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Who owns the data?

In another recent question, the conversation started to digress, hence this question. Who owns the data? And we'll narrow down the question for simplicity sake. So, who owns the accounting data? Is it the Accounting/Finance departments, with the CFO as the "owner"? Is it the IT department, with the CIO as the "owner"? Now let's add a wrinkle.... who owns the programs, reports, etc. tied to the accounting system?


Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

I do NOT like the term "own". From a culture standpoint, I think we should get past the old mindset of functional divisions "owning" the data, program, reports etc. The simple answer is...the Company owns them. Parts of the data (and it's management) is the responsibility of a particular department (some more than others) and some departments use and generate reports.....they are resources that the company (NOT functional divisions) uses and needs for the attainment of its goals.

The ever changing and complex business processes and the resulting systems to manage them means that NOT one department has complete control (source, management and reporting) of any one system. Some use it more than others.....but to "own" them is approaching the concept from the wrong perspective....IMO.

As a CFO, I need the whole organization's help to manage and report financial performance/forecasts. The whole organization is expected to contribute or help NOT because I "own" the systems but because the organization needs it.

The "owning" concept means we are creating "US AND THEM" mentality within the organization and it is MY opinion that it is NOT a good way of building and maintaining an organizational culture.

Just my .02!

Topic Expert
Barrett Peterson
Title: Senior Manager, Actg Stnds & Analysis
Company: TTX
(Senior Manager, Actg Stnds & Analysis, TTX) |

The Company owns the data, applications and other tools. Responsibility for certain functions can be assigned, and may not all reside with the CFO's function. The executive officers are responsible for the functioning of the processes of collecting, processing including cleansing if needed, storing, reporting, and otherwise using data...a valuable entity asset.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Excellent question, which at times causes friction. In my opinion –

Firms produce tremendous amounts of data. The answer to the question has two dimensions, i.e. what should happen vs. what happens.

What Should Happen - Each department that keys data should be responsible for the information they enter, with management oversight by the departments. Most businesses have multiple stages. To avoid re-work, a non-value added cost, the data must be accurate for subsequent stages in the process. Responsibility should be assigned and reporting developed to identify data conflicts.

What Really Happens – Individuals only add/key/manipulate data that impacts their stage in the process. There is little to no concern for steps farther down the road. All have a part in the creation of the data, but no one takes responsibility for the data. This situation makes analysis very difficult. Data must be cleaned and prepared, prior to interpreting.

Back to the question

Accounting data should be owned by the Accounting department. After month-end, they would be responsible for the reconciliation and financial statement. The CFO is not responsible for the data; however, they are responsible for the accurate interpretation of the information to relay to Senior Management. While they may not be responsible for the data, they have a vested interest to make sure it is accurate.

The IT and CIO are responsible for the system. They are required to ensure the technology tools work for the betterment of the firm. Automated reporting which is produced overnight and ready for usage in the morning is the responsibility of IT and the CIO. However, custom reports required to compute “What if Analysis” is the responsibility of the CFO.

I worked with a CIO that did not like to take any responsibility, It infuriated me. As such, I developed a simple rule. “If it touched the server, it was his domain.”

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

I think what you are talking about is responsibility and accountability. I agree with Emerson and Barrett, as the CFO I am responsible for accuracy and controls of the departments I manage. If I leave I don't take any of the data with me; I only take away the knowledge and experience I gained along the journey. From my perspective my ownership comes from the fact that I treat the business as my own in everything I do.

(Compensation Manager) |

If it is the company that "owns" the data. . . who is making sure it is kept up to date and accurate. These answers are too "high in the sky" to address what I've known to be the traditional meaning of "owning" data. Owning the data is no prize if it isn't reliable.

Ern Miller
Title: Co-CEO
Company: Miller Small Business Solutions
(Co-CEO, Miller Small Business Solutions) |

The CFO is responsible for providing answers based on financial data. He/she needs to identify what data they need and the IT department needs to make that data available to those authorized to see it.

IT "owns" the responsibility to provide access and ensure reliable access.

Whomever creates the data "owns" the data in that they need to ensure accuracy and to ensure it is up to date.

Finance "owns" the interpretation of the data.

When there is a failure to provide accurate information based on the data, or a breach in the security of the data, an investigation needs to be done to determine the failure in the process, and correct that failure.

Marc Molines - MCICM
Title: Credit Manager
Company: ELIX Polymers
LinkedIn Profile
(Credit Manager, ELIX Polymers) |

The owner is the company, but i agree with Emerson that 'ownership' sustains the wrong mentality and culture. As Regis said, the departments are responsible for the quality of the data introduced in the system. If this is clear, our ERP's will provide high quality reports with no need to waste time correcting errors and consolidating or interpretating the results.

As far as the biggest users are in the Controlling / Finance department, i think CIO should pay special atention to the CFO needs.

John Argo
Title: Consultant
Company: Independent Advisory Services
(Consultant, Independent Advisory Services) |

Business-critical information should have an authoritative source and definition. The owner is responsible for defining what the data is, who can access it, and other policy-related and risk management aspects. The more complex a business becomes, the more difficult it becomes for IT to track or even understand this. In general, ownership should be as close as possible to business unit that originates the data or relies on it for critical functions. So I would tend to deem the CFO or designee the owner of accounting data.

Clinton Jones
Title: Principal
Company: JATECH
(Principal, JATECH) |

The business owns the data of course. However the accounting function, in our experience owns parts of the material master, the vendor master, the customer master etc.

For example: while Sales own the relationship with the customer, the decision to extend or provide credit, terms etc is a negotiation between the sales organization and the accounting organization. This is not something that the sales organization normally maintains in the system of record but of course has a vested interest in understanding and influencing.

There is certain data that almost certainly belongs exclusively to the accounting function, namely the GL Account, the cost centres the profit centres and all the relationships between the accounts and the chart of accounts. The accounting hierarchies.

Depending on the system of record that is used, some of these things can be managed by accounting and finance personnel but in some systems this has to belong to an IT function or a Finance IT function. There is no easy solution to these kinds of situations.

Given the increased focus on segregation of duties, compliance etc the notion that IT personnel that are not in business operations should have any access to transaction processing systems at all, generally raises audit exceptions.

Accordingly it is our view that under very rare circumstances does IT have responsibility for maintaining certain data in systems of record, ultimately though the ownership remains vested with the business and if it has a financial impact at all - the finance function.

Brian Vogel
Title: Principal/Consultant
Company: Avail Financial Consulting
(Principal/Consultant, Avail Financial Consulting) |

When I first saw the question, I was hoping the question would be related to data ownership when your accounting system is on the cloud. Can legal authorities subpoena data from the cloud provider? Is the cloud provider or the business (or both) legally liable for data breaches? If a business has insurance for data breaches, does it cover breaches for data on the cloud? Or would the cloud provider's insurance cover it? These are questions that have been on my mind with the increasing popularity of cloud accounting systems.

Clinton Jones
Title: Principal
Company: JATECH
(Principal, JATECH) |

just because the data is 'in the cloud' doesn't make it anyones' data except your own. Particularly when you pay for that service. But as with all things, 'it depends' - if you chose to sign away your exclusive ownership rights to that data as part of the agreement to use that service, then that is another matter.

Brian Vogel
Title: Principal/Consultant
Company: Avail Financial Consulting
(Principal/Consultant, Avail Financial Consulting) |

I should have done this first, but internet searches are a wonderful thing, and I found answers to my questions. Clinton, you were on the right track in that everything I mentioned above - ownership, but also subpoenas, liability, etc - needs to be clarified in the agreement. However, it is also a bit more complicated because these issues are being sorted out as the insurance industry and laws catch up with the technology. Here are two links that I found helpful:

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