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The role of the controller in the future – become an economic business partner with data skills

The finance department is undergoing a continuous digital transformation, where several tasks are being automated. This often happens with the use of new cloud technologies within ERP and BI. This development means that the traditional role of the controller as an Excel expert, solving a range of partially manual data tasks with spreadsheets, is changing. The tasks to be solved can and will increasingly become more automated, so what does that mean for the role of the controller in the future?
October 1, 2019 twoday kapacity

The future is bright for controllers  

The future looks bright for controllers. This is due to increasing reporting requirements, more compliance, and increasing amounts of data that need to be handled and analyzed.

New industries are emerging, industry boundaries are blurring and increasing the complexity surrounding companies, and new technologies are coming in at an increasing pace. The development is rapid and the change-ready and hungry controller and finance employee are well-positioned to win and help set the agenda. However, it requires new skills. Skills that this blog post will outline.

The controller's new data skills

Today, the controller solves many recurring manual data tasks in connection with for example  period-end close, including:

  • Are the ERP and CRM systems configured and adopted correctly, so that the data created meets the management needs?
  • What is the quality of the master data?
  • Are our BI systems outdated, so they do not support BI self-service well enough?
  • Are we missing important data in our Data Warehouse? 

The controller can advantageously take the lead and set the agenda for the company's future strategy for data and business systems with Digital Finance.

Throughout the change process, the controller will also develop their skills to collaborate with internal and external IT specialists such as database administrators, data warehouse developers, and other system developers. In the end, this competency development will visibly improve the outcome of IT projects around the finance department, as better bridges can now be built between the finance department and IT. The result is good digital transformation, as the finance department now works on an equal footing with IT specialists.

Controllers must learn to look forward

As an economic data and analysis consultant and business partner, the controller must become better at looking to the future and advising on it. Traditionally, the finance department spends many hours, days, and weeks building budgets and ongoing forecasts to guide the future. This leaves limited time for advice and business development after the budget and forecast figures are created.

However, these processes can be supported and partially automated using Business Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The result is less resource-intensive and more frequent updates on how the finance department expects the company's financial future to develop.

BI developers and Data Science employees cannot develop the best possible solutions without close collaboration with controllers or other financial persons who understand data and systems and who know the company's data in depth. So again, competence development and learning are keywords in connection with the finance department's digital transformation.

The good data platform and self-service BI

For the finance department to succeed in its transformation towards becoming a strong data and business partner for the rest of the company, the finance department must have a modern data platform. This is ensured by having a well-developed Data Warehouse that is updated and structured with all relevant financial business data.

The company's BI front-end application/reporting system must be suitable for supporting good data self-service. It is difficult to succeed with self-service BI and further develop employees' data skills if you have an old reporting system, as such tools often require more coding skills compared to the latest systems. Additionally, the latest systems have more intuitive user interfaces that ordinary users find more attractive to work with.

Is Excel on its way out?

The answer is NO. 

Excel will still be one of the preferred tools for the finance department, but the tool needs to be used better. Excel contains a range of data functions, such as the ability to access databases directly and build data models with PowerQuery and PowerPivot.

These functions are easy to learn, but they are often underutilized, and many in the finance department are not familiar with them. Instead, manual data processing and modelling tasks are repeated again and again, for example, during the monthly close using VLOOKUP, copy/paste, and other simple formulas. This is time-consuming and increases the risk of errors. The controller as an Excel expert needs to develop into a data expert.

If you work with financial management, reporting, controlling, or planning processes and are interested in learning more about data and Business Intelligence (BI) in combination with financial management, you can read more about our course 'Power BI for Controllers' here.

In the course, you will gain a basic understanding of BI and how to design a data model that can optimize your controlling and reporting processes using Excel Power Query, Power Pivot, and Power BI.

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