What is the controller’s role in business software usage and procurement? We’ve found this to be a significant question because a lot of otherwise smart people don’t seem to understand either what a controller does or what business software is really all about. First, the question that EVERYONE wants to ask: What’s the difference between a controller and a comptroller? The truth is, they’re the same role, though the comptroller designation is usually associated with a government position.

The controller is the chief accounting officer of an organization. He or she has a big job. While the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is technically the controller’s boss, with responsibility for overall financial management, the controller is the accounting boss. It’s a complex, challenging job that involves more than just accounting. As a result, controllers have a major role to play in the design and operation of a variety of business software applications.

A short list of business software applications that relate to the controller’s job includes the following. In some cases, these functions are actually contained in separate modules of a single solution.

  • Accounting software (general ledger)
  • Human Resource Management (HRM) systems
  • Payroll systems
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software
  • Point of Sale (PoS) systems
  • Reporting and Business Intelligence (BI) solutions
  • Governance Risk Management and Compliance (GRC) solutions
  • Audit management software

Set up and oversee the general ledger

General ledger is the heart of corporate accounting software. The controller is responsible for its setup and use. He or she must determine the chart of accounts along with a wide range of procedural and transaction processing workflows.

Establish accounting controls

The controller is responsible for establishing controls in the accounting process. While the controller may not actually design and implement the controls personally, he or she is in charge of their implementation and ultimately accountable for the effectiveness. Controls are intended to make sure that corporate assets are used appropriately. For example, requiring a senior executive to approve a purchase creates a control over spending. The control may not be located in the accounting software. Rather, it may be active in expense tracking software or any number of other applications.

Manage accounting processes, setting policies and procedures

The controller has the job of managing how accounting is done in a business. This is a task that is now almost entirely about software. Workflows and policies include things like vendor setup, check signing approvals, bank reconciliations and so forth.

Manage the accounting staff

Controllership is also a management position. The controller sits atop the accounting organization. In a large company, this might mean managing hundreds of people through direct reports and other subordinate managers. For this reason, the controller may have a lot to do with HR management software and other management related tools.

Assist with audits

Audits are a fact of life for the controller. At a minimum, the controller will be required to provide financial reports and other records need by the auditor. In some cases, the controller will manage specialized audit management software. In a large organization, audits may be wide-ranging, including public company audits, internal audits and compliance audits like Sarbanes Oxley.

Generate financial reports

This is a basic duty of the controller: creating the standard periodic reports like income statements, balance sheets, trial balances, statements of cash flows and so forth. This work is done on accounting software.

These are just a few of the ways that controllers interact with business software. Being a controller is a technology-intensive position, even though it’s not a technology position, per se. However, almost every aspect of the controller role is reliant on business software for its proper execution.