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Data Stewardship Best Practices for Managed Service Providers

As stewards of a client’s digital data assets, MSPs must effectively manage and meet their data governance needs.

Kausik Chaudhuri

October 12, 2023

5 Min Read
Data Stewardship Best Practices for Managed Service Providers
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Kausik Chaudhuri

Handling data is no easy task. Successfully managing someone else’s data adds another layer of complexity.

Managed service providers contend with this daily. They function as stewards for data that they don’t own, yet they hold the responsibility for its protection, monitoring, security and overall management. Such a task can be daunting, and the evolving landscape of data governance only intensifies the challenge. To excel in the role of data stewards, MSPs need to navigate not only the current hurdles of data security and privacy but also adapt to emerging risks brought about by innovative technologies, such as generative AI, and new governance mandates.

With those realities in mind, let’s explore the essentials of data stewardship, including which key data governance and management challenges lie on the horizon and how MSPs can best respond.

The Basics of Data Governance

Every enterprise has digital data assets, such as databases and files, which play a vital role in the daily success of business operations. To ensure that those assets are effectively managed, businesses typically develop data governance strategies that address issues such as:

  • Data Integrity: Keeping the story straight! Ensuring data stays consistent and accurate, no matter what.

  • Data Security: The digital lock and key — safeguarding data against any unauthorized access or misuse.

  • Data Usability: Making sure data isn’t simply a decoration — assuring that the information serves its intended purpose for the teams who need it.

  • Data Ownership: Assigning roles for who is responsible for what tasks when it comes to managing different data assets.

  • Compliance: Following the appropriate rulebook — managing data in harmony with guidelines and regulations, such as the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), or others set forth by other government agencies or regulatory authorities.

By addressing these facets of data governance, enterprises minimize the risks associated with their data, while also optimizing their ability to use the data effectively.

Data Stewardship and Managed Service Providers

Data governance is critical for MSPs, too — with caveats.

The biggest caveat is that because MSPs provide digital services (such as IT infrastructure management or data backup and recovery) to businesses on an outsourced basis, they regularly encounter data owned by other companies. As data stewards, they don’t frequently decide which types of data their customers manage, and they may have limited influence over how the data is stored, secured, monitored, etc. Nonetheless, as data stewards, they operate in an influential role in helping to enable the data governance strategies of the businesses they support.

For this reason, MSPs must do the following:

  • Understand the unique data governance requirements of each of their customers. Different customers may have unique needs in areas such as regulatory compliance, for example.

  • Have the expertise necessary to help customers plan the data architectures that are best suited to each of their needs. MSPs bring specific technical expertise to the table and may have ideas on how to optimize security, identify how to make the data more usable, as well as other areas that their clients may have not yet identified.

  • Ensure that they have the tools and processes in place to meet each client’s data governance needs. For instance, if a client stores data on a certain cloud platform, being able to back up and restore data from that platform would be a requirement for any MSP that works with that data.

  • Establish procedures to validate that the data governance processes to which they have committed are followed. Promising to meet certain data stewardship mandates is one thing; auditing your processes and monitoring for data governance mistakes is another, and MSPs must meet both objectives.

Emerging Data Stewardship Challenges for MSPs

Meeting the requirements spelled out above requires substantial investments in data stewardship, regardless of what type of data or technology MSPs manage. However, MSPs also frequently encounter emerging challenges that further complicate the task of data stewardship.

One is the rise of novel technologies, such as generative AI, which creates new types of data management and privacy risks. Generative AI models operate as black boxes in most cases, rendering it difficult to discern the operations performed on the data connected by MSPs. For this reason, MSPs that are considering leveraging generative AI — as they might if, for example, they want to use AI services to generate documentation or reports — should establish stewardship policies that limit which types of customer data they feed into generative AI services.

Likewise, the data compliance landscape continues to evolve as new regulations come online. For example, the Consumer Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) introduced a novel rule requiring businesses to disclose when they use data for automated decision-making. This new policy required businesses — and, in some instances, MSPs who collaborate with them — to gain deeper visibility into how they process data. Future regulations may add other requirements that will necessitate adaptations to data governance and stewardship practices.

Those examples listed above are only a couple of instances of new challenges that MSPs face in the realm of data stewardship. The list goes longer — I haven’t mentioned issues like the growing use of multiple cloud platforms which can complicate efforts to centralize data governance or data management risks in a world where many employees work remotely, making it impossible to secure data neatly behind network firewalls. Suffice it to say that the data stewardship landscape will always evolve, and MSP data stewardship strategies must also evolve.

MSPs’ Unique Role

MSPs have a unique — and, in some ways, uniquely important — role to play in data governance and stewardship. They don’t typically decide which types of data their customers manage, or even how they manage it. They’re on the front lines of everyday data management operations for their clients and this means they must function as dependable data stewards, primed to meet their customers’ data governance needs, both today and in the future.

Kausik Chaudhuri is the chief innovation officer at Lemongrass Cloud. You may follow him on LinkedIn or @LemongrassCloud on X.

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