Controllers have undergone a very successful transformation. This is clearly shown in the various roles that they have taken on over the course of time: from bean counter to navigator to business partner. This transformation has fundamentally changed the face of their profession, which nowadays has more to do with management than a professional specialization. At the same time, the range of tasks controllers carry out has increased significantly. The progression from bean counter to navigator did not mean that they dispensed with accounting, cost accounting, and performance metrics; however, planning, control, and consulting activities had to be carried out in addition to this. The same applies to the progression to business partner, which has resulted in controllers taking part in strategic planning and performance management, for instance, on top of their other work.
I find myself wondering, why is it that controllers of all people have acquired more and more duties? For me, there are two main reasons: First, the new tasks are very closely related to their previous ones. Controllers were able to gradually learn them and could easily coordinate them with their old tasks. Second, the pressure on managers to make decisions has steadily increased in recent years. As a result, they are in need of more comprehensive management support – and controllers are their main point of contact when it comes to management control issues.
So, will the range of tasks carried out by controllers continue to increase in future? At what point are controllers overloaded? We will have the answers to these questions soon: The wave of digitalization is a true test for controllers, bringing with it tough new requirements that range from business modelling to business analytics. We will have to wait and see whether, and if so how, they face up to this challenge, too.
Author: Professor Jürgen Weber