integrity and adhere to strict policies around access and disclosure of the data we manage. Data stewards must always be concerned about the downstream effects of their decisions about data quality on consumers.

5. Navigate tough conversations

Can you help customers understand the problem, and then sensitively dive into specifics? Being able to handle difficult conversations with customers in a professional manner is the key to success in this arena.

6. Be empathetic

Have empathy -- and not just looking at it from one perspective -- but putting yourself in the shoes of all the different parties involved is critical. Think of yourself as the employee, as the consumer, as the customer. We bring all our experiences together as a team. If we can jointly understand and communicate the overall impact of data quality-related issues, then having difficult conversations becomes a lot easier.

7. Know life cycle of data

Being a data steward means we are not only subject matter experts in the data we support, but in the life cycle of that data. As we interrogate millions of rows of data to figure out the one little tiny blip that's causing a problem, we are employing our best and brightest minds. Customers care about the data steward’s work because their clients -- everyday consumers -- use and see the data. That information may be in a credit report, part of a credit score to approve a mortgage or the status of a student loan. Ultimately, consumers benefit from the hard work of our customers and our data stewards.