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Steering the course: data-stewardship organizations assist insurers in navigating the high seas of data. (Technology: Technology Insight).

Data stewardship is a hot topic these days, particularly given the cost of poor data quality. A study by The Data Warehouse Institute estimates that bad data costs U.S. industries $600 billion a year. Companies have more data than ever before, and as they invest in new technologies to integrate their information systems, they realize they must also invest in data stewardship.

Every company is faced with a variety of data quality issues. The standard measures for data quality include validity, accuracy and completeness. Data quality also includes any characteristic that ensures data is fit for its intended use, including accessibility, timeliness and reasonableness.

With the growth of business intelligence and the implementation of enterprise data warehousing for decision support, companies are getting their first detailed view of information across the entire business. Customer data is joined to product, underwriting, premium and claims data. As new functional areas are added, the value of the information is multiplied. However, the error impact is also multiplied, and often those using the data aren't really sure what it means or that they are using data for purposes not originally intended.

Companies look to data warehouse initiatives to gain access to the wealth of information needed to make business decisions. As a result, access is improved. But without adequate benchmarks and measures, companies are faced with only better access to a greater volume of poor data.

Data quality doesn't just involve accuracy; it also provides a better picture or history of how each data point is derived or calculated. Such "data about data" is commonly referred to as metadata, which is something that most companies have stored everywhere--in documents, spreadsheets, on sticky notes or--at worst--in someone's head. Keeping track of the information and making it available to everyone who needs it is a cumbersome task. A good metadata repository provides an online, central source of information that provides value in the following ways:

* Value to information technology allows the IT department to effectively manage the data warehouse and provide a source for identifying data redundancies, data usage and data dependencies, such as whether a piece of data is used to derive another piece of data.

* Value to business allows users to understand the business rules for the data, including valid codes and conditions for use, as well as additional information about the data in the warehouse. This includes, for example, who owns the data and how often it's updated.

To address data quality and gain the most value from enterprise views of data, many companies are instituting data-stewardship organizations to leverage information assets. The cross-functional team is comprised of representatives from each business unit and functional area, such as property underwriting, accounting, claims and actuarial. The team is charged with managing data and information for the corporation, while IT representatives provide support and guidance on a variety of issues, including the use of infrastructure tools.

The goal of the data-stewardship organization is to develop common rules and consistent terminology for use between business areas and throughout the company. A stewardship organization helps to eliminate the conflicting requirements of individual business areas and promotes the generation of a single version of the truth. A data-stewardship organization is made up of several data roles:

* The executive sponsor is a senior-level position, often from the actuarial or finance department, charged with stewardship. As the efforts of the stewardship organization take place, the sponsor initiates changes in processes and policies. He or she has the authority to initiate changes to improve the quality and usability of data as needed.

* Data owners typically request the data to be collected. The owner prepares the business requirements and defines the business rules associated with the data.

* The custodian takes care of the data, ensuring that the data is collected and carried through the information chain according to the specifications developed by the owner. The IT department is responsible for ensuring that the data is edited, accessible and protected, which includes backup and recovery, and securing access to the data.

* Data stewards manage information needs across multiple business units, with the overall goals of the corporation foremost in mind. Information created by different departments will likely have a variety of focuses. These needs are tied together, with the decision for each data point addressed through consensus and alignment.

When the right navigators and navigational tools are combined, information is leveraged across the enterprise- steering a company toward greater profitability.

Tracy Spadola is a senior insurance industry consultant at Teradata, a division of NCR Corp. in Chicago. She can be reached at
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Author:Spadola, Tracy
Publication:Best's Review
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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