Impact of Big data on controller's role in strategic decision making – Case SOK

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School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
The purpose of this thesis is to investigate the impact of big data on controller’s role in organizations and whether the phenomenon is furthering the trend of controllers playing a larger role in strategic decision making. Various organizational functions face new challenges as companies look to find financial value from access to new data sources and analytics tools. Management accountants should be aware of the opportunities and risks that big data offers. Is management accounting becoming marginalized by data specialists and operational managers or will controllers increase their influence by leveraging big data in financial analysis and strategic decisions? This thesis is based on a qualitative case study that aims to provide a rich description of the social structures, decision making processes and interactions between diverse individuals in a unique organizational setting. Instead of testing a single existing theory, the thesis studies a phenomenon through a framework created by prior literature. It aims to act as a reality check to test the hypotheses of prior literature, not necessarily to confirm them. The empirical material of the study consists of nine semi-structured case interviews conducted in SOK, a corporation that offers various support functions and strategic guidance to the S Group, a network of largely Finnish companies operating in the retail and service sectors. The research results indicate that big data is one of the many factors forcing controllers towards a more strategic role in organizations. New sources of data require more advanced analytics and automation, hence some of today’s assisting accounting tasks are expected to be eliminated. However, controllers have not leveraged big data to increase their influence in strategic decisions. Lack of business understanding was identified as the most significant factor that prevents controllers from participating in strategic decision making and utilizing advanced data analytics in these decisions. Controllers have not been in the forefront of leveraging big data in decision making. Instead of controllers acquiring a larger role in data analytics, the research results indicate that it is more likely that data experts would acquire the tasks of controllers. As data analysts are already collecting and analyzing financial information, it appears that traditional accounting tasks can be effortlessly transferred from controllers to data analysts. Currently, however, controllers’ knowledge of accounting principles differentiates them from other professionals. To remain relevant and continue the expansion towards a more strategic role, controllers must find ways to leverage both new and existing sources of data in significant long-term business decisions. This will require a holistic understanding of the business and close cooperation with other professionals.
Thesis advisor
Vaivio, Juhani
big data, strategic decision making, controller, management accountant
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