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Everything you need to know about Data Contracts

March 4, 2024
March 4, 2024
04 March 2024

In today’s data-driven world, enterprises exchange vast volumes of data between different departments, services, and partner ecosystems from various applications, technologies, and sources. Ensuring that the data being exchanged is reliable, of high quality, and trustworthy is vital for generating tangible business value. This is where data contracts come in – Similar to traditional contracts that define expectations and responsibilities, data contracts serve as the framework for reliable data exchange.

In this article learn everything you need to know about data contracts!

What is a data contract?


A data contract is essentially an agreement between two or more parties regarding the structure, format, and semantics of the data being exchanged. It serves as a blueprint that defines how information should be organized, encoded, and validated during the communication process. Moreover, a crucial aspect of a data contract involves specifying how and when it should be delivered to ensure data freshness. Ideally, they should be provided at the start of any data-sharing agreement, setting clear guidelines from the outset while ensuring alignment with the evolving regulatory landscape and technological advancements

Data contracts typically serve as the bridge between data producers, such as software engineers, and data consumers, such as data engineers or scientists. These contracts meticulously outline how data should be structured and organized to facilitate its utilization by downstream processes, such as data pipelines. Accuracy in data becomes essential to prevent downstream quality issues and ensure the precision of data analyses.

Yet, data producers may lack insights into the specific requirements and essential information needed by each data team’s organization for effective data analysis. In response to this gap, data contracts have emerged as indispensable. They provide a shared understanding and agreement regarding data ownership, organization, and characteristics, facilitating smoother collaboration and more effective data utilization across diverse teams and processes.

It’s important to emphasize that data contracts are occasionally separated from data sharing agreements. While data contracts intricately outline the technical specifics and legal obligations inherent in data exchange, data sharing agreements provide a simplified version, often in formats like Word documents, specifically tailored for non-technical stakeholders like Data Protection Officers (DPOs) and legal counsels.

What is in a data contract?


A data contract typically includes agreements on:



Semantics in a data contract clarify the meaning and intended usage of data elements and fields, ensuring mutual understanding among all parties. Clear documentation provides guidance on format, constraints, and requirements, promoting consistency and reliability across systems.

The Data Model (Schema)


The schema in a data contract defines the structure of datasets, including data types and relationships. It guides users in handling and processing data, ensuring consistency across systems for seamless integration and effective decision-making.

Service level agreements (SLA)


The SLAs component of a data contract sets out agreed standards for data-related services to ensure the freshness and availability of the data. It defines metrics like response times, uptime, and issue resolution procedures. SLAs assign accountability and responsibilities to both parties, ensuring service levels are met. Examples of delivery frequencies include in batch, e.g. once a week, on-demand as an API, or in real-time as a stream.

Data Governance


In the data contract, data governance establishes guidelines for managing data responsibly. It clarifies roles, responsibilities, and accountability, ensuring compliance with regulations and fostering trust among stakeholders. This framework helps maintain data integrity and reliability, aligning with legal requirements and organizational objectives.

Data Quality


The data quality section of a data contract ensures that exchanged data meets predefined standards, including criteria such as accuracy, completeness, consistency, and timeliness. By specifying data validation rules and error-handling protocols, the contract aims to maintain the integrity and reliability of the data throughout its lifecycle.

Data security and privacy


The data security and privacy part of a data contract outlines measures to protect sensitive information and ensure compliance with privacy regulations. It includes policies for encryption, access controls, and regular audits to safeguard data integrity and confidentiality. The contract emphasizes compliance with laws like GDPR, HIPAA, or CCPA to protect individuals’ privacy rights and build trust among stakeholders.

Here is an example of a data contract from PayPal’s open-sourced Data Contract:

Paypal Opensource Data Contract Example

Who is responsible for data contracts?


Creating data contracts typically involves collaboration between all stakeholders within an organization, including data architects, data engineers, compliance experts, and business analysts.

Data Architects


Data architects play a key role in defining the technical aspects of the data contract, such as data structures, formats, and validation rules. They ensure that the data contract aligns with the organization’s data architecture principles and standards, facilitating interoperability and integration across different systems and applications.

Data Engineers


Data engineers are responsible for implementing the technical specifications outlined in the data contract. They develop data pipelines, integration processes, and data transformation routines to ensure that data is exchanged, processed, and stored according to the contract requirements. Their expertise in data modeling, database management, and data integration is essential for translating the data contract into actionable solutions.

Compliance Experts


Compliance experts also play a crucial role in creating data contracts by ensuring that the agreements comply with relevant laws, regulations, and contractual obligations. They review and draft contractual clauses related to data ownership, privacy, security, intellectual property rights, and liability, mitigating legal risks and ensuring that the interests of all parties involved are protected.

Business Analysts


Business analysts contribute by providing insights into the business requirements, use cases, and data dependencies that inform the design and implementation of the data contract. They help identify data sources, define data attributes, and articulate business rules and validation criteria that drive the development of the contract.

The importance of data contracts


At the core of data contracts lies the establishment of clear guidelines, terms, and expectations governing data sharing activities. By outlining the rights, responsibilities, and usage parameters associated with shared data, data contracts help foster transparency and mitigate potential conflicts or misunderstandings among parties involved in data exchanges.

Data Quality


One of the primary importance of data contracts is their role in ensuring data quality and integrity throughout the data lifecycle. By defining standards, formats, and validation protocols for data exchange, contracts promote adherence to consistent data structures and quality benchmarks. This, in turn, helps minimize data discrepancies, errors, and inconsistencies, thereby enhancing the reliability and trustworthiness of shared data assets for downstream analysis and decision-making processes.

Data Governance and Regulatory Compliance


Data contracts serve as indispensable tools for promoting data governance and regulatory compliance within organizations. In an increasingly regulated environment, where data privacy laws and industry standards govern the handling and protection of sensitive information, contracts provide a framework for implementing robust data protection measures and ensuring adherence to legal requirements. By incorporating provisions for data security, privacy, and compliance with relevant regulations, contracts help mitigate legal risks, protect sensitive data, and uphold the trust and confidence of data subjects and stakeholders.

Data Collaboration


Data contracts facilitate effective collaboration and partnership among diverse stakeholders involved in data sharing initiatives. By articulating the roles, responsibilities, and expectations of each party, contracts create a shared understanding and alignment of objectives, fostering a collaborative environment conducive to innovation and knowledge exchange.

In conclusion, data contracts extend beyond mere legal instruments; they serve as foundational pillars for promoting data-driven decision-making, fostering trust and accountability, and enabling efficient data exchanging ecosystems.

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At Zeenea, we work hard to create a data fluent world by providing our customers with the tools and services that allow enterprises to be data driven.

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Chez Zeenea, notre objectif est de créer un monde “data fluent” en proposant à nos clients une plateforme et des services permettant aux entreprises de devenir data-driven.

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Das Ziel von Zeenea ist es, unsere Kunden "data-fluent" zu machen, indem wir ihnen eine Plattform und Dienstleistungen bieten, die ihnen datengetriebenes Arbeiten ermöglichen.

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