Factors that influenced the change in management accounting
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
This chapter will review the relevant literature and the understanding of the traditional role of the management accountant. The chapter will begin with an understanding of the concept of management accounting. This provides a background for discussion of the traditional role of management accountant. Finally, a review of all the factors that may influence on the role and promoted the change of the role are explored.
‘Accounting is a process of identifying, measuring and communicating economic information to permit informed judgements and decisions by the users of the information’
(Wallace, 1997, p.220)
The history of accountancy has progressed in combination with civilisation and commerce. The literature provides evidence that Paciolo in 1494 founded the concept of accounting by publication of ‘Summa de Arithmetica’. He presented accounting in methodical form that became a science later on.
The definition suggests that accounting is about providing economic information to others and it relates to the financial or economic activities of the organisation. Accounting information is identified and measured by the way of a set of accounts or double-entry bookkeeping.
2.1.1 Management accounting
Management accounting is that part of accounting which provides decision making information to managers for use in planning and controlling operations (Seal at all, 2006). The term of management accounting is defined by numbers of authors (Shank, 1989, Back-Hock, 1992, Nanni at all, 1992) in that management accounting provides information to develop performance measures and includes all planning and monitoring in an organisation. Simon et al., (1954), cited by Jarvenpaa (2007) described the role as the traditional role of management accounting. The role was an operational scorekeeping where accounting information was used to satisfy the organisation’s reporting obligation.
2.1.2 The rise and fall of management accounting
The arrival of Johnson and Kaplan’s publication Relevant Lost: The rise and fall of management accounting (1987) plays an important role in the direction that teaching and research may adopt in the near future. J&K states that the decline of management accounting began in the 1920s when most of the management accounting techniques known today were practically developed. According to J&K the fall of management accounting was mainly due to the ever-increasing cost of implementing a detailed and efficient internal product cost system.
J&K argued that management accounting techniques had not change since 1920s. Up to 1980’s many countries enjoyed operating in protective environments. Oversees companies were limited to operating in the domestic market with barriers to communication, geographical distance and sometimes protected markets (Drury, 2003). Since 1980s many organisations have changed and adapted new techniques. Organisational change had an impact on management accounting change. Cost allocation has been the most debated topic in man acc. Up to the 1960s standard costing was promoted by academic and professional organisations and was viewed as the key management accounting tool in cost control (Bailey, 2006). According to Allott (2000) “the post war area was characterised by rational expectations about human behaviour and beliefs in linear progress, upward mobility and equal opportunity.” The 1970’s brought new changes to management accounting and standard costing relevance that began to focus more on efficiency. In the large organisations the accountability of standard costing was questioned. Robert S. Kaplan in his Accounting Review argued that cost accounting was developed between 1850 and 1915. He argued that up to 50s big corporations used “cost oriented techniques” (Knortz, 1990) but then they started to focus more on consumers and their role in a business.
Due to changes in manufacturing and business environment, volume based costing is no longer appropriate because direct labour and material expenses no longer dominate product costs. In response to this issue activity based costing system was introduced that brought huge success to Japanese management accounting (Ezzamel, 1994). Each organisation must also consider the cultural and social setting before any alterations to the ABC are successful (Lowry, 1993, Ezzamel, 1994, Otley, 2008).
In summary, the change of management accounting outlined by Johnson and Kaplan (1987) seem to be across management accounting literature (Otley, 1985, Noreen, 1987, Drucker, 1990, Ezzamel, 1994, Fry et al., 1998, Otley,2008). Jonson and Kaplan did raise important question about management accounting and helped organisations to re-evaluate the importance of having an accurate management accounting system.
2.2 Traditional role
The concept of ‘accountant’ was introduced in Italy around the eleventh century. At the same time the first society of accountants was establish here in Italy. In 1669 every accountant must be a member of the college before being allowed to practice (Woolf, 1986, p.162).
2.2.1 The typical stereotype
The traditional role of accountant is often called the bean counter stereotype. Holland (1973) develops a theory on this subject. He classifies people into six categories. The accountant relates to the conventional type giving an overall good impression, decent, dealing with computations in the organisational and business field. He linked the work that accountant does to the type of person the accountant is. The close link was found by Bougen (1994, p.321) using various personal characteristics and different tasks. The stereotypical accountant was defined based on the tasks carried out.
2.2.2 The Bookkeeper/Traditional Management Accountant
The old inaccurate image of stereotype was seen as quiet, boring and without original thoughts. The study on this negative image by Beardslee and O’Dowd (1962) was seen the accountant as a Victorian bookkeeper spending most of the time at the desk and on a ledger without contact with the outside world.
Simon (1954) in his studies classified the role as scorekeeping, problem solving role and attention directing. According to Friedman and Lyne (1997) the scorekeeping focuses on compliance reporting and attention directing focuses on control issues. The problems solving role associated with decision-making and providing managers with relevant information.
Feeney and Pierce (2007) stated that their role did not relate to the business, had lack of creativity and very limited level of decisions. Accountants were involved in working with budgeting, variance analysis and traditional accounting. Over the past 30 years management accountant had a clear but narrow view that management accounting information could help to improve profitability. They believed that managers from other departments did not understand the importance of accounting information and all available date they held in the accounting systems. At that time, management accountants were proved of their role and be able to educate their non-financial managers about the benefits of using this management accountants were traditionally seen as an independent person who had narrow knowledge how management accounting information could improve profitability and efficiency of the organisation.
Nanni et al (1992) point out that traditional management accountants have tended to focus on a product-oriented rather than a process-oriented performances. There is some evidence that accountants have had little interests in any organisational changes even they had skills to bring some changes. For example, it was accountants who insisted on the implementation an activity-based costing system (Foster and Gupta, 1989) or product life-cycle costing system.
2.2.3 ‘Accounting lag’
Johnson and Kaplan (1987) criticised management accountant for their inability to innovations and this was viewed as an “accounting lag” .Kaplan (1984) in his study about accounting lag proposed that accountants “should develop a research strategy to meet new demands for planning and control information”. He suggested that there was little innovation since 1920. Accounting lag need to be minimized to keep accounting information relevant to all changes occurring over time.
2. 3 Pressures for Changes
The literature identifies some relevant factors that impact on the role of management accountants including:
2.3.1 Advances in Manufacturing and Globalisation
Companies have invested heavily in new manufacturing technology such as computer aided manufacturing (CAM), Computer Aided Design (CAD), and flexible manufacturing systems (FMS) (Buggerman and Siagmulder) The new manufacturing technologies have impacted on traditional managing accounting systems and
!”Consequently it is argued that management accounting systems have to change when manufacturing systems change”
With respect to product costing and overhead costs, tracking thousand’s of individual products can be overwhelming. Traditionally, Labour hours were used as a basis for an overhead allocation. It is perhaps less suited as products made through automation would be charged an insufficient overhead rate.
The competitive pressure on firms and the shift in many industry sectors from cost led pricing to price-led costing (Nixon, 1998) and globalization are just some of the many factors that are influencing the escalating expenditure on R&D and New Product Development that most companies must now incur.
Pre 1980’s many countries enjoyed operating in protective environments. Oversees companies were limited to operating in the domestic market with barriers to communication, geographical distance and sometimes protected markets (Drury 2003)
However manufacturing companies were open to sever pressure from competition from oversees competitors that offered high quality products at low prices. To be successful in competition against these companies they had to advance and adopt to change and find a competitive weapon to compete against world class manufacturing companies.
As a result of highly competitive market, consumers’ expectations, changes in tastes and attitudes, companies must now have the flexibility to cope with consumer demands for greater variety and improvements, shorter life cycles etc.
2.3.3 Advances in manufacturing technology
Evolution of management accounting information technologies and ERP systems in particular have been a fundamental catalyst in I.T. change and traditional management accounting techniques have had to keep in line and pace with these rapid advancements.
ERP can have significant implications for management accountants. As noted by Granlund and Malmi (2003) “the link to management accounting appears important since one set of benefits from integrated systems is assumed to flow from easy and fast access to operational data, management accounting being essential for conveying such data in a managerial relevant and usable form”. Also when major scale changes regarding information systems occur, logic of accounting becomes exposed to evaluation and possible changes.
As ERP is a totally integrated information system it merges together all data from manufacturing department to sales division and the integrated data flows immediately through the system(). As a consequence of this integration accountants have had to learn to work with this new system, and to look at the business as a process rather than in divisions which has led to more team work and greater cross functional communication and co-operation.
On the other hand there is evidence suggesting the accounting professionals are developing a broader role for themselves. Accountants are becoming less in charge of data gathering and more data interpretation and consulting kind of work. ERP has eliminated several number crunching assignments as it’s already done by the system thus leaving more time for accountants to expand their capabilities. Their role can be enhanced by becoming advisors and internal consultants to other managers.
With the implementation and running of ERP systems accountants have gained a more active role in the maintenance and management of the IT area and eroding into activities and responsibilities typical of the I.T. area. Caglio (2003) states that “As a consequence of the intro of ERP systems, accountants have experienced a phenomenon of Hybridization deriving from their set of practices and legitimized competencies”
2.3.4 Changes in organisation structure
Changes in manufacturing technology, globalisation and fierce competition have lead to changes in the structure of the organisation. Companies have focus on downsizing, delay ring management activities and outsourcing support services. Technology advances in flexible manufacturing robotics automated production and computerised engineering and planning are affecting the markets raising the quality of products and services while lowering and eliminating stock levels (Baily 2006)
3.1 Change is a contextual process
Burns and Vaivio (2001) described change as a complex and contextual process. They introduced three perspectives on change. The first perspective explores the idea that what sometimes appears to be change, may not actually be the change (DCU thesis). Change could be an illusion or kind of organizational mirage and often can be seen as positive phenomenon. But sometimes management accounting change could lead to substantial problems such as unforeseen conflict (Malmi, 1997; Kasurinen, 1999; Granlund, 2001). The second perspective provides a debate about the logic of change. Any changes including management accounting change is not planned, but is viewed as a part of reality and neutral activity. The final perspective point out that management accounting can be viewed as phenomenon. Therefore change may be presented as a centrally driven effort where the management plays an important role.
For example in the case of mergers and acquisitions occurring, new rules will be introduced and/or modified. This can happen deliberately or unconsciously. Deliberate changes could occur due to resistance within the acquired organisation (Burns and Scapens 2000) Changes may be unconscious when rules are simply misunderstood or are inappropriate to the circumstances.
3.2 Management accounting change
Management accounting change has become an increasingly popular focus for research in management accounting in 1990s due to implementation of activity-based costing( Innes and Mitchell, 1990), activity-based cost management ( Friedman and Lyne, 1995), life cycle costing (Shields and Young, 1991) and target costing (e.g. Dutton and Ferguson, 1996).
Recent research has debated whether management accounting has changed, has not changed or should be changed. (Burns and Scapens 2000) Whether management accounting has changed or not, that the environment in which management accountants operate certainly has changed with advances in information technology, change in organisation structure and stiffer competitive markets.
The understanding of management accounting change constitutes much more than the selection of what may be perceived as being optimal accounting systems and techniques, followed by a technical process of implementation. (Burns et al book) Selecting and using the correct management accounting techniques and the technical aspects of performance are important, but there are also behavioural and cultural issues to be understood in relation to change implementation and change management. The main focus on management accounting change is on understanding the processes involved in the implementation of management accounting change and the complexities of, and difficulties involved in, changing management accounting systems, techniques and roles.
Burns (1999) suggest that many organisations have routines in place and new changes introduced will lead to the change of the nature of the organisation. In the early 1980s a project, called the Production Cost Control Project was set up to improve the flow of acc info in Omega Plc. The project had failed because the operating managers saw the business in terms of producing-based meanings and routines. The divisional accountants viewed the business as financial term and regarded PCCP as a means of introducing accounting-based routines.
Sulaiman and Mitchell (2005) carried out study on management accounting change in Malaysian manufacturing companies. After gathering all information a four types of change had occurred. The two types occurred due to new technique introduction and two concerned existing management accounting modification. The research found that management accountant classified the level of management accounting change into five generalised components.
3.3 Institutional theory
Institutional theory is a theoretical framework that became more relevant in research of management accounting change. In accepting this theory there is no universally agreed definition of an institution. Scott (1995) describes “instutions are social structures that have attained a high degree of resilience” Burns and Scapens (19990 defined institution as a way of action of commonness which is surrounded in the habits of a group of people.
3.3.2 Institutional framework as a rules and routines concept
Development of the framework began by looking at the way in which order is achieved through rules and routines. The framework perceive management accounting to be a rules and routines constituted by established habits. (Kim Soin, 2002). Hodgson (1993) defined habits as ‘self-actualizing dispositions or tendencies to engage in previously adopted form of action’. Habit is a personal action where routines involve group of people as components of institution. Routines play an important role in an organisation in which management accounting was viewed as a rule concept where management accountant performed routine tasks. Rules may be became implemented through the establishment of routines and vice versa. Therefore the reproduction of roles and routine will persist over time and the routines of management accountants may be changed. The process of change may develop new routines which over time could be institutionalised.
In the organisation routines can be adapted very quickly over the time. Human behaviour in the organisation is based on repeating actions to comply with rules and routines as they provide an organisational memory and represent the basis for the development of the behaviour (Kim Soin, 2002). Guerreiro, R at al (2006) used habit, routines and institutions to illustrate how accounting practices can turn from habit to institutions through routines. They concluded that ‘all institutions are structured on the basis of take-for-granted habits and routines’, succeed during a certain period and are realised in a form of normative rules.
3.3.3 ‘Taken for granted’
According to Scapens (2006) organisations react more slowly to changes than individuals as they removed form every day activities in some way. He observed that over time, management accounting can contain a structure that shows the way organisations thinking and acting – which is widely taken for granted. Management accountants were viewed as routine features in the organisation and they simply taken for granted as the way things are.
Some researches of institutionalism criticised the framework as it overplays its emphasis on constancy at the expense of focusing on institutional change. Quattrone and Hopper (2001) explained how management accounting can be influenced by an organisation or by individuals. Individualism argues that an organisation changes when individual actions modify the organisation. They introduced the concept of ‘drift’ for constructions of accounting change. The authors replaced the word ‘change’ with world ‘drift’. Quattrone and Hopper (2001) choose drift as to represent accounting change as “incomplete attempts at organising” and emphasise that human elements that situate accounting change is not a harbour to the change. They argued that accounting change was also promoted by technical and inscribed elements.
In a recent study of change in management accounting Busco at all (2007) organised the notion of change within key dimensions. The key dimensions were evaluated in terms of the ratio and forms of change as well as evaluation over space and time of change. They carried out a case study to investigate those key dimensions in the Middle-East Gas and Oil Company (MEGOC) as a large corporation operating in the oil and gas industry. They found that change can only happen due to incompleteness that exists within an organisation. Busco at all (2007) concluded that ‘management accounting change is a theoretical space which, possibly more than many others in management and organizational studies, intersects and interacts with the broader knowledge area of the social sciences, sociology and philosophy of knowledge and science and technology studies’
4.1 Management accountant as hybrid accountant
The term hybrid accountant emerged in the literature from around 1995 as its role was focused on product stream. Burns and Baldvinsdottir (2005) studied a concept of new role of management accountant as ‘hybrid accountant’ by examining a multinational pharmaceutical company in the manufacturing division. Their study found that the number of hybrid accountants increase with development of team relationship building while routine accounting role disappearing. Two types of hybrid accountant were found from their study: finance manager and finance analyst were the finance manager was involved in strategic issues and the finance analyst was involved with day to day activities. According to Miller et al (2007) hybrid is defined as “new phenomena produced out of two or more elements normally found separately”. The discussion in the literature around ‘hybrid accountant’ has developed in ‘business partner’ direction.
4.2 Business partner role
It has been noted in the literature that management accountant have become more and more involved in business processes (Sathe, 1982, Keating and Joblonsky) and have demonstrated a strong business understanding (Feeney, 2007, Burns at all, 1999). Hopper (1980) found that principal task of accountants was to act in a service role rather than a bookkeeper. He found that majority described their lore as the service role and only few called themselves as the bookkeeper and preferred the management accounting tasks to be centralised. Grnalund and Lukka(1998) presented the transformation from bean counter to business-orientated management accountant position. The transformation occurred with the increasing decentralization of the management accounting function. They concluded that those two roles are very different and a person can not act in both roles. Some evidence emerging in the literature that transformation of management accountants to business partner started at the top by the business and profit centre managers became more depended on accountants. Managers used their help as the guidance to run their business (Siegel, 2003) and they expect from accountants a better business understanding and more flexibility (Pierce and O’Dea, 2003).
Burns and Baldvinsdottir (2005) concluded that it is necessary for management accountants to have a broad range of business skills with their basic technical skills.
4.3 Professional skills of management accountant ( subheading needed)
As processes have changed and accounting has adapted over time to meet the needs of ever changing business, management accountants have been required to change their skills. (Fleming 1999) They are projected to be forward thinking business forecaster s who add value to the entity and not just highlighting whether the targets have been met (Burns and Yazdifar) Traditionally management accountants spent time on preparing standardized reports. Today the shift has moved towards analyzing, interpreting and providing information for decision making purposes. (Roberta et al 2009) These skills include traditional as well as soft skills that these management accountants posses in order to contribute positively to the tasks that are acquired to perform as part of their role (Jones and Abraham 2007) A recent study by Freeny and Pierce 2007 looked at management accountant skills and asked both managers and management accountants to rank skills in order of perceived importance.
Ethics and honesty were rated highly by both parties. “Managers value the unbiased and objective perspective offered by management accountants- the financial numbers cannot afford to be skewed in favor of a certain standpoint” Accuracy is also crucial. A simple error in calculation could amount to millions of Euros, which could lead to a wrong decision (Siegal 2000 )As part of Management accountants role converging towards hybrid accountants as business partners, honesty is good but they have to take into account a bit of cop on (Freeny and Pierce 2007) and process the commercial knowledge required on their behalf to get the job done.
For many businesses, critical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills are essential tools. It is an important skill of management accountants to think critically and to be good at problem solving. They need to be able to step back and look at something outside of the box (Siegal 2000)
“people can be a wizard at spreadsheets, can manipulate data effectively but can they figure out whether the information in front of them is reasonably or realistic” (Freeny and Pierce 2007)
Accounts have to be able to think logically in a business setting. They can’t just learn off and memorize what to do in different situations. Creativity is also important, to be able to step aside and show some innovation and ideas to problems.
In the study by Freeny and Pierce management accountant’s actual ratings in relation to interpersonal/ leadership and communication skill set fell below manager’s expectations. These are classed as fundamental skills and a necessary to have the ability to take on a complex subject and turn it into easily understandable language and be able to explain it to managers and other non accountants. “you guys can be geniuses with your spreadsheets but there isn’t that many of you that can sit down at the meeting and share information. A key responsibility in compiling reports for use is that the input is based from other personnel throughout the organization. Good personnel skills are needed to approach these managers and request information. Problems could arise where managers believe management accountants can adjust their targets and cause problems. This requires substantial interpersonal skills to close the communication gap.
It is evident that management accountants must prepare and equip themselves for their new role in line with changing business demands. Professional accounting bodies must update and modernize their training and education curriculum to guarantee that today’s management accountants can cope with new information technology systems, strategy and business partner role. (Burns and Yazdifar)
As many of the new accounting roles do not necessarily need a management accountant there is a threat posed to the profession. For example if an engineering firm is seeking for a new business manager they might seek engineers who encompass business knowledge with an accountant qualification rather than a fully qualified management accountant. To combat this threat accounting educators should develop curriculums that are less dominated by traditional management practices and focus on management accounting in a modern light and equip students with the skills necessary and useful to provide a value-added service.
Carcello et al (1991) conducted a survey of comparing student expectations to that of accounting professionals anticipations. Students included in the sample were within six months of graduating and professional accountants were in the work place for 1.5 years to 3.5 years. Four questions of the survey pacifically related to skills essential as a practicing accountant. (A) Technical Knowledge, (B) C computer Skills, (C) Verbal and Written Communication skills, (D) Interpersonal skills.
Respondents had to rank the skills on a five point scale. The results of the survey showed that professionals and students had similar views as to the importance of technical knowledge and computer skills. Students perceived communication skills and interpersonal skills as more important than professionals. Carcello et al (1991) concluded that this is a positive result as both communication and interpersonal skills are essential attributes of the accounting profession.
Oswick et al (1994) conducted a survey on the perception of public accounting skills held by uk students with accounting and non accounting career aspirations. The perception of a traditional accountant being dull and lacking in social skills is detained with non accountant students. In Oswick’s study these non accounting students perceived empathy and social styles as less important skills necessary than accounting students. Interpersonal skills were also rated lowly as perceived important by students not interested in accountancy. Students interested in accountancy did place a higher weighting on interpersonal skills and view the accountancy profession as a more interactive and social profession.
From the surveys conducted on skills required by accountants it is evident that there has been as increased weighting on the soft skills acquired by management accountant. Such evidence had had implications for accounting educators.
It is necessary to enable students and for faculty to remain abreast of the changes taking place in the profession and to identify key Accounting Skills needed for success. (Russell et al 1999)
Chapter 5 Methodology
The purpose of this chapter is to elaborate on the research methodology that was used in this dissertation. The beginning of this chapter refers to the objective of the research and is followed by the process of selecting the research method. This chapter also considers the limitations of the chosen research method.
As outlined in the introduction chapter the main purpose of this dissertation is to investigate the change of management accountants over time. The researcher wishes to identify the traditional role of management accountants and compare to the modern role of management accountant. The authors also seek to explore the factors that promoted the change.
A number of researches have already been carried out on “business partner” or “hybrid” accountant role and this has resulted a significant availability of information regarding this area. However, there is a lack of examination in some areas that the research will explore.
5.3 Chosen methodology
In order to achieve the research objectives it is necessary to choose an appropriate research approach. Tsetsekos (1993) outlined that the research methodology is very important as it “specifies the information requirements for the successful completion of a research project”. This dissertation is based on a secondary research that includes a critical review of prior literature. Secondary data consists of both quantitative and qualitative data.
5.3.1 Secondary Data – Literature review
A comprehensive review of the literature was conducted in chapter one, two and three. Literature review helps the reade
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