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The argument following from this discussioni s that detailed interpretative case studies of ERP and BI implementations are needed in order to understand the complex impact of such information systems on accountants' position and practices. This section is built around one such study, concerning the implementation of ERP and BI systems at AAA, an Italian medium-sized firm. The adoption and use of the system is described and discussed.
The focus of the case study is AAA, a medium-sized firm based in Italy. The company operates in the wine sector and has a strong cooperation with 41 partner wineries and over 20,000 wine growers from throughout the regions of Italy. Accounting for 10% of the total Italian annual production and with an annual turnover of around 250â‚¬ M per year, AAA is one of the leading firms in Italian wine industry. AAA operates in another business area: distillery division. It is important to mention that the type of business in which the firm is involved is unlikely to influence the findings of my analysis. The main characteristic of the organization that helped me developing an in depth analysis is its size. The reason is related to the fact that, since we conducted an interpretive case
study, it was of paramount importance to interview and interact with all the people who had taken a real, active part in the implementation of the new ERP system. This would have not been possible if we had explored a big firm, where the 'distance' between the people who take decisions and those who implement them is often too long for the collection of theoretically meaningful data. Secondly, the firm has already implemented both ERP and BI systems and was in an advanced stage of utilization that allowed me to collect, not only all the impressions from the users which have become more practical thanks to the accumulated experience, but also to let them identify the limits and give me more insights, which are not presented in other researches. Regarding ERP systems, the firm has implemented a whole ERP system, not just some of its modules. From the literature review this appeared to be an important factor influencing the magnitude of the impact of the system on accountants' positions and practices.
THE BACK GROUND
The decision to implement an ERP system at AAA came directly by the newly appointed CEO, which probably for his background as a management accountant saw in the ERP implementation a lot of potential "to go for growth". In order to sustain this growth, the company needed a corporate information system, which have to replace the replace the different information systems widespread across the company. Each system was dedicated to one or two tasks, such as raw materials stock control or invoicing. So he convinced people that the main weaknesses of the firm were represented by these legacy system, which were difficult to maintain and would not allow the integration of information flows. Then it was decided to adopt an integrated information system as a mean to completely renew the IT area.
When the firm decided to implement the ERP software, different software vendors came to propose their solutions. AAA excluded SAP - one of the most widely used ERP packages across Europe - from the range of possible solutions. The official motivation was linked to two main reasons: cost of implementation and rigidity of the system. The IT responsible for the project stated that SAP was without doubt the most attractive solution in terms of having the best practices and learning how to perform as the best. At the same time it loses in terms of flexibility, because with SAP you have to adapt the firm to the system and not vice versa, and in terms of longer time required as SAP is considered more complex than other ERPs. More time for implementation means more costs for training users and for the vendors support for implementation . The final decision went directly to the CEO which opted for flexibility, rather than best practices. According to the corporate, it would not have been possible to monitor the performance of the newly acquired firm, without promptly implementing the new IT system after the acquisition. Second, this would not have been possible without revising the practices for the collection, elaboration and diffusion of accounting information. In 2001 was approved an action plan with a full time project team composed by 8 people, among which was included a management (project) accountant. The project was sponsored by the CEO who wanted to renew completely the IT infrastructure and its application and align with the other competitors which had implemented an ERP. At that time, the information systems were fragmented and proprietary. There was a mainframe computer and several local area networks running standalone systems. All the users claimed to be satisfied with their systems. however none the systems used reported results which were consistent, and none of them contained totally accurate data. These systems were also expensive to maintain and they promoted separate identities within the organization and discouraged teamwork.
More specifically some explicit motivations, concerning the accounting department, were given in order to create consensus regarding the change within the department itself: the low quality of the accounting information provided and the consequent dissatisfaction of the final users; the increasing difficulties in managing the financial statements and the internal reporting which were becoming more complex. But replacing these legacy systems with the ERP involved several major problems:
The ability of the ERP to meet individual needs, because each function was satisfied with its previous system. As a user stated: each user used to perform task using its own system, and has to learn how to use its system. Now it has to learn how to use a system in which other users work. You have to pay attention to the data entered in the system because can modify the activities of other users.
This concept is linked with the issue of the resistant to change showed by some users, who were nervous about their jobs. The more people who were against changes were senior workers, who had a very good knowledge of how the organization operates and they do not want this process to change and loose the security they have about their job and position.
Another issue is linked with the change of the culture of the organization, which should move into a concept of integration and sharing of information. To transfer information from different legacy systems is and hard task, because you have to transform the data in the same format and make "communicate" together data coming from different functions, from marketing to finance, from accounting to production, etc. A project leader explained: we transferred the data from different systems, but the transfer was not completed because some data were corrupt and others were missing.
But the most difficult task was to introduce the concept of integration of information inside the organization, a task which is not completed at all. As one senior IT worker explained: with this unified system, when a user alter on type of data, it could influence and affect a lot of other data which stands at different level and of different functions inside the organization. People have difficulties to think outside the "walls of their office" and perceive the whole system and how large it is. They cannot understand that their work now can directly influence the work of others and vice versa, so they have to begin thinking as a team not just an individual.
For the corporate managers the integrated nature of information offered significant attractions, with common systems throughout the company interconnecting with each other. However they stressed one problem of ERP which is that it cannot recognize organizational boundaries. This can require significant change in both structures and organizational culture. As ERP is organized around business processes, it is essential that these are at least reviewed before implanting ERP, and decisions taken as to whether existing business processes need to be modified. Last but not least, a major question is whether the generic ERP package can be configured to meet the business's needs or whether customization is necessary. The general policy of firms which implement SAP is to avoid customizing software packages, for three main reasons: time, costs and simplicity. The decision not to customize the software was taken because of the problem of business process reconfiguration and the difficulties that would brought to the different business unit of AAA. The costs and flexibility were the two main reasons that brought to choose of an ERP different from SAP. The organization preferred to opt for a "good- enough" solution instead of an optimal solution because of the characteristics of their business with do not match the requirements of SAP. So opted for a cost saving solution.
From the very beginning, the CEO intended to clarify to workers that the adoption of the ERP did not simply imply a change in the IT applications in use, but was rather linked to a change of the culture of the organization and of its working practices. In order to create consensus among workers, the ERP was presented as a highly desirable choice as well as essential for competing in today business environment. As time passed, workers acquired more experience in the use of systems and were effectively asked to learn how to do difficult things, so they had some understanding of why the system was necessary and could attribute a wider significance to everyday project activities. The CFO has a lot of confidence in the project and was conscious that he could obtain a great participation in the project, by presenting the ERP as a desirable 'way of working'. This concept would included workers to overcome professional and "physical" boundaries, and be engaged in proactive collaboration . The new ERP was defined not only as a cheap solution to the fragmentation of information, but also as a unique opportunity to create harmony among workers, simplify the work by revising processes, which would become more automated, and the possibility to share information and insights with colleagues, in order to have a 360Â° knowledge of the organization and its processes.
Following this line of reasoning, the ERP implemented was described as an integrated solution covering all functional areas, which is based on an application that enables and facilitates the implementation of a process view of activities, as well as constrains people to use a common platform, making it possible to avoid the subsequent adoption of different approaches and different systems by the different functions.
The implementation of the ERP was a difficult and complex task. During the implementation phase, the project team created a vision of the system, in order to adapt it to the business. As said before the characteristic of this case study is that it has not happened a Business Process Reengineering, because the system was adapted to the existent business, because of problems to integrate the system into a special business unit. However, the project team has to have a vision of how the organization will be in the future and to prepare all the tables and schedules which will have identify the main elements of the organization: customers, products, business units, distribution channels, etc. This initial process helped to develop an understanding of the existing business in order to adapt the system to it and to preempt some future implications for the operating model. Although was an organization driven project rather than a technological driven one, the ERP has to be treated as a business rather than an IT project. The success of the project was linked to the clear idea of how to run business, and then using the ERP to model it. In order to provide workers this clear idea, a training program was needed in both business and IT literacy. This program was probably underestimated, because a lot of workers still lack of the knowledge required to exploit the capabilities of the system. As a user stated:
"the biggest problem we had was to convince some workers to adapt to the new technologies. There are some older people in the company which have a lot of difficulties to interact with computers, and to trust the data displayed in the video, which means that the money were spent not only in training program which resulted quite useless, but also in printing all the documents, reports, images, etc. that they cannot follow on the video!!!"
The resources devoted to training and retraining people are the major cost (and sometimes hidden) of installing the ERP. The speed which individuals become computer literature varied from person to person: some acclimatized very quickly, while others took more time to become familiar with the new computer environment. this created numerous problems in the early stages of implementation, as mistakes and data entry errors in one part of the system can produce significant problems elsewhere. This was one of the toughest concept for people to understand: the integrated nature of ERP means that data are put in into the accounting system, for example, not only by people working in accounting function, but also by people operating in marketing, production, or whatever in the organization.
During the implementation phase, the priority was given to accounting for different reasons: the core function of an ERP project is the accounting function, the CFO was greatly involved in the implementation phase, workers were unsatisfied of their old legacy system. But the main reason was that the decision to acquire this new system come directly from the CEO who wanted to build system which allow a rapid flow of information, starting from accounting. So strong attention was devoted to the accounting function. The users of accounting information were dissatisfied and perceived accounting activities as non-adding value. The risk for accounting function of becoming marginalized with the introduction of the new ERP system was very high. However, rather than protecting his function from the change, the CFO promoted the participation of the accounting department to the implementation phase. As a result accounting function broadened its range of activities and its range of contacts, increasing collaboration with colleagues of other department and acquiring a whole understanding of the information flows with the new process. The new ERP was an occasion for implementing the desired change regarding the accounting function.
One person for each function was selected to participate to the implementation. People involved in the project were requested to communicate, as well as to interact, with their teammates, according to a new inter functional view working, which is the basis of the concept of integration. Regarding their everyday activities, the system was characterized by more complex and more intense spatio-temporal interdependencies of tasks and responsibilities.
The success of the project relied heavily on collaborations and interdependencies among people involved at different levels. In particular during the pilot tests, the interdependencies involving different functions came out strongly: any time the test was unsuccessful, all the parameters used had to be revised, requiring the participation of all the future users of the system. The tests were useful to clarify doubts and see which was the level of integration of the firm: it was the moment when all the processes of the firm were performed at the same time by all the people in charge of managing them.
In this sense, the ERP imply a change of the internal climate since it was during the project that significant aspects of social conduct were redefined, as the implementation effort transformed not only communication practices, but also organizational norms and role expectations. It was through socialization, cooperation, and training that people reinforced the idea that their working practices were changing according to a process view of organizational activities. As a IT senior explained: the system is structured so that if a problem occur, it is resolved "interfunctionally", involving workers of other departments.
Such sense of interdependence got consolidated with the training activity. The training program linked the new orientations towards integration with the everyday activities of organizational actors. The training process marked the beginning of a more comprehensive process of change. This involved not only the key people of the project, but also the people who did not take an active part in the ERP implementation. The implementation of the new ERP system provided an arena for the
development of significant co-operative practices and helped to sustain reciprocity behaviors as a new institutional principle trough which put the basis for an organization with more flexible relationships among workers. This consideration is supported by the following statements pronounced by a final user:
With ERP the relationships with 'production people' and with the people responsible for procurement have changed: the communication flows are more intense, the exchanges of information are more frequent and there is a higher need of co-ordination. This is a consequence of the fact that now we have just one single IT system for all the functions. This has contributed to better focus people's attention on their tasks: everyone feels more responsible so that collaboration has improved a lot. In order to avoid problems, people are more willing to share solutions and insights. (Final user, responsible for accounts receivable)
In conclusion the ERP system, through its embedded, standardized practices, could be in itself considered as a vehicle of conformity. This is also where domination and signification become difficult to distinguish, as with the ERP. not only functional but also vertical barriers seemed to vanish for AAA people. In a sense, the ERP project served to create a parallel organization (Kanter, 1985), as the shared definition of reality, mediated by the ERP experience, could allow a 'collective sense of power' (Roberts, 1990: 121). which, in turn, emphasized a cooperative rather than a coercive division of labor. Thus this interplay between signification and domination successfully translated into the mapping and acceptance of interdependencies between units and functions, and in the face of the common challenge - the introduction of the ERP - drew out a reciprocal sense of commitment and obligation.
IMPLICATIONS FOR MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTANTS
There have been undoubtedly changes in management accounting within AAA, following the implementation of ERP. The new system conveyed new practices which consolidated the rules of reciprocity and inter functional collaboration., independently from the spatial and temporal boundaries. It improved and standardized the flow of information, and increased workers interaction through their shred knowledge and collective experience of the new ERP system. The need of collaboration and working among different functions led people to acknowledge and adapt to the changes brought by the ERP's implementation. The changes not only emerged during the implementation phase, but also consolidated in new ways of working for workers of different functions, including management accountants. During the implementation phase the whole accounting function was strongly involved in the project, as the accounting function was considered the central part of the system. This included management accountants which had participated to the parameterization process and the transfer of the dimensions from the old legacy system. This gave them possibility to understand the system operation before it went live, and to be prepared for the possible changes the system would brought. In particular the impact of ERP system on accountant's practices and role can be explained by characteristics of the system itself: the standardization of processes, the need for integration and inter functional collaboration.
First of all, the first procedures to be reviewed were the accounting procedures. Though the possibility to fit the system to requests of accountants, the integrated nature of the system has in part modified the work of accountants. The ERP introduction has standardized some practices and procedures, which have turned into some advantages and some disadvantages for the work of accountants. The advantages are indentified by the possibility to obtain clearer data, as one management accountant explained: "with old legacy system, the data was not reliable, because every function worked independently form the others, and so we had to spent a lot of time in controlling the origin of data before controlling the meaning of the data. Now, with ERP, the data are more correct because every function put the data in the same database, and we have just to download data from this database and prepare reports without having to check data because they do not match each other". At the same time the possibility to obtain clearer data has imposed some rigidity to procedures and accountants have lost some discretion in applying the procedures for the collection, elaboration and provision of information. Indeed the ERP system impose some rigidity in its processes: it prohibits the execution of tasks until the previous task, whether it is performed by the same user or by others, is completed. This means that accountants are not fully in control of their expertise, as they rely on the collaboration with their colleagues in order to accomplish their everyday activities. Moreover the ERP introduction has increased the pressure on accountants work. With the standardization of processes now other works know how long it takes to produce accounting information and also because their output is immediately visible across the entire firm. In addition, as a accountant explained, with the old system accountants had the possibility to correct mistakes before anyone noticing, now errors are immediately visible.
So, on the one hand, the standardization of procedures and the rigidity of the system has put a lot of pressure on accountants. On the other hand, the capacity to obtain clearer, more reliable and more precise information from ERP systems, has been a great advantage for management accountants to provide better outputs.
The information provided by ERP is quite similar to the information that was produced by the old legacy systems, but is available in real time and also managers at operational level can access information themselves, rather than waiting for the accounting reports. This possibility to obtain real time information has modified all the procedures and activities of management accountants which were based on past data, and more focused on forecasts. For example the budgeting process has now has a more forward-looking emphasis. Budgets are becoming more flexible and dynamic instead of being a static representation of the upcoming year. Indeed the initial framework is the same of the past, what changes is the possibility to modify the initial budget as a work in progress, relying on forecasts rather than on "historical information". This new type of information has brought also a new forward looking view as explained by a management accountant: "The forecasting process is probably one of the key financial processes that we have in the business, because we do a plan but the plan is history: we're managing the business on forecasts. We're forward looking all the time."
This means that the budget, which is set in the previous year, reflects a "past" view respect to the time in which the decision are taken, but as time passes this view can change. Thus, thank to the availability of real time information provided by the ERP, the budget must be updated with the use of forecasts.
As forecasts are produced for the coming months, there can be monthly comparisons of actual outcomes against the most recent forecast. However, this process follows a certain logic and strictly rules: revisions of the budget and each new forecast have to be fully explained and justified. Thus, variations from the original budget are discussed by the management team. In this way, although the budget is used as a general framework for the year, management is looking forward through the forecasts, not backwards to the budget.
The direction of change for accountants has been concurrently shaped by another characteristic of ERP: the need for integration and inter functional collaboration, as testified by the words of another final user which argued that ERP have brought a higher awareness about the importance of data and information as well as the importance of communications among different functions. The ERP system has a whole consideration of the organization, not distinguishing from people of accounting or production. This has redefined the relationship among workers, building a sense of mutual cooperation for the production of accounting information, which will serve to management. Management accountants confirm that their interactions with workers of other functions has increased. they argued that interactions increased but not as much as after the introduction of e-mail into organizations. However they have constant phone calls with other workers, thanks to the possibility to view the data in real time. The collaboration has increased also because both management accountants and production people have the same target: the production of data which are reliable, clear and precise. Moreover, cooperation means that mistakes have to be found as soon as possible. In the new ERP environment, separation of functions is a concept no more considered, because the procedures are linked each other. Added to the provision of real time data, the communication to the worker of other function and the subsequent correction of the mistake should be immediate and time saving.
The new interrelations born among different functions have also modified the responsibilities and tasks, and the role of different actors involved in the project. Management accountants were one of them. Being involved in the parameterization of the system, they obtained IT knowledge. There was a shared knowledge among these two actors: management accountant and IT specialist. Indeed management accountant started to understand some concept related to IT, which with the previous system was completely inconceivable, as the underlying concept and criteria were unknown. Being involved in the implementation, helped both actors approach the role of the other, and creating strong relationship. Moreover the flexibility of personalizing the ERP chosen, strengthen the relationship, giving the possibility to find new ways to improve the system operations. Regarding management accountants, they have enlarged their role, becoming more and more engaged with the IT function, in order to improve the system. This in part confirms the findings of Caglio (2003), which have argued that management accountant have experienced a phenomenon of "hybridization", deriving from the enlargement of their set of practices and legitimated competencies. Not only management accountant but also accountants benefited of this so called "hybridization", and this two actors of the organization, thanks to the introduction of the ERP, have mixed their knowledge. This hybridization trend is of interest in this case because I had the possibility to interview both parts and see how the separation of financial and management accounting, has become thinner after the adoption of the new system. The division of these two functions is directly related to the different users of the outcomes of their activities: management accountant produced information for internal users (management), while financial accountant external users (stakeholders). However, ERP integrative nature has approached this so similar and so different actors, so that it would create more interdependence and collaboration between them, and crating a mix of the two. This means that these "hybrid" positions, have to develop a broader vision of the firm as a whole, as well as of an understanding of all processes from the eyes of both financial accounting and management accounting. (PARTE DI scapens su broader role of MA). The financial accountant was the one who benefited mostly of this new collaboration. Regarding the activities managed by the financial accounting function, AAA has not determined any modification in practice. Rather, it has modified the way the underlying information flows are managed. After the ERP implementation, accountants, which have participated to the parameterization of the system, have understood how the processes are represented within the system and are also aware of how information flows across the organization.
As a consequence, financial accountants had the possibility to refers to internal users as management accountant do, but referring to the other functions, having the possibility to provide them providing the most relevant data and information.
This should not be called a new "hybrid" position, as the one proposed by Caglio (2003), but it has let them to acquire new knowledge and skills which would be useful to create a new position or role inside the organization.
Management accounting has confirmed this view of new accountants, and when I asked even if they had evolved into new "forms" they replied that they still evolving, but the change is taking place slower than financial accountants. One management accountant explained that: "when the system was implemented, the function which they devoted most attention was accounting. Accounting is a central part of the ERP system, so every process have to perfectly fit into accounting requirements. This gave them an important advantage. Management accounting is a secondary function for the organization, is something like a surplus. So management accounting requests did not have the priority and were implemented later."
The difference from the past is that now information is spread across the organization and management accountant are no more the only owner of that. Despite their central role in sustaining information flows, now information is more decentralized into all functions, from marketing to production.
In order to accompany this transformation, management accountants had redefine their role inside the organization. AAA decided to specialize management accountants by area, and assigning them different projects, so that one management accountant will be in charge of plant management and R&D, while another one of marketing and sales. These allow them to work directly with people of different functions, sharing their everyday problems. And then management accountants will share the knowledge acquired with each other. The result of this choice is to crate professionals which after gaining some experience in the field, will support different functions as business consultants. So management accountants are changing their expertise, becoming less involved with collection of information and more involved with interpretation of information, supporting managers and people of the line. In conclusion the new management accountants, resulted after the ERP implementation, have the possibility, which sometimes turn out into a need, to develop new skills, such as IT understanding, communication and strategic thinking, as well as the ability to work in teams. This not only means that such professionals will have to deal less with traditional accounting activities, devoting more time to understanding business operations, information systems, and strategic decision making. It also means that they will support workers of other functions as internal consultants, becoming more team player and less individualistic.
In this case this statement is not completely correct. Starting from the implementation where the management accountants were not fully satisfied with the choice of ERP. Firstly because AAA did not experienced the phenomena of Business Process Reengineering. The decision of implementing a flexible and customizable ERP instead of a best practice (for example SAP) has not given the possibility to learn something new from management consultants. They had interactions with IT consultants, with the possibility to let the system do what they want, but they did not exploit the knowledge of a management consultant of its experience with other business cases. As one management accountant stated: "the SAP philosophy is that if you choose their systems you have to adapt your business to SAP and not vice versa, because they have the best practices. The choice of SAP would lead to questioning your processes, your practices, your way to organize business, compared to the solution that they proposed to you, which is the best possible in the market."
So this has not led to fully exploit the potentiality of ERP systems, which still be improvable. In particular there is a lot of work that is done outside the ERP. Management accountants still prefer to take data from ERP and then to download them on Excel in order to prepare reports to show directly to managers. As stated one of the management accountants: only a minimal part of our work is performed directly on ERP systems, for example report are directly prepared by the ERP system, but they still remain incomplete because the system lack of some functionalities, which are present in Excel. The requirements of management is different for each type of work and its impossible for us to do all on ERP, because it was simply not set for this type of activities. It is useful for our work, because reduce the time spent on data collection and perform other tasks that were previously made by us. But Excel remain the best solution to perform the greatest amount of our day to day activities.
So in terms of change of management accounting information, as a result of the study we can argue that there not have been fundamental changes. The information produced by management accounts is the same of that was produced by the legacy systems. the biggest difference is in that they spent less time in performing tasks that can now be done by the system itself. The task in question is the so called data collection, which refers to the activity to collect, clean, summarize and prepare data, which will be presented to managers in form of reports. However ERP did not helped management accountants to eliminate routine jobs. As a management accountant explained: " the amount of work has remain the same, indeed in some cases has increased. The system has helped us to reduce some type of works which were considered also time wasting and this was a luck, but we did no experienced any substitution of work by other workers. The only one work task which now is performed by financial accounting is that when they record invoices, they input the data into the cost centers, allowing us to have the data already available in the system." The work has increased as much as they hired a new controller. Regarding the amount of work performed thank to the use of ERP, the interviewed explained that the work performed on ERP has increased from the beginning. Now they have reached a level of customization of the system which allow to have all the basis for the report ready on the ERP. so they have only to lunch reports on the system and then download then on Excel for analyzing the data and discover the trends. They argue that now the 15% of their job is performed on ERP systems, and that all their activities, such as budgeting, reporting, variance analysis, cost accounting, are linked with the use of ERP, which serve as a large container where they draw out data.
The four main changes analyzed in the work of Scapens and Jazayeri are: the elimination of routine jobs, line managers with accounting knowledge, more forward looking information and a wider role for management accountant.
The elimination of routine job is partly confirmed. It is confirmed that the ERP and its functionalities have replaced some jobs which were previously done by people. Thanks to its centralized database and its integrative nature, when operating personnel enter data into the system, this is directly transmitted to accountants, which do not have to ask periodically the data to workers of other functions to prepare the financial statement. The part which is not confirmed, or that is in discordance with the findings of Scapens and Jazayeri, is the fact that management accountants perceived ERP as positive not only for the business but also for the management accountants itself. The main difference probably is because of the size of the organization studied. BM Europe was a subsidiary of a large multinational while AAA is an independent medium large firm. Another motivation should be the different ERP used: BM Europe has SAP which includes best practices, AAA has NAV which includes customization. This two arguments explain the situation: BM Europe has to refer to their headquarter and so need a more standardized process of information flow. So SAP takes priority over everything, also on management accountant practices, which become more automated. At the opposite, management accountants refers directly to management and so they need standardization with other functions in order to obtain information and then are able to perform their tasks outside the ERP, using Excel or equivalent tools.
The reduction of work for accountants can lead to the decrease of the number of accountants. The risk exist, but with a risk comes an opportunity for them to change their position. Indeed they move one step further in the process of providing information becoming analysts, rather than scorekeepers (COLLEGAMENTO A PARTE PRECEDENTE).
Second line managers with accounting knowledge is also partly confirmed. It is confirmed that accounting knowledge is spread across the organizations, but this do not mean that people on the line acquire also the responsibilities of management accountants. For example now operational people in charge of production have acquired more knowledge about costs and now can interrogate their own costs and forecast their own costs for future spending. They are also able to produce the budget for their function. They have also the possibility to go into the accounts and having a look at how much they've spent, and what they expect to spend. So it doesn't come as a shock at the end of the month when they used to get the old cost statements on their desks: 'What did I spend that on?' They're far more in control of their own costs. And it has made bookkeepers, if you like, out of everyone. They do know how to go into a set of accounts and pull their own costs down. However, management accountants responsibilities remain the same and have not been moved out in favor of people on the line. People on the line feel more comfortable with accounting and have more control on their spending, but this do not include the fact that they are able to prepare a final report. Management accountants remain responsible of the contents of final reports. Now they have more interactions and can solve a mistake in less time from the past, because the data is available in real time for both parties. For example when management accountants prepare reports for variance analysis and one entries exceed budget, they can communicate it to line managers which can help them solve the problem in less time as was required previously. The big change is that now they can speak the same language and this create a possibility to have more interactions and create a more dynamic working environment. Line mangers cannot perform tasks of management accountants by themselves, because they have not the analytical skills required. It is true that ERP have created more hybrid positions, so if exist a management accountant with IT skills then would also exist a logistic officer with analysis skills. For example the responsible of production process should be able to perform a part of the work of management accountants, for what concerns its activity: for example he can prepare budgets, analyze variances and prepare forecasts for the future. And the same could be done by workers of other different functions. The problem is that there is no one that can combine all this data, analyze and interpret them, and after having created a whole understanding of the case, should prepare reports in forms of guide lines for management which have to take decisions. And that is the role of management accountant, which obtain more importance in the integrated environment created by ERP. However, the possibility to pass accounting knowledge to others functions reduces the work of management account, which previously would have spent a long time gathering and checking the reliability of data and then issuing it in paper format.
The third change, more forward looking information, is totally confirmed, as described earlier in the paper. Now management accounting information is more based on forecasts and on the possibility to rely on real time info, rather than historical. The difference between legacy systems and the ERP is the fact that the time gap between the moment in which the data are entered into the system and the moment in which management accountants receive the data, has become near zero. In the past, management accountants had to wait for days, week, in worst cases months, before gathering data, from another function. Now it has the possibility to watch the data directly on the display with no time wasting. In case of delay, people are guilty, not the system. The possibility to obtain the data and the information required in short time frame, let management accountants to base their analysis and reports more on the future, or at least on the present, rather than compare with the past. Now they have changed their way of thinking, with a more positive perspective: rather than chasing past mistakes, the focus is on finding ways to improve the present and the future.
However the content of information has not changed at all. The information that was provided by old legacy system compared to the information provided by ERP, is the same. Indeed management accountant extract information from ERP and then analyze it through the use of spreadsheets, in order to generate insights for managers. But information still remain the same. In addition the greatest amount of data available in an ERP environment, has led to increase the number of analysis performed. The possibility to increase the number of analysis has improved the type of analysis, which now is study in deep. There is more interaction with data, which is analyzed thorough different levels, which lead to a more specific interpretation. This could turn into a drawback. Indeed the risk is that the data represents a form of excessive security for management accountant. Once management accountants receive the data from the system, the data is no longer questioned and taken as one hundred per cent safe. Instead the data may contain errors or is generated through a wrong process. Data are always entered by workers, and workers, as people, can make mistakes. So management accountants in AAA decided, in accordance with their superior, to periodically control the origin of data obtained by other functions.
The last change, wider role for management accountant is confirmed. The other changes analyzed have brought management accountants to play a more creative role within the organization. After the ERP implementation, the role of management accountant has changed. Now management tasks has shifted from gathering, analyzing and preparing reports, into interpreting the different performance indicators and understanding where reside value. This new role has potentially put management accountants in AAA in the position of "internal consultants" or analysts, who assist managers to create strategies and to take operating decisions. But to be effective as internal consultants, they should broaden their knowledge, including new skills, such as communication and interpersonal skills, and a much broader knowledge of the business than their previous role required. To be able to help managers interpret the various financial and non-financial information with which they are faced and to assess both the operating and strategic consequences of alternative courses of action, management accountants need a broad-based knowledge of the business, rather than a technical understanding of accounting. If they want to become internal consultants, they have to develop a more dynamic role, developing the ability of a seller, in order promote the idea of what can be done with the information, and then make things happen. In AAA cross-functional teams are increasingly used to develop new projects. Thus, decision-making often involves interaction with workers which have different backgrounds and ideas. This means that management accountants have to take a wider view of the business and to be able to link accounting knowledge to the strategic development of the business. As such, management accountants need to adopt new ways of thinking, being more mind opened.