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Should Legal (Or Anyone Else Outside of IT) Be in Charge of Big Data?

shutterstock_145160692A few years back, there was a movement in some businesses to establish “data stewards” – individuals who would sit at the hearts of the enterprise and make it their job to assure that data being consumed by the organization is of the highest possible quality, is secure, is contextually relevant, and capable of interoperating across any applications that need to consume it. While the data steward concept came along when everything was relational and structured, these individuals are now earning their pay when it comes to managing the big data boom.

The rise of big data is creating more than simple headaches for data stewards, it is creating turf wars across enterprises.  As pointed out in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, there isn’t yet a lot of clarity as to who owns and cares for such data. Is it IT?  Is it lines of business?  Is it legal? There are arguments that can be made for all jurisdictions.

In organizations these days, for example, marketing executives are generating, storing and analyzing large volumes of their own data within content management systems and social media analysis solutions. Many marketing departments even have their own IT budgets. Along with marketing, of course, everyone else within enterprises is seeking to pursue data analytics to better run their operations as well as foresee trends.

Typically, data has been under the domain of the CIO,  the person who oversaw the collection, management and storage of information. In the Wall Street Journal article, however, it’s suggested that legal departments may be the best caretakers of big data, since big data poses a “liability exposure,” and legal departments are “better positioned to understand how to use big data without violating vendor contracts and joint-venture agreements, as well as keeping trade secrets.”

However, legal being legal, it’s likely that insightful data may end up getting locked away, never to see the light of day. Others may argue IT department needs to retain control, but there again, IT isn’t trained to recognize information that may set the business on a new course.

Focusing on big data ownership isn’t just an academic exercise. The future of the business may depend on the ability to get on top of big data. Gartner, for one, predicts that within the next three years, at least of a third of Fortune 100 organizations will experience an information crisis, “due to their inability to effectively value, govern and trust their enterprise information.”

This ability to “value, govern and trust” goes way beyond the traditional maintenance of data assets that IT has specialized in over the past few decades. As Gartner’s Andrew White put it: “Business leaders need to manage information, rather than just maintain it. When we say ‘manage,’ we mean ‘manage information for business advantage,’ as opposed to just maintaining data and its physical or virtual storage needs. In a digital economy, information is becoming the competitive asset to drive business advantage, and it is the critical connection that links the value chain of organizations.”

For starters, then, it is important that the business have full say over what data needs to be brought in, what data is important for further analysis, and what should be done with data once it gains in maturity. IT, however, needs to take a leadership role in assuring the data meets the organization’s quality standards, and that it is well-vetted so that business decision-makers can be confident in the data they are using.

The bottom line is that big data is a team effort, involving the whole enterprise. IT has a role to play, as does legal, as do the line of business.

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