The future of controlling: digital, predictive, multidimensional
Executive Education / 15 October, 2020
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Professor für Management Practice & Control
Seit August 2020 ist Ronald Gleich Professor for Management Practice and Control an der Frankfurt School. Seine Forschung konzentriert sich auf aktuelle sowie praktisch relevante Fragestellungen des Controllings, des Innovationsmanagements und des Performance Measurements.

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Controlling and performance measurement are – not least due to the challenges of digitisation – in a state of upheaval. Priorities must change; new skills are required. Controllers are doubly affected by digitisation. On the one hand, the influence of digitisation is transforming processes, products and business models. To succeed as a business partner, to be taken seriously by management and CFOs, controllers have no option but to acquire an in-depth knowledge and understanding of these changes and the resulting adjustments that must be made to management systems. On the other hand, they must also prioritise the digitisation of the Controlling function itself. Here, the most useful resources are new IT systems supporting, for example, advanced or predictive analytics, or new process automation tools such as robot process automation (RPA). By boosting the efficiency of the controlling processes used to manage standard routines, controllers are able to concentrate on providing high-quality advice to management and dealing with strategic issues.

Developing digital skills for controllers

The starting point is a digitisation strategy for the Controlling function. This should act as the basis for planning next steps and identifying the necessary skills and capacities. By using a “skills inventory” to compare the current state of digital expertise with the target profile, controllers can systematically develop the skills of their entire team, with individual team members specialising in specific areas. Not all controllers need to become fully fledged “data scientists” – the main priority is to ensure that the team as a whole has the knowledge and skills to be able to operate successfully in the new digital environment.

Managing and acting with greater agility and flexibility

In parallel with their digital transformation, companies must also steadily improve their agility and flexibility so they can cope with global competition in volatile markets. This is not just a project management issue – it also includes business activities in the marketplace and in corporate networks such as supply chains. To achieve this, controllers must efficiently manage many different kinds of data, rapidly extracting and summarising the information most relevant to corporate decision-making. Controllers must also be capable of generating flexible, ad-hoc reports on changing circumstances and new situations. One way of doing this is to use agile management methods such as Scrum. This requires letting go of traditional, project-based controlling methods by paring down bureaucracy. It also requires the courage to revise established goals and budgets. Controllers must adapt their specialist toolkit to meet new challenges and make the Controlling function more flexible and agile. New technology platforms, including Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems such as S4/HANA, can provide the necessary support and supply the software needed for agile performance management.

Non-financial factors are becoming more important

In many companies, the ongoing advance of performance measurement and the adoption of methods such as the “balanced scorecard” mean that the Controlling function no longer has a purely financial focus. Instead, controllers now observe, plan and report on market, process, supply-chain and HR issues. For controllers, a solid understanding of risk and crisis management is also becoming increasingly important, as is an open-minded attitude to innovative projects and new business models – not to mention business-relevant megatrends such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0, or principles such as sustainable and purposeful business. Not only must controllers understand all these things, they must also incorporate them into their operational and strategic controlling systems so that planning, business management and reporting are based on multidimensional considerations. To develop the kind of resilient Controlling function described above, controllers need continuing education. Standing still is tantamount to backsliding!