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Master Data ownership - who owns what, how to decide and why?

A successful Master Data Management capability has clear ownership of its Master Data defined. Why is this important? If there is not clear ownership then there is no clarity as to who is expected to do, provide, approve or review something. To have an effective, efficient and streamlined Master Data Capability it is critical to have this ownership defined. However in order to achieve a truly mature Master Data Capability there has to be a culture of accountability.


However at this stage I think its important to consider 3 traits which often get confused and confused Ownership, Responsibility & Accountability.


  • Ownership - this is an intrinsic trait and something that cannot be demanded of someone, usually people take ownership for something they are passionate about.

  • Responsibility - is task focused, assigned and can be shared between people.

  • Accountability - cannot be shared it's about taking ownership to ensure responsibilities are achieved as expected. True accountability drives a culture of trust and empowers team members.



Taking ownership of Master Data is about ensuring that the information is accurate and complete and correctly authorised, it might involve making decisions about the Master Data you own. Often people panic when they hear they are to be the owners of Master Data they confuse it with responsibility. They think they are going to be expected to spend hours keying information into a spreadsheet or system. Taking ownership for Master Data is NOT the same as being responsible for Master Data (though sometimes there will be times when both apply but not always).


As a Product Manager for example you might take ownership of ensuring that all Master Data provided on your product lines is accurate, but you may well assign someone else to be responsible for collating and entering this information. You make the decision as to whether that Product Master Data meets the standards. You might be asked to review samples of Master Data to ensure they are meeting company standards (much like you would with other areas of your role) or assist in making decisions about changes to that Product Master Data or business processes involved with that Master Data. Some businesses have natural gurus others its a bit harder. Remember Master Data and businesses evolve what seems right now might not work in 18 months time, the department that seemed the best fit might turn out not to be, but you have to start somewhere and if you have teams who really won't engage then this needs to be escalated.


So, who owns Master data? Well fundamentally in most modern ERP systems you need 'real time' Master Data which means real time decisions so the business team who own the Master Data that are usually the experts in their field, they can generally make the quick and appropriate decisions, because they understand the Master Data in the context of the business and so keep the Master Data relevant and timely. What about IT? Well they are the experts in the 'pipeline' the systems that carry the Master Data but they are not 'experts', they are not employed to understand the intricacies of all your business Master Data, you wouldn't expect your Accounts Payable clerk to be able to build a new Customer complaints data base would you? However, in organisations that operate at a mature level with their Master Data these two streams work closely together for the good of the organisation.


Yes, but that's a bit woolly we need a name or a role don't we? Well it's rare that Master Data is 'owned' by an individual role, generally a Department or Business area will 'own' Master Data and individual roles take 'responsibility'. There are really 2 ways of looking at this (remembering this is about achieving consistent, accurate and repeatable information) which department is in the best position to be the 'experts' in the Master Data? OR which department is most impacted if this information is inaccurate (remember this is about ownership NOT necessarily responsibility)? So, we have worked in organisations for example where Technical or Quality Teams have owned the Materials Data, Finance the Customer Master Data, Purchasing the Supplier Master data but it's not going to be the same in all organisations. (Incidentally we have referenced Departments, but it could be Stream or Channel or Process team it entirely depends on how your organisation is structured).


Now I know many of you reading this will be thinking ah what about setting up a Centralised Master Data Team makes it easy they can own the Master Data, well no for pretty much the same reason as IT can't take ownership. They can take responsibility for ensuring the Master Data is maintained accurately within the system but they can't take ownership for the Master Data as they cannot be the 'experts' for all of a business's information . They can only be as accurate as the information they receive, if they are sent rubbish chances are, they'll be putting rubbish into your system.


Ok so we'll employ Master Data Stewards and they can take ownership of the Master Data then. Well in our opinion this is a confusion between responsibility and ownership again. Your Master Data Stewards are responsible for ensuring processes are followed consistently and Master Data maintained to a defined set of standards, which they may indeed take responsibility for defining, but the Master Data 'owner' is responsible for approving those standards. Hence Master Data Stewards are part of the business organisation structure and NOT the IT structure they should be reporting in to Business Owners.


However without accountability whilst you might have people taking 'responsibility' you will never nurture true ownership of Master Data. Accountability is NOT about blame it's about finding solutions to problems and taking ownership for yours or your teams actions. accountability builds trust and a culture of ownership. Organisations with an accountability culture are much more successful with Master Data engagement and progressiveness than those with a blame culture. In a blame culture you will find issues addressed with 'workarounds' rather than properly thought through business solutions. You want a "Yes we cocked that up lets see how we can fix it" mentality rather than a "well we didn't do anything wrong, it must have been so and such's team". This is probably much harder to address than Master data ownership ..........

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