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How Business Controllers can adapt to transformation

Today’s Business Controllers play a key role in maintaining and improving the financial health of organizations. However, as the world is transforming, we witness shorter business cycles and digitalized processes, coupled with growing demands on finance teams. Business Controllers need to cater for more stakeholders in the organization and adapt to a faster world (and lead the transformation at the same time…). How can Business Controllers adapt to this transformation?

A brief history about the Business Controller

First, let’s begin with a definition. A Business Controller overlooks the financial operations of an organization by performing financial analysis, outlining strategic recommendations, developing financial planning processes, as well as designing business plans. The Business Controller often works closely to the Chief Financial Officer, and thus play a key role in the financial department. Positions in Business Control have continually increased over the past decades – and are expected to do so in the upcoming years.

Although controlling of an organization’s finances has been a part of businesses for a long time, the specific Controller role first emerged in American railway companies in the 1800’s, in response to a growing need to follow-up on internal activities. In the early 1900’s, the role of the Controller changed from administrator to analyst, advisor and problem-solver. However, it wasn’t until around the 1970’s that the interest in Business Controllers started to grow, in parallel with organizational decentralization and the increased need for information dispatch. Furthermore, globalization and increasing demands on financial compliance has further contributed to the rise of the Business Controller.

The Business Controller at the center of transformation

With the help of technology, a lot of manual tasks that used to be in the hands of the Controller, are now automated. At the same time, they are also expected to be a strategic partner and financial analyst, a co-designer of the financial processes, and a change agent in the financial department.

How can Business Controllers embrace the transformation of today’s business landscape to save time and focus on more analysis and strategic recommendations?

1. Take the lead on digital transformation

Digital transformation is a must for today’s finance departments: adoption of financial systems, AI, automation, better use of data – the list can go on. The Business Controller can truly lead this change, as he or she is the one in charge of designing the financial processes. By taking the lead on what could and should be improved in terms of digitalization, the Business Controller will get more impact and ownership of the financial processes.

2. Reduce dependence on IT

Considering the digital transformation that has taken place over the last few decades, finance teams have partly been dependent on the IT department. Data integration, storage, security, deployment, report creation and maintenance used to be tasks that required heavy intervention from the IT. However, nowadays, thanks to more sophisticated financial solutions with direct data integration, rapid deployment and minimal maintenance, the Business Controller does not necessarily have to rely as much on IT as in the past. Just ensure that you make thorough research before choosing financial systems, and that they respond to your resource requirements.

3. Extend your planning & analytics to the entire organization

The Business Controller can and should still be one of the main owners of the budgeting, forecasting and analytics process. However, if the Control department wants to focus more on analysis and strategic decision-making (and less on manual tasks), it is vital to extend the planning and analytics process to the entire organization. By empowering users to truly own their budgeting, planning and analytics process, they will be accountable and in charge of their figures. For example, by creating a robust and decentralized sales forecast, budget and analytics process, the sales department will to a much greater extent be in charge of their own figures, and simply report to the control department, who in turn will analyze the figures and come up with strategic recommendations to management. By delegating detailed tasks, the Business Controller will be able to focus on the big picture.

4. Ensure that your team members have the right skills (including yourself)

Considering all the above points, the Business Controller needs to possess good leadership skills, data literacy and a good understanding of digitalization. While they do not need to be programmers themselves, it is important that they are aware of what types of solutions there are on the market, and what could help them in their daily work.

The Business Controller is often involved in the recruitment process of new team members. Therefore, they should make sure that they consider the necessary skills to thrive in today’s business environment – strong analytical skills, understanding of technology and leadership capability.

The Business Control role is gaining importance. However, to stay relevant, the Control department needs to stay ahead of the digital transformation and learn the right skills.