Analytics Stewardship and the Community of Practice

Stewards of data and analytics assume key information governance roles

Many people are familiar with the role of consumers of information in lines of business, whether they are individual contributors, managers at various levels, and other professionals on up to executives. They typically open and run existing reports, dashboards, and scorecards; make some light ad hoc queries; or simply perform drill-down analysis. And many organizations have established business intelligence (BI) community centers (BICCs) or analytics centers of excellence (ACEs) and analytics-shared service centers.

In addition, there are essential people who are often the go-to heroes for building analytics content such as reports, dashboards, models, and so on. They are usually referred to as knowledge workers, power users, analysts, statisticians, financial and operational planners, and business process specialists. More recently, this list could also include data scientists.

These individuals usually reside in each functional area of the business in teams such as marketing operations, sales operations, or other supporting teams in human resources (HR) or customer service. In finance, they are typically in financial planning and analysis (FP&A) or revenue and accounting. They turn data into meaningful insights and actionable information, not just for themselves but also for the broader range of stakeholders and business users in their department or even beyond. More recently, they might be part of a performance management team in finance, or elsewhere, that focuses on business strategy and execution and creates scorecards and dashboards based on financial and operational key performance indicators (KPIs).

In many ways, these business users are the linchpin between the IT or center of excellence (CoE) teams and the consumers. They know the data, the measures, and the dimensional nature of the analytics they use on a regular basis. They rely heavily on analytics capabilities and skills as part of their day-to-day activities to service the needs of the business. And because they are close to the short- and long-term needs of the organization, they are in positions well suited to respond swiftly to service those needs. Moreover, they act as mentors and trusted advisers for their business consumers to help determine the appropriate analytics delivered in the right form.


Key community members

Collectively, across the enterprise, we call the group that these people belong to the community of practice (CoP). Why give them a name? They are key players that drive scalable adoption and growth of analytics. With their deep experience, skill sets, and training, they transform data into valuable analytical content. For example, they are well versed with the following capabilities:

  • Visualizing data to quickly understand trends, exceptions, gaps, and other insights
  • Determining which dimensions, data elements, measures, and calculations are appropriate for a report, dashboard, or scorecard
  • Designing, managing, and scripting a structured system of reports to form a logical flow
  • Using a set of dashboard panels and related reports to form a guided, storyboarded view of performance
  • Modeling for predictive analytics, financial planning, or other planning-related requirements

When professionals become members of a formalized CoP, a magical occurrence takes place. They start to collaborate across functional silos and share ideas, best practices, tips, and techniques. They actively contribute to the development and definition of shared standards. And as members of the CoP, they can quickly contact each other when needed—for example, to iron out cross-functional analytical requirements and process improvements or identify high-priority needs for integrated views of data.

For these reasons alone, the CoP is critical to the governance of analytics. Which brings us to the role of data stewards and analytics stewards.


Stewards of data and analytics

Data stewards typically focus on the integrity, quality, and definition of data. They often come from the CoP to place responsibility in the business rather than in IT. The same is true with analytics stewards. They focus on the value and reliability of analytical content. Also drawn from the CoP members, analytics stewards are certified to deploy and publish content in a shared forum, such as a portal, for all to use.

In meetings, or whenever people share analytics in some way, an analytics steward’s seal of approval on each report, dashboard, or scorecard gives everyone confidence that best practices were followed and that the content—not just the data—is reliable. Stakeholders can then focus on the insights rather than waste time debating the numbers. That confidence is one important reason why the analytics steward is a valuable role.

Keep in mind that the terms “data steward” and “analytics steward” are a differentiation of a role. That variation doesn’t mean the two roles couldn’t be fulfilled by the same person. In fact, having one individual assume both roles is a pretty efficient way to link these governance domains together. But chances are, as the demand for analytics increases over time, organizations will likely need more analytics stewards than data stewards. And to be clear, these roles don’t necessarily have to reside in the CoP; some could reside in the CoE. The alternatives depend on the maturity and needs of the functional areas involved, the reputation and track record of the CoE, and the overall culture of the organization.


Community of practice strategy

So ask yourself the following questions about your organization: Has it factored the formation of a defined CoP into its analytics strategy? Has it considered how the CoP actively participates in the governance process? Has it identified the need for analytics stewards as part of its organizational strategy? Please share answers, thoughts, and questions in the comments.