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Golden copies, data stewards, and sensitivity

The University stores and manages quite a lot of data - nothing like the scale of Google or similar behemoths, but not insignificant either.  Some of this data is quite sensitive.  It can include personal information (including the "protected characteristics" such as race or sexuality); medical information (for staff & students, or for NHS patients on research projects), commercially sensitive information, and information vital to the teaching process such as exam questions.  We are responsible for looking after this data and keeping it secure, a set of procedures that goes by the dry name of "data governance".

One of the key concepts in our approach to data governance is the "golden copy"; the one true source for a particular kind of information.  For example, the student record is the golden copy for data about students.  I have made this one of our Enterprise Architecture principles:
Principle D1: All data held in enterprise systems have a golden copy that holds the definitive value of that data.
We have had this principle in practice for many years. But if you want to know which system is the golden copy for a particular type of data, or who looks after that system, or how you access the data for yourself, you have had to know who to ask.  So I am creating a golden copy data catalogue that publicises this information.  I'm also working with the data governance group to come up with a default process for requesting access.

This throws a spotlight on the people who look after our data.  The usual name for this role in EA circles is the data steward.  As the name implies, someone who has this role is responsible for looking after the data, ensuring it is up-to-date and good quality.  Their responsibilities also include assessing requests for access, and making the data available to people who need it.  So we are working to define this role and work with people across the university so that our data is stewarded consistently.

I am also working with our Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and our Data Protection Office (DPO) to agree a classification for information sensitivity.  The goal is to provide consistent advice for which data can be made public, which needs "normal" levels of security, and which needs more stringent controls.

So far, the response to this work has been very positive.  Much remains to be done, not least wider consultation with the people who do the crucial role of looking after our data.


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