As a product steward, you know the importance of having accurate data in your systems. Whether you’re authoring safety data sheets (SDSs), pulling material reports or managing container inventory quantities, you need to trust your data. Data stewardship is key to supporting these processes and ensuring data quality and accessibility as well as regulatory compliance. 

Below, we discuss the data stewardship concepts product stewards should know to support their organization’s product stewardship goals and needs: 

1. What is data stewardship?

Data stewardship is the means by which an organization ensures good data hygiene and accessibility in its systems. Data stewards play a key role in validating that the data in an organization’s systems is accurate, current and usable. Product stewards are the consumers of the data that data stewards maintain. However, many organizations don’t have data stewards.  

If your organization doesn’t have a data steward, there are ways product stewards can foster the principles of data stewardship within their organizations to make sure the data in their systems is accessible, accurate, useable and of high quality. These include knowing your data, maintaining your data, centralizing your data and determining your organization’s data stewardship maturity curve.  

2. Understanding your data supports product stewardship goals.

When thinking about your company’s data, you should ask yourself three questions: Do you know what product stewardship data exists in your organization? Do you know what data you need to do your job effectively? Do you have the data you need to help your organization accomplish its goals?  

It’s critical to see the big picture and vision around your company’s product stewardship goals so that you can focus your efforts on the right data. It’s easy to say, “Every organization needs X, Y, Z data.” But the more data you have, the more time, effort and resources it will take to understand and maintain it. If you can truly assess your organizational needs and home in on the data that supports those goals, you’ll save yourself and your team a lot of time.  

Product stewards often separate data into three categories: chemical management data, product compliance data and product sustainability data. When we bring the activities of these different functional areas together, there is a lot of overlap in the data used (Figure 1).  

Figure-2-5 Things to Know About Data Stewardship for Product Stewards

Figure 1

 Here are four practical steps you can take to better understand your data: 

  • As a product stewardship leader or contributor, make sure you clearly understand what your department and company goals are now and where they are headed. This will help inform what data and tools you’ll need for your organization now and in the future.  
  • Work backward from these goals to determine what types of data are required to help you meet them.  
  • Perform a gap analysis to uncover any missing data that is required to meet your goals.  
  • Partner with other business units such as IT or upper management to get access to the data you need.  

3. Centralizing data can save time and streamline processes. 

When you think about using your data, do you as a product steward have easy access to all of your product stewardship data? Do you have all the data you need connected and in one place, or are you relying on your IT department or a data team to mine the data for you? Is data managed corporately or individually by location or business unit? 

One of the biggest challenges we encounter, especially in global organizations, is that product stewardship data is often stored in completely different systems across locations and business units. It can be difficult and time-consuming to get all that data in one place.  

Imagine company A has five locations that are creating, manufacturing and selling new products. Each location has different business units, and all the data is housed separately. Each site creates and manages its own data. They all use many of the same chemicals and some are more sophisticated than others.  

Imagine company B also has five locations creating, manufacturing and selling new products and has different business units. However, all the data is housed in one unified system and universal processes have been implemented. Instead of each site creating and managing its own data, they can share the data that is created and can see data created by other sites. In addition, corporate has a global view into the data (Figure 2). 

Figure-3-5 Things to Know About Data Stewardship for Product Stewards

Figure 2

Centralizing data is far from a new concept and many organizations are already on this journey. As many companies move toward implementing a digital transformation, there is an expectation to move from older, more distributed systems to new, more robust and centralized applications that provide more streamlined processes, data and reporting.  

The problem is that product stewardship data is often a bit behind the curve in this digital transformation because leadership doesn’t understand the return on investment (ROI) of a product stewardship digital transformation.  

Here’s how you can centralize data and spearhead a digital transformation within your company: 

  • Encourage your company to centralize your product stewardship organization. This would include getting all parts of the business to use the same systems, processes, data collection methods and software.  
  • If centralization of data isn’t something your team has the bandwidth to tackle or it’s overwhelming for your organization, partner with a software or services company that can support you through the process.  
  • Make sure your data is accessible to other applications in your organization. Whether you partner with someone externally or build in-house, make sure that the data can be accessed by all parts of your organization. This will allow your organization to get the most value out of your product stewardship data. With product sustainability becoming increasingly important, making data—like a product’s carbon footprint—accessible throughout your organization can be a huge benefit in terms of reporting, transparency and brand sentiment. 

4. Maintaining your data ikey to staying compliant with regulations.

Once you know what data you need and have access to it, you need to maintain it and make sure it’s usable, accurate and trusted. This concept involves both the management of the data in the database and how the data is structured. While product stewards won’t usually be able to influence the database structure, you can control how the data is collected, as well as data correctness and data maintenance as it changes over time.  

If your data isn’t being maintained, there can be real repercussions. As an example, let’s imagine you author several SDSs every week using authoring software that utilizes regulatory content. Then, one day, that regulatory content stops being updated. You might be fine for a quarter or two, but after a year or so, it is very likely that, from a regulatory perspective, the SDSs you are authoring will be out of compliance. 

We can take the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) regulation as an example. It was first published in late 2008 and has been adapted 18 times since then–which means that there has been, on average, at least one update annually.  

Roughly 20% of Sphera’s regulatory lists are updated each quarter. This means that if you aren’t properly maintaining your regulatory list data as an organization or partnering with an organization to do it for you, 20% of your regulatory data could be out of date after just one quarter. 

If regulatory data is not up to date, your authored documents or reporting could be out of compliance. This opens your organization up to risk, and it can open your customers up to risk as well if they don’t have up-to-date and compliant data about the products they’re purchasing from you.  

Here’s another example of how bad data can impact your business. Consider an error in the flashpoint of a material that you are selling. In some cases, an error can increase the flashpoint, and if it does, the classification will not be stringent enough and the product could be shipped without the proper Department of Transportation (DOT) or International Air Transport Association (IATA) placarding, exposing your organization to risk. On the other hand, if the flashpoint is too low, it may be needlessly classified, and you may be spending money unnecessarily to ship the product as a hazardous material. 

 Here’s how you can help your organization maintain its data:  

  • Focus on the data you need. Data maintenance takes time and resources, so you need to make sure that your organization is maintaining the data that provides real value.  
  • For high-maintenance data that can be overwhelming and time consuming to maintain, find a trusted partner to support you in maintaining it. This would specifically be for publicly available data like regulatory lists or pure substance data. 
  • For internal data that your company is responsible for creating and managing, high-quality processes give way to high-quality data and automation. This can mean establishing rules so that data cannot be entered improperly. Many applications can be configured to set rules which force the user to enter data a certain way or force the data to be populated by users so that you can get consistent, trusted and complete data sets. 

5. You can evaluate your company based on the stages of a data stewardship maturity curve. 

One of the things we at Sphera talk about often is an organization’s maturity level in specific areas. Maturity curves are helpful because they allow you to evaluate where you’re currently at and can give you an insight into what could be. We’ve looked at several data stewardship models out there and developed one specifically around product stewardship data (Figure 3).  

Figure-4-5 Things to Know About Data Stewardship for Product Stewards

Figure 3

This maturity model has four stages based on the data stewardship elements we’ve discussed: knowing your data, maintaining your data and centralizing your data. 

Here are the four stages: 

  • Ad Hoc  You aren’t doing much in the way of data stewardship and have lots of room to grow as an organization.
  • Minimal  You have some understanding of your data and maintain some of it. 
  • Managed  You have a good understanding of your product stewardship data. In this case, data is mostly centralized and there’s some organizational access.
  • Advanced  You have clear product stewardship goals that drive the product stewardship data you use to meet them. You’ve fully centralized your data and data collection processes and can use the data to achieve organizational excellence.

Data Stewardship Is Essential for Product Stewards

Understanding and applying data stewardship concepts is essential to supporting product stewardship functions and goals, especially if your organization doesn’t have a data steward. 

In order to bring greater focus to your company’s data stewardship efforts, it’s imperative to determine what product stewardship goals your company aims to achieve. Then, understanding the data you need to reach these goals and making sure you can access it are the next steps. You should also maintain the data and verify it’s correct, usable and trusted to ensure regulatory compliance.  

Breaking down data siloes and centralizing data through a digital transformation is key to moving toward an advanced data stewardship maturity model, which will help your organization save valuable time and achieve its product stewardship goals. 

To learn more about data stewardship for chemical companies, watch our on-demand webinar 

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